New adventures in this Covid19 climate. My husband has a barber in Middletown. He goes every six weeks or so, usually very early in the morning because the shop fills up quickly. Sean, like many guys has a preferred cut, a fade, or in the summer, a high and tight style. He is pretty particular about his hair.
Though, I told him I wouldn’t mind at all if he let it grow out the wavy way he wore it when we dated in the 80s.
After Covid19 protocols closed the barbershop, Sean combed the internet for a decent hair clipper set. Hard to find on-line, like rubbing alcohol, hand sanitizers, or fluffy toilet paper. After two failed attempts for home delivery from two different companies, Sean donned mask and gloves and picked up a good set at a local box store.
On an appointed day, Sean who is a very careful reader, laid out the pieces end-to-end and announced,
“Honey, you can do this!”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes! The worse that could happen is that I’ll just have to buzz it all off.”
“But what if I cut you? ”
“You really can’t.”
So I read and re-read the directions as he got a chair and towel.
The zzz-zzz of the clipper reminded me of bees. I nervously and lightly ran the clipper guard over his thick hair. Nothing happened. We decided I had to go use a smaller clipper guard. He pushed my hand hard into his scalp with the clipper to illustrate I needed to apply A LOT more pressure to make any hair come off!
I sucked in my breath and felt like I was jamming it into his head. It didn’t shred him so I loosened up and started to play a little.
Sean got up and looked in the mirror and came back laughing. Wasn’t what he had in mind!
Embracing the challenge and with even more instruction from Sean, I managed to blend or fade, or whatever it’s called. He didn’t have to shave it all off and start from a cue-ball.
“This is where Dad wanted to be!” I called the fourteen of us into a huddle around the pitcher’s mound at Old Yankee Stadium in April 2019.
“Not up at the family headstone in Torrington. So, today we honor his wish.”
My sister opened one of the sandwich bags of ashes I had given out to my three sibs and spread a copious amount of Dad on the pitcher ‘s mound. He had tried out for pitcher when he was 19 years old right there on that spot now dotted with gray. Though Dad didn’t make the team back in 1961, we’d always been impressed that he at least tried out. Because of this, our entire family has always been and will always be Yankee fans.
I quickly looked around the faces of my sibs, our significant others, our children, and nieces the huddle. It was a bit of a miracle that all of us actually got our acts together and converged more or less on time, without any real jangled nerves or bs.
We four had such a long, painful history of not getting along. So much to had to due to our parents’ ugly marriage and divorce. There was Dad’s 26 years of wandering and then managing him the last 14 years of his life as his conservator caused lots of stress.
Yet, when Dad died a week before Thanksgiving I noticed that for the time being, at least, something clicked for the good in his four children. I like to believe Dad had asked God on his way to Heaven, or maybe when he got there, to “Please heal my four kids’ relationships,” I hoped it would last.
But now there we were in the huddle. I asked to my younger brother to give the next instructions to the clan. As the eldest of the four sibs, my role has often as the leader, or in some rougher terms “The Boss.” Yes, I planned the details of this trip, toted Dad’s ashes in my backpack on the train, and I made the pins of dad we all were wearing. Someone else could share in leading.
Andy announced that each of us take our bags to various parts of the field. Someone would tell when it was exactly 12 noon and we would then release Dad at the same time.
Giddy and thrumming with anticipation (and also feeling a little like we were being naughty kids), the four of us took various positions in the outfield. My two adult children and I skipped to left field.
My husband stayed at home plate looking at timer on his cellphone. “Ready, one minute.” Then, “Ten seconds. Then, “Three, two, one.” I opened the zip lock top of the baggie and spun around scattering Dad like I was a twirling ten year old. My two children stood back, laughing. “Go, Dad!” I said.
I glanced over at my brothers, in center and right field. They seemed to be smiling with their families. My sister ran into the infield and sprinkled what she had left in her bag on each of the plates.
Spontaneously, our whole group amassed together just beyond first plate and I passed around York Peppermint Patties, Dad’s ultimate favorite candy. We held them up making a toast, “To Dad.”
