Saturday, July 30, 2011

When Oprah asks, you must answer---

The invoice came to renew my subscription to O Magazine. The subscription was in my husband’s name but a gift to me. So the invoice looked like the picture above.

Oh, Oprah, how do I answer this question. I’ve tried to answer this query for nine years now. John Lynner Peterson exploded into my life and my heart on August 17, 2001. I had no idea the wild ride I signed up for by marrying him four months later.

He’s Lutheran, Minnesotan and Norwegian. This combo platter seems alien but interesting to this southern girl. His family reveres this heritage and speaks of lutefisk and Syttende mai and they regularly eat lefse. My Irish roots have never met a potato I don't like, so I get on board with this potato-based tortilla-type bread. Yummy when heated with butter, cinnamon and sugar and rolled into a dripping candlestick treat.

In addition to being a Garrison Keillor clone, John is also a creative talent who produces twenty ideas a minute and still fights ADD in his sixties. We live in this cyclone of artistic thought and ADD chaos. He sees no point in putting an object back in the same place two times in a row. How boring for him! How frustrating for me!

The answer to Oprah's question resides in my favorite children’s book, What Do You Do with A Kangaroo? by Mercer Mayer. It begins:

What do you do with a Kangaroo who jumps in your window and sits on your bed and says, “I never sleep on wrinkled sheets, so change them now and make them smooth, fluff up the pillows if you please.

Exotic creatures appear in the little girl’s life and demand accommodation. The end result---she lets them stay. She wallows in the wonder, excitement, strangeness and fun.

I find this the perfect answer to Oprah’s question, “What should we do about John Lynner Peterson?” I celebrate and support his artistic endeavors (, I snuggle up to that Viking hug, I revel in sharing movies and music with someone who understands my passions and tastes. This alien creature blesses my life on a daily basis and I give thanks.


Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Tristan's Reading Choices

The Costume Trunk written and illustrated by Bob Fuller was provided to me through membership in This is not intended to be a review of the book but rather this post was inspired by the book.

Grandson, Tristan prepares for his bedtime ritual at Mimi and Poppa’s house---two Oreo cookies and milk, teeth brushing (“Tell me when I can stop, Mimi.”), good night hugs and kisses for Poppa and off to read books with Mimi. His wiry body, inherited from my son, wiggles up next to me with a stack of his reading choices.
Mimi, Tristan and Payden reading the Sunday funnies

“Tristan, I have this book that I’m going to right about for my website,” I say as I hand him The Costume Trunk. “Would you please tell me if it is too young for you, just right or too old for you?”

He takes one look at the cover and declares, “Mimi, this is too babyish for me!”

I don’t dare question that declaration. “Ok, what about Payden?” Payden is his 14 month old baby sister.

“No, Mimi, she would rip the pages and it’s too long for her.”

Finally, I ask, “Well what about our friend, Sydney?”

“Juuuuuuuuuuuuuuust right, Mimi,” he replies, so pleased that I’m finally getting a clue.
Our "just right" friend, Sydney Grace Dryden

I can’t help but agree with his assessment. Tristan is a five year old boy whose taste in reading leans toward super heroes, Garfield joke books and even, Gary Larson’s The Far Side cartoon collections. Payden hasn’t developed the ability to sit still long enough to make it through The Costume Trunk even if she would enjoy the illustrations. Sydney Grace Dryden, our two and a half year old friend, is just right for the adventures of Paddywhack Lane, the wonderful world Bob Fuller has created in The Costume Trunk.

As we scrunch up next to each other in bed, Tristan chooses Gary Larson’s Beyond The Far Side ® collection for his first choice tonight. At five, he doesn’t get all of Larson’s jokes, in my sixth decade I don’t either. But as we snuggle up and talk through them, I shiver with delight that he chooses his Uncle Mark’s Far Side and Garfield Fat Cat Three Pack Volume VII collections for his bedtime reading. Uncle Mark died before Tristan was born but his influence lives on. 