After that, with a bolt of energy, I hustled over to home plate. Pretending to hit an imaginary baseball, I ran, well, jogged actually, to first base, then to second, on to third. When I finally rounded to home, I stomped on the plate and threw up my arms in victory.
Today, (June 10th) I humbly and gratefully observe the three year anniversary of our horrific motorcycle accident where my husband Sean broke his neck in five places. I firmly believe God sent immediate help and spared us from long-term injury, paralysis and even death! Here are two previous posts explaining what happened and why I say Thank You, God! God sent helpMan’s Craving for a Beer Saved My Husband’s Life
Click here to hear Sean’s theme song by Chumbawamba
Hallmark (and other companies) create greeting cards for nearly every occasion. Births, sympathy, encouragement, graduations…but searching racks and racks of prose, I just couldn’t find one that aptly says Good-Bye and Thank You to my retiring psychologist!
The card I finally ended up giving my therapist, I had narrowed it down to four possible but mediocre choices, was a bit wordy. On the front it said, “Finally, a thank-you note that says how I really feel.” Relational enough to give to a therapist, but even after a ton of descriptive words such as “grateful, happy, supported, content, forever in your debt, acknowledged, peaceful…” it still didn’t quite nail it. The writer in me added “thankful” and a deeply personal message. Yet, mere words didn’t fully express the depths of gratitude I wanted to convey to my professional advocate and guiding light for helping to save my sanity, salvage relationships as well as extricate myself from toxic ones, and who knows, possibly extended my very life! Reflecting now, I think that the incredibly accurate, succinct and perfectly-timed lyrics I heard on my car radio as I drove away from my last session fully expresses what is in my heart and pays tribute. Enjoy the song at the end of this post.
I had my very last appointment on August 28th with one of the most remarkable women I’ve ever been blessed to know, clinical psychologist Dr. Ella G. Marks, PSYD. I began seeing Dr. Marks on a weekly basis over four years ago because at 45, all the stuff I tried to keep stuffed down, held back, or tried to hide just wouldn’t stay buried anymore. Four and half decades as an adult child of an alcoholic family, a product of divorce, years of appearing to “fly right” but still over-indulging in risky behaviors, being lost, pressing my luck, and meandering off-track had blurred and scalded into a hot mess. It began oozing out in physical symptoms of panic attacks and heart palpitations. I couldn’t ignore it. It was time to really take care of me and do some very heavy, but very necessary lifting. Or else.
I prayed and researched and left voice messages. There was something about Dr. Mark’s soft-spoken, lovely, Virginian- accented-voice message that gave me courage and lead me to her kind but firm care. When I still rather hesitantly made my way to her creamed-colored office with a bright white couch in the office park in Madison, CT, I was comforted by her soft creased face, her sparkling blue eyes and billowy white hair. I found out by peeking at the dates on her framed diplomas in her office that she had to be in her early 80s. I learned early on that she had studied at first to be a dancer, but then married an Episcopalian preacher, had four children, and then decided to go back to college.
She completed her bachelors in her late forties, her masters in her 50s and fought to enroll in her doctorate program at the tender age 59. She served as a social worker, then earned and hung her shingle as a psychologist and bariatric medicine doctor at the age of 71. How blessed was I to connect with her a decade later!
Quite a head case, I remember saying to her, ” I have lots of anger and confusion. Am I too much for you?” She smiled graciously and said, “No, you are not. You have a lot of mourning to do.”
I would discover over the next four years just how well-equipped this woman was for the likes of me. She guided me to some really tough and ugly places to repair years of damage, grief, and anger stemming from a tumultuous alcoholic environment as a first-born. I worked honestly through confusion, hurt, betrayal, marital challenges, a serious motorcycle accident, extended family woes, and a recent exodus from a church I’d given my soul to for 46 years. She praised me often that I was “what they call a worker,” and reminded me that therapy is a “partnership” whenever I thanked her for helping me. She gave me permission to give myself some credit for my healing, for good things I have done and am doing in my life.
I had written in my card to Dr. Marks that she will forever be a part of “my new psychological DNA.” I will from here on out have greater success with stopping a negative thought and replacing it with a better one. I will think of what she would advise and say in any given situation. A life-long dividend of the work we’ve done.
I know it was hard for Dr. Marks to retire from her beloved work. She who practices Pilates and walks every day is in excellent physical as well as mental shape and “presents herself” as someone at least a decade younger than her actual age. She reluctantly wound down the over 20 years of her practice, extending her calendar for months since she’d first announced earlier this year she’d be retiring. “My family wants me to leave before they ask me to leave,” she’d smile, “but I am going on one more month.” That lead to another and another, until finally the end of August was really it.
I cherished her guidance and wisdom to the very last session. My throat tightened as I pulled into her parking lot. As I climbed the stairs for the last time, I took photos of the waiting room, her office, but out of privacy, I did not take any of her.
So surreal. She lead me in from the waiting room, the one last time. Into her office, one last time. “How are you?” She asked in her customary greeting. “Full of emotion,” I squeaked out. I noticed she was welling up a little, too. “This must be hard for you saying goodbye to everyone,” I said. “It is,” she confided.
Then we settled in across from each other. I gave her my card and photo of me hula-hooping that was taken at the recent Buzzi Reunion at my house. I joked that I wasn’t meaning to be a narcissist, but wanted to show her my happy spirit, celebrating our years of working together. She smiled, “You are a worker!”
As we sat, I said that I hoped we could see each other again, for coffee. Always the good doctor even up to the very last minute, she wanted to impart one last tool to help me hereafter to cope with stress and any mild depression. Meditation. She told me of a study where participants who meditated each morning and evening fared better than the group which took only medication and the other only talking therapy. I balked a bit saying I’ve tried meditating, but my mind wanders like a herd of cats even when I try focusing on a monosyllabic word or sound. Because she knows my faith walk, she said to me, “Just try to say, “Be Still and Know that I am God.”
I smiled because I was wearing that bracelet that very day for extra help knowing I’d be saying goodbye.
Half way through our last session, I had arranged for my husband Sean to come in and meet my Dr. Marks. I had shared so much between the two of them that it only seemed right they’d finally meet in person. It was one of those spiritually-charged, crystallized moments in time as I made the introductions. Sean thanked her as he sat on her white couch next to me. They chatted casually, each feeling as though they’d known each other well—I guess after all this time, they sorta had!
Sean asked her what she had planned now that she was retiring. Without hesitating my heroine said she was going to travel to India where’d she’d gone many times on sabbatical, “but after the monsoon season in September,” and then she was going to join a hiking club!
God bless her!
When it was time to say goodbye, Dr. Marks and I hugged for a very long time. “We can get coffee now, can’t we?” I asked hopefully. “Oh, yes. We will no longer be bound by hippa.”
“We have each others phone numbers.”
As I began driving out of Dr. Mark’s office complex for the very last time, tears of every emotion streaked down my face. Sadness,closing a chapter, a sense of accomplishment, good health, new beginnings, joy!
All of a sudden Kenny Loggins’, “I’m Alright” began playing on my car radio. I kid you not. Sean, who was tuned in to the same station, called me from his car ahead of me. “Can you believe what is playing?” I blurted first. “You are alright,” he said.
I’m alright, Dr. Marks. Thank you, and thank you, God, for Dr. Marks! OK, and thank Heaven for the serendipitous Kenny Loggins’ lyrics as I was driving on!
On the heels of a wonderful trip to Italy with Sean for our 25th anniversary, we rapidly switched gears to move our first born, recent college-grad Erin, 22, to Vermont. She graduated in May and trudged around for a bit in the “what-next-mode?” job search, where to live, what to do. Erin was eyeing Oregon or Vermont, when fate/cupid stepped in and she started a wonderful relationship with a great guy, Justin, (also recent college grad)… from Vermont. Her job/life search became very pointed the end of this summer. She began applying everywhere to find a job in her field (marketing/communications) and a place to live—in Vermont. Yea, Vermont, not Oregon!