Friday, July 22, 2011

The Turtle and Me

Our assignment was to write about turtles. Me? Write about turtles? I am an indoor, city-girl. I’m not on a personal friendship basis with turtles. Or so I thought.

At first glance it would seem the geneology and character traits of the turtle have little in common with me. A closer look reveals otherwise.

That superficial look would contrast a hyperactive motor-mouth with a mute plodder. The closer look would reveal we share the quality of persistence. The plodder shows persistence in finishing the race; I have shown persistence in staying in the race regardless of obstacles along the way.

The surface view of the turtle displays a hard, ugly uninviting shell while my life long perfectionism demands that my surface be made-up, manicured, coiffed and well-dressed. A deeper analysis shows both the turtle and I use our shell for protection from the sling and arrows and predators of life.

A final look suggests both of us will live long and prosper regardless of what life throws our direction. The long life-cycle of the turtle makes this point for him; my life experience makes the case for me.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Learning from Failure

If you do not tell the truth about yourself you cannot tell it about other people.
Virginia Wolffe

Current knowledge that my behavior of several decades was classic for the oldest daughter of an alcoholic family offers little comfort that I tried to protect my siblings from life by attempting to run their lives. I knew best and I wanted to teach them, tell them, train them in the ways of the world according to Brenda. 
I need to place a warning label on this plan for dealing with family. To all those who purport to travel this expedition of surviving and thriving, your family will not be sending you a thank you note for trying to manage their lives. There won’t even be a signal of gratitude to you for getting better, for healing and becoming your best self. As I have turned to therapy to make sense of my family’s dysfunction, the knowledge and experience has been seen as threatening by some in my family. Being one of the only members of the family to get a college education has been a source of resentment as well as pride. Telling the story of family dysfunction and secrets has caused even greater distress. Family secrets should be, well---secret.
I am rejecting a way of life that at least some of my family members accepted. I am saying, “It’s not okay for children to be raised in this manner.”
“It’s not okay to treat each other like this.”
“It’s not okay for us to pretend alcoholism doesn’t exist.” 
I feel like my siblings are going to the hardware store for bread and milk and keep ending up disappointed that all they stock are hammers and screws. But they keep going back. In significant ways, the fact that I was the first one in my nuclear family saying “this is not okay” made starting the voyage of healing more important. Shining a light on dysfunction is the beginning of defeating dysfunction.
On top of my volcano of family shame laid a vast dusting of guilt like Mt. St. Helen’s ash. Beneath the volcano I could hear the subtle rumble of anger that could erupt from any one of my siblings at any moment and spew all over me---not so much for what I had done but for who I have become.
However, it is just as important to note that one of the hard realities I have been forced to admit about myself is that I thought I knew best. I wanted to prove to them that I knew best by helping them run their lives. Surely, I would get gratitude in return. Maybe short term, I did get some genuine appreciation. Long term, my meddling produced resentment. No matter how well-intentioned, my siblings did not want me making their life choices for them and that is as it should be. Painful lesson learned. I have given up transforming most of them, most of the time. I wish I could retrieve the time and energy I spent trying to make them over in my image. It would serve us all well for me to have spent those resources on myself.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Are Artists too Sensitive for Real Life?

I have carried the following Pearl Buck quote around for years, first in my wallet and then to make sure it doesn’t disintegrate, I taped it in one of my journals:

The truly creative mind in any field is no more than this: a human creature born abnormally, inhumanly sensitive. To him a touch is a blow, a sound is a noise, a misfortune is a tragedy, a joy is an ecstasy, a friend is a love, a love is a god, and failure is death. Add to this cruelly delicate organism the overpowering necessity to create, create, create---so that without the creating of music or poetry or books or buildings or something of meaning, his very breath is cut off from him. He must create, must pour out creation. By some strange, unknown, inward urgency he is not really alive unless he is creating.