Long distance relationships are difficult at best, and after long weekends traveling to be together and for Erin to go on job interviews, it really wasn’t a surprise that the two decided to pool their resources and get their own apartment. Erin landed a viable job assignment through one of two job temp agencies in the Burlington, VT area and started earlier this month. She is working customer service for a window treatment manufacturer, an “in” that might lead her to the company’s newly-forming marketing department. The third day she was there, she overheard their need for a marketing person, and she waved her resume and said, “Hey, I have degree!”
So how do I feel about my first birdy flying out of the nest? Happy for her. She is well-equipped, proactive, newly employed! Hopeful for them (Justin is a really good man and we see he loves her well!). Confident that Erin is ready for her new life. This is what Sean and I wanted for her, and want for her brother— to be self-sufficient and happy.
She’s on her way! She’s happier than I’ve ever seen her in her whole life these past few months (glowing, dancing, prancing, smiling, Skypping, phoning—all the earmarks of new, but true love!) Thanks be to God!
Of course there has been a bit of bittersweet with the transition. Mama tears, Erin tears, heart-to-heart conversations, hugs, hugs, hugs. Time has flown. I remember the day she was born, the first time I held her, I said, “We have a lot to learn together, you and me.”
We learned how to navigate and enjoy every stage: infancy, toddler, preschool, elementary through high school. The joys, challenges, marvels… Letting go a bit that first day of Haddam-Co-Op Nursery school, again on that first day as she climbed on the school bus, dropping her off at camp and sleepovers during Elementary School years, shooting up a prayer when she went out with friends in middle school and high school. Big prayers and letting go during college years, stepping up the prayers when she lived in Boston. All were mere primers for this letting go—out of the nest and into her own, real world. Prayers, prayers, prayers.
My wonderful advocate, Ella, assures me that it can be difficult—especially with the first one leaving, but that our relationship will become richer and richer. I reason that we are merely increasing our borders. Our addresses, Sean’s and mine, and Erin and Justin’s (and Chris’s college) intersect like some sort of cosmic, heart-shaped Venn Diagram. The beautiful, intersecting part is where we will remain connected—even as our lives are changing, expanding, even though we are in different states and have different zip codes. In this sacred space, we’ll continue to learn and grow and share the new chapters of our lives. It is in this precious place that we will experience that richness, those incredibly special visits, everyday and celebratory phone calls, texts, and Skypes! New chapters!
“Don’t inhale,” M laughed. If I wasn’t so afraid of burning down the place or branding somebody with the volcanic lump at the end of three foot long pipe, I would have hammed it up for our good friends M and K. They stood at a safe distance outside the half door of the little studio. M & K had invited us to spend a day at Narragansett but the overcast weather lead the four of us to nearby Newport, Rhode Island’s shopping mecca. Sean and I followed our pals down Thames St. thinking K was looking for a particular antique shop she had heard about.
When we reached 688 Thames Street, I noticed the corner shop with the half door and the young guys inside tending to some sort of orange glowing furnace. Ah, a glassblowing shop! I quickly fast-forwarded to our pending trip to Venice where we might take a vaporetto to Murano where we’d see artisans from days of old blowing glass.
“You two are going to blow a glass ornament now,” K said calmly. Ha, ha! Wouldn’t that be a hoot! We followed K and M into the display side of the shop expecting to politely browse the hanging eye-candy and then move on down the street. Glass globes, paperweights, glass fish, tinkling with light captivated us.
“Go on, pick out your colors,” K said. A woman behind the counter beckoned us. “This is the couple who is celebrating their anniversary I called about,” K explained. What?! She is serious! Though our 25th was a little over a month away, I nodded and thanked the woman as she congratulated us.
“Pick out your colors and then we’ll go in the back,” the proprietor said. Sean and I looked at each other. Believing to be craft-challenged, Sean tried to deflect this task to me. “Oh, no. You have to do this with me!”
We both focused on the colors and options before us. Sean is a blue kinda guy and I am forever a purple passionate, Piscean. After we signed our life away that we would not hold the artisans accountable if we torched ourselves, we followed a 20 something guy into the bowels of the shop.
We were cautioned where to handle the long pole and not touch beyond the halfway point, lest we blister our hands and run screaming. The young man started the process by sticking the metal pole into a blistering orange hole in the wall that belched dry heat into the room. There must have been some kind of container inside because as he spun the pole it picked up a gob of clear molten glass. It reminded me of a carnival vender collecting spun sugar onto a cotton candy tube. He had Sean hold the stick over some sort of anvil and had Sean to apply pressure to square the blob. He then had Sean dip each side into trays of our colored speckles of blue and violet. The opaque and speckled dradle-looking square was inserted into a slightly cooler oven. Then it was my turn. The guy told me to blow into the end with a firm and steady flow. I did as was instructed—a flash to measured Lamaze breathing—and I concentrated as the blob rounded out slightly at the end. Back into the heat it went.
In a minute I was instructed to blow again, but lightly now, and the guy kept rotating the pole. A little awkward, but a good thing because sometimes I can’t walk and chew gum! After a few more passes from my lips to the kiln, I was instructed to lay the glowing ball into a trough and squeeze a scalpel thing to help form the neck of the ornament. In seconds the globe was sturdy glass, and no longer easily malleable. Later, the guy would add our 25th anniversary date, October 1, 2013.
The ornament had to set and cool for three days before it could be mailed home to us.
The whole process must have taken all of fifteen minutes. In that quarter hour, I realized this glassblowing mini-adventure could be a microcosmic comparison of my married life. On October 1, 2013, we will be married 25 years! Thanks be to God!
When we first started out, we were that blob of colorless love at the end of the pole. An amoeba of hot, molten passion! As time, life and trials rolled on, we eventually morphed into a circle with a seemingly indefinable beginning and end. Over the years we’ve swirled and whorled, burned, and hopefully refined with life challenges—miscarriage, a war, internal and external conflicts with family, careers, raising two children a burgled home, and a recent and horrific motorcycle accident. The heat, fire, pressure, shaping and purifying, has given us a brighter and more solid sheen than if we had never blended in the first place.
Our anniversary ornament needed three days to cool and set properly before it could be mailed to us. These days are also symbolic. Sometimes we’ve needed cooling and setting before we could move to a new place to once again reflect light and shine in our combined colors.
Like the blown glass ornament, our marriage needs to be handled with care and every once in a while calls for a little buffing to keep its shine!
Sean and I recently spent a long, wonderful weekend camping (in a tent!) at Russell Pond, part of the National Park system in the White Mountains. It was quite like the days when we first were dating, camping without kids. It was better than that now, because after nearly 25 years of marriage, we are more seasoned and much more appreciative of how far we’ve come. We purchased some cheap “floaties” and paddled out to the very middle of the pond to enjoy the wonders of nature.
I just picked up The Complete ACOA Sourcebook, Adult Children of Alcoholics at Home, at Work and in Love, by the late Janet Geringer Woititiz, Ed.D. I finished Part 1: What Happened to You as a Child? What is Happening to You Now? and Breaking the Cycle. In what feels almost after the fact—after nearly three years of weekly therapy—this book spells it out in black and white the consequences of growing up in an alcoholic home and in my case, explains the underlying anger and conflicts I’ve had to deal with for most of my adult life. Thanks to books like this, a great psychologist named Dr. Ella Marks, and my faith, I’ve been able to extricate myself from some of the wreckage of my early life.
I saw my broken self all too clearly in the common traits of the many adults Woititiz collected from other ACOAs. A number of us became “hyper-responsible” victims in a very abbreviated childhood having to “be a grown up” way before we reached double-digits. In a house of tension and chaos never knowing what to expect, some of us became anxious. Later we could be labeled as “controlling”, pushing to have some order and security in our lives. We fear abandonment, tend to over-react when something is changed beyond our control, and can be dangerously impulsive. We also can go overboard seeking the approval of others.
Thankfully, I’ve done a lot of hard work. I have learned how to identify difficult, conflicting emotions and have found ways to avoid and unhappy, negative places—figuratively and literally. I am no longer a victim. I have choices. I’ve made a number of healthy ones for my marriage, for my children, and last, but recognizably not least, myself.