Obviously, I resonate with this quote or I would not have preserved it so carefully for so many years. I was a speech/theatre major and vocal music minor in undergraduate school I have performed in front of audiences since I was 5 years old. Art of one kind or another is my very being.

I remember a long ago choir rehearsal with orchestra. At one point our choir director explained to the orchestra members, “Singers are a bit paranoid and sensitive.” In thinking over that comment, I decided we, singers are more paranoid than the orchestral artists because our instrument is literally part of our bodies. There is no one-step separation. I have since learned that all artists, regardless of medium can be too sensitive for life in the real world.

I once ran across a correspondence between my step-daughter and my son, Mark. She was explaining to Mark that they were more sensitive (they share the Bartella blood line) individuals than I. I was furious and snapped back at both of them, “Just because I am strong, doesn’t mean I am not sensitve. I have had to be strong to survive!”

I suspect they are not the only persons who have determined I am not the sensitive sort. Believe me, I am. I just often lick my wounds in private. And with the wisdom of years, I acknowledge, we survivor types when hurt will often go in to attack mode because if it’s fight or flight, survivors fight---even when our sensitive feelings have been hurt.

Are you a sensitive artist? Do you resonate with the Pearl Buck quote? Are you a fight or flight sensitive person?

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Tristan, Trains and Transitions

There is no greater bliss than Saturday nights and all day Sunday with Tristan, my five year old grandson (although he is six on the inside and when he turns six in August he will notify us when he becomes seven on the inside). We often plan something special to do on Sunday after church as a not-so-subtle bribe for his attending church with us.

Today we made reservations to ride the antique railroad in Versailles and tour the Bluegrass Railroad Museum. We boarded the train right on time and settled into our seats after marveling that we were on a 90 year old train car. There was a wad of gum on the floor near our feet.

I asked Tristan, “Do you think that gum is 90 years old too?”

“No, Mimi, I think the gum is just 20 years old.”

He could be right.

The ride was a history lesson about Kentucky, railroads and with the window open a scenic Sunday survey of all that’s beautiful about our countryside. Tristan asked questions or just listened to the conductor’s patter or lapsed into a contemplative repose with his face in the wind.

The sounds, sights, smells and having a little one with me stirred poignant memories of my teenage train trips from California to Missouri or Indiana to visit family---especially my mother’s mother, Grandma Whitmer.

We especially liked the Grand Canyon Line because its route through the states that divided us provided excitement and beauty. Putting together the pennies necessary to transport my mother and five kids on the train never got easy. I plead guilty to helping Mom once convince my younger sisters that they had already had lunch when our packed lunches were gone as well as all money. Finally, the conductor walked through yelling, “St. Louis! St. Louis! Everybody off for St. Louis!” we couldn’t wait to tell Grandma about convincing the kids they had been fed and the delay out west that caused the train line to provide one free meal in The Dining Car---a first class experience for a band of ragamuffins.

As we toured the little museum after the ride, I swear the china displayed was exactly like what we used on the Grand Canyon Line.

Since Tristan had informed us when we invited him to the opening reception of Poppa’s photo exhibit, “Mimi, I’m not the kind of boy who goes somewhere just to look at pictures.” So after the ride today, we went by the exhibit so he could just see the gallery and Poppa’s photos without the hoopla of the opening reception.

Poppa couldn’t resist posing the big boy Tristan in front of the two photos of him in the exhibit. In one, he is a round-headed baby in the bath tub and in the other he is a toddler in his stroller and a little African-American girl asks to touch his hair. Poppa caught the moment.

Tristan, trains and transitions---a fulfilling Sunday.  

Saturday, July 16, 2011

The Church and Sex

The return of Episcopal Bishop V. Gene Robinson to his hometown and our fair city, Lexington, KY gives me impetus to climb up on my soapbox. Again. It would be delightful to think that people of faith have moved past the issue of homosexuality and the church but we’re not there yet. So we need to get out the soapbox occasionally for those who still need to hear the message.

The church, writ large, has historically tried to control sexuality because it is a powerful force that man (in this case I really do mean MEN) would like to put on a leash. Our sexuality is a gift and like all natural forces will never fully be tamed by humanity.

The church tried (some still do) to control women because our gender presented a sexual energy that was feared and revered and, therefore, needed to be controlled. After centuries of repression, we have made great progress in parts of the world and abysmal conditions remain in far too many countries.

As a nation, the US seems to be on the far side of the women’s issue. Great strides have been made on the issues of homosexuality in secular society. I think we have critical mass and there will be no going back into the closet. The church, however, has a long way to go.

The frightening numbers about the decline of Christianity should be a wake-up call for people of faith everywhere. The attempt to control sexuality ranks very high on my list of why the general population is sleeping in on Sunday mornings.

Think on these things. Talk with your family and friends. Go hear Rev. Robinson this evening. Have a discussion with a gay or lesbian friend about the church. Let’s each do our part to achieve justice for all God’s children.

Ok, this is a very heavy post so let’s close on a lighter note. My first question to God when we meet face-to-face will be, “Why did you integrate our organs of sexuality with our organs of elimination? Very poor architectural planning!” 

Friday, July 15, 2011

Your Bucket List

Remember the 2007 movie titled The Bucket List? It was Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman, two terminally ill patients, escaping from a cancer ward to complete a wish list of what they dream of doing before they died.

What’s on your Bucket List?

At one point in the movie, Morgan Freeman’s character comments on how different his list is from the list he made as a young man. Is your list different now than in previous years? Decades? Mine certainly is.

Perhaps the change in your Bucket List has come about because you have experienced the wisdom of this Margaret Young quote:

Often people attempt to live their lives backwards: they try to have more things, or more money, in order to do more of what they want so they will be happier. The way it actually works is the reverse. You must first be who you really are, then do what you really need to do, in order to have what you want.

Was your youthful Bucket List filled with what you wanted to have that would then make you happy? You’re not alone. Our culture teaches us that Things make us happy. From the lofty perch of my sixth decade, I’m clear on the fact that Things won’t make me happy. And I’m clear on the fact that Relationships will always be my priority. But my Bucket List includes some significant travel with those special persons in my life.

What’s on your Bucket List and has it changed through the years?

Monday, July 11, 2011

Cut Off From Your Power?

What gives you strength? Power? Motivation?

What takes away your strength? Power? Motivation?

When I have a "down day," my analysis gene kicks in to high gear? Why? Why am I down? What source of power have I been cut off from? My first go-to answer is sleep. I have needed eight hours (nine is better) all my life, even as a hyperactive young person. So question #1 is "Did I have enough sleep?"

Question #2 is "Have I had too much or not enough socializing?" As an extrovert, I need a large dose. As an aging (don't ever tell anyone I admitted that.) extrovert, I need less than I used to. Getting the exact amount of socializing is tricky but necessary for maintaining my strength, power and motivation.

Question #3 is "Have I had appropriate spiritual nourishment?" I can get out-of-whack if I haven't had my spiritual cup filled through worship (see yesterday's post about constitutes worship).

Question #4 is "Have I exercised?" This one is tough for me. I don't like exercise. I have never liked exercise. I'm not likely to fall in love with exercise in the near future. I have admitted, however, that exercise is essential to my well-being.

Question #5 is "Have I had some fun?" Fun of late consists to a large extent of being with grandchildren, Tristan and Payden. For years now, I have been able to acknowledge that I have to have fun in my life to maintain my equilibrium.

What is your source of power? Are you plugged in?

Sunday, July 10, 2011

I Worshipped Today

I worshipped today.

Yes, the morning began at church and, fortunately, today the worship also began at church. It doesn’t always.

I sang in the choir today. The very act of singing is often access to the sacred. Today it was.

Keith Dean offered the most transcendent part of church today. Keith is one of the few young university singers who “beef” up the choir full of us regular singers. Keith is a big African-American man with an even bigger voice. He sang My Tribute by Andrae Crouch. More famously sung by Elvis Presley, this old standard was also sung by little Brenda Sims when I could not even see over the pulpit. At no time and by no one has it been sung more spiritually that Keith sang it today. And I worshipped.

We also experienced a moving sermon by Elizabeth King McLaughlin. Elizabeth’s sermon constituted worship for me because it called me to be a better version of myself and assured me of God’s love for me in my current state.

Relationships are always worship for me because I believe when we move closer to each other we move closer to God. I have experienced this closeness of relationship at church but not always and not only at church. Today this form of prayer and exultation came at a photography exhibit.

Husband John’s exhibit opened today at the Woodford County Library and the turn out of friends who love and support his art and his passion created a moment of worship. Thank you, dear friends, for sharing in our joy.

Art, frequently, brings reverence into my life. Today, as on many occasions, the coming together of John’s phenomenal photographs and the emotion and storytellling they evoke from others played out before my eyes and I called it worship.

Thanks be to God. 

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Hey Art Linkletter, kids STILL say the darnedest things

Friends keep reminding me to right down grandson, Tristan’s latest comment. It is a joy to see and hear life being lived through the eyes and ears of a clever, outspoken five year old, although he will tell you, "I'm six on the inside." And when he turns six in August? "I'll let you know, Mimi, when I'm seven on the inside." I’m also reminded lately that Tristan is not the only child that provides great laughter for the adults in their lives.

As readers of this blog and my Facebook page know, my husband John has a photography exhibit opening tomorrow. Tristan came over this week when just before all the photos were to be delivered to the Woodford County Library. I gave him one of the publicity cards and invited him to see a few of the photos that were in tubs in the living room. I encouraged him to take the card home to Mommy and Daddy to remind them to bring him to the exhibit. He looked with interest at the photos we unwrapped and went on with him playing. In a few minutes, he looked up at me and stated, “Mimi, I’m not the kind of boy who goes somewhere just to look at pictures.”

All righty then.

One of my friends has two little girls, nine and six. My friend, intent on looking great for her twentieth high school reunion, engaged a personal trainer. The girls walked in as she and the trainer were lying on the floor facing each other doing leg lifts. After they left the gym, the girls inquired, “Mom, what were you doing with that guy?”

Being a thoughtful mother, my friend gently responded, “What did you think I was doing.”

They giggled and replied together, “Farting and falling in love.”

Ahhhh, the child’s perspective.

One of my favorite of the “darnedest” comes from a friend telling this story on her son when he was three years old. On a Christmas visit to family, they decided to dress their two little boys up and take them to the very adult, very upscale cocktail party next door. Dressed in their navy blazers and grey slacks, they knew instantly this was a big deal to be allowed at the adult gathering. The three year old wandered around a bit and then moved close to a female guest. He stretched his arm casually across a piece of furniture, put his foot up on another piece to create his best debonair look and announced to the woman, “I have a penis.”

Very adult, indeed!

Our Tristan adopts the attitude that he can win at anything and everything and perhaps it is even his Divine Right to win every game. He and I were racing cars while he soaked in the tub at about age four. I allowed him to win the first two races and then made sure I won the third. I whooped and hollered in victory. He gently touched my arm and pleaded, “Mimi, let’s play nice and be friends.”

Guess he put me in my place.

Poppa and I recently had a discussion with him about his baby sister’s nickname. We all suggested possibilities and rejected them for this or that reason. Tristan then adamantly settled on, “Pony.” No amount of reasoning has dissuaded him that Pony is not a good nickname for his adorable toddling sis.

My favorite Tristan saying though came when he was three. Poppa and I had just arrived from North Carolina for a visit. He rushed up to me and announced, “Mimi, when I was a little boy I fell in love with you!”

I’m putty in his hands.

Friday, July 8, 2011

The Separation of Church and State

As indicated, I will occasionally address my passion for life at the intersection of religion and politics. As many of my readers know, I was the Sr. Advisor for the Democratic National Committee during the Kerry/Edwards presidential campaign of 2004. Prior to that short-lived position, I was the Executive Director of Clergy Leadership Network, the first religious-left political action committee. I’m not interested in re-visiting those old debates at this time (i.e. should people of faith form a 527 political committee, should we take “under God” out of the Pledge of Allegiance.) Old news. Send me a personal email or comment if you still want to debate those.

Today I want to continue the conversation about educating our voting public on the separation of church and state. The Baptist Joint  Committee for Religious Liberty is one of my favorite organizations in dealing with these issues. They are 75 years old and remain at the forefront of every church and state issue. There are two articles in their most recent magazine and on their website that are worth re-posting.

The first is Executive Director, J. Brent Walker’s article on five myths about separation of church and state. The second is Walker’s article on “Should American flags be in church sanctuaries.” While I don’t agree with everything that comes out of the BJC, I don’t think there is another organization in our nation today that is doing better work on this issue than they are.  

By the way, they never mind when you donate to continue the fight to keep church and state separated. Donate here. Tell them Grit and Grace sent you.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

What is your Essential Anchor in Life?

Lindt peanut butter balls, unsweetened iced teac (brewed, no mixes, no lemon, heavy on the ice), one lgass of white wine with dinner (on some occasions two, clear the table if it’s three) and first, last and always----girlfriends.

When I’m down for the count and really making a conscious choice to never get up again --- call in the girlfriends. (One caveat---there are a couple of male friends who qualify as girlfriends.)

Rhonda, Lisa, Martha, Mary, Rosemary, Tracy, Vonda, Rachel, Wendy, Boog, Linda and Laura will be my pall bearers. They have carried me through an extraordinary life of challenge, grief, giggles and joy, so they will carry me out.

Relationships in general are life-blood for me but girlfriends are the O+ or universal donor of my life. The richest, scariest, saddest, most shameful event can be wrestled to the floor of understanding when shared with a girlfriend.

Add a Lindt peanut butter ball, a glass of iced tea or a glass of wine and the world just magically rights on its axis. 

Sunday, July 3, 2011

As promised, more on "Somebodies and Nobodies"

In my hometown, I received the great, good privilege of serving as UNofficial pastor to parts of the Alcoholics Anonymous community---quite an honor for a non-alcoholic. Once, when asked to do a funeral service, I arranged to attend the visitation for the express purpose of getting to know the deceased in preparation for the eulogy the next day. To my surprise, more than forty persons stayed after the visitation to speak with me. After the third person introduced himself by saying “Hello my name is Jim” and the group responded “Hi Jim,” I realized, in effect, I was attending an AA meeting. I left humbled and impressed. These folks experienced the depths of despair and literally resurrected their lives through what it means to be community in AA. This experience with AA identified for me these factors that help us or keep us from continuing to thrive.
I couldn’t help notice the AA community seems to do forgiveness better than most churches! Why is that? One alcoholic friend told me the answer rests in an AA saying “Churches are full of people who are afraid of going to hell; AA is full of people who have been there already and don’t want to go back.” Great wisdom. Another friend says the difference is “AA folks declare the king has no clothes on; church folks sometimes know but are afraid to say so.” Authenticity makes the difference! AA and Al-Anon Family Groups also do community better than most churches. I have not experienced a church where a Jaguar and a beat-up old Chevy sit next to each other in the parking lot and the group in the basement includes professionals in business clothes, mothers with small children in tow and a shabbily dressed man in work boots with the mud still on them.
Rankism doesn’t exist in AA and Al-Anon. Robert W. Fuller’s book, Somebodies and Nobodies, affirms for me that rankism is the last ism we need to fight. I’m not saying all other battles against isms have been fought and won. I’m saying the battle against ranking each other in endless categories has scarcely begun. I not only experienced the worst of this rankism as a child born into poverty, I also was carefully taught that I could only overcome being at the bottom by rising above others on various imaginary charts that proved I was smarter, richer, whiter, prettier, classier, more