One in four families in the U.S. experience from some sort of mental illness and addiction. If your household growing up was or now is one of the four, you don’t have to suffer alone. Get help. Start by picking up this book and read at least the first three sections to find a path.
I want to share a poem from an Adult Child of an Alcoholic that appears on page 156. I couldn’t believe how the poet Kathleen Algoe in 1989 felt almost exactly the way I felt when I began therapy in 2010. I remember on my drive home from my very first session the “child within” almost audibly said, “It’s my turn!”
It is important to be clear what recovery means for adult children. Alcoholism is a disease. People recovering from alcoholism are recovering from a disease. The medical model is accepted by all responsible folks working in alcoholism treatment.
Being the child of an alcoholic is not a disease. It is a fact of your history. Because of the nature of this illness and the family response to it, certain things occur that influence your self-feelings, attitudes and behaviors in ways that cause you pain and concern. The object of ACOA recovery is to overcome those aspects of your history that cause you difficulty today and to learn a better way.
To the degree that none of us have ideal childhoods and to the degree that even an ideal childhood may be a cause for some concern, we are all recovering to some extent or other, in some way or other. Because there are so many alcoholic families and because we have been fortunate in being able to study them, it is possible to describe in general terms what happens to children who grow up in that environment.
To the degree that other families have similar dynamics, individuals who have grown up in other “dysfunctional” systems identify with and recover in very much the same way.
Sometimes family gatherings can be strained…We have enough heartache and history, coupled with the fact that my sibs and I still have to deal with how to do holidays with “exes”, namely our long-divorced parents. Mom and her husband were hosting Easter this year at the family homestead, and though it was suggested my father “could also join us”, we three thought “NOT.” We made other plans to see Dad before the big dinner.
My sister had the great idea of visiting my Dad at his community center “living room” on Easter after church. Andy brought his guitar and Dad took his spot at the piano. I had my trusty bag of percussion instruments I keep in the trunk of my car! (Just waiting for an opportunity to break it out—always at the Soup and Song Open Mic Coffee House!)
I don’t know how or why Andy lead us in Donovan’s “Atlantis” but suddenly this song “took over” and we all were enveloped in a healthy and jolly communion of music. Our visit like this became a highlight and happy experience instead of perfunctory duty. Thanks be to God!
Editor’s Note: We were blessed to have survived this accident that occurred on June 10, 2012.
Sean has been cleared of all restrictions on his shoulder and is doing well with his neck, after the four breaks to his C-1 and a fracture to his C-2. He has some stiffness and aches and can’t turn his head all the way to the left, yet, but he is otherwise a miracle man! My knee is still a little tender and I can’t kneel on it. The doctor says that is it is good as it is going to get, but I am not complaining because I know it could have been so much worse.
I wanted to share with you that after all this time, we are still receiving confirmation of God’s mercy and love for us at the time of that horrific accident.
Last week, Sean met up with the man Patrick who “happened” to be just two cars behind us. It was almost as if he materialized on the scene back on June 10. As you might recall (or read), after we crashed, Sean jumped up, TOOK OFF HIS HELMET, and was heading over to the motorcycle to try to pick it up! Patrick, who saw the whole thing, came over to Sean and identified himself as former EMT, and basically ordered Sean to lay down so he could hold Sean’s head in a straight line. “I will move any way you need to move,” he said. By then the searing pain was ripping through Sean’s body. He was writhing and screaming. Patrick knelt with Sean’s head cradled in his hands, and kept Sean’s neck and back straight.
Patrick works in the security department at Middlesex Hospital. Sean, as a police captain, serves at a liaison between the hospital and the PD, and spoke with Patrick before their meeting. Sean thanked Patrick again, crediting him again, for saving his life.
Patrick explained the ‘odd circumstance’ that lead him to the accident scene. Patrick was just finishing mowing his lawn, when suddenly he had a craving to go to the local bar to get a beer. He said he never gets a craving to go to local bar. Further, his car keys were outside on the front step—and he said he ALWAYS hangs his keys on a hook inside his house. He snapped up his keys, got in his car and headed to the local watering hole…until he came upon our accident!
Have you ever had a strong impulse do something out of the ordinary to find you were being used for another purpose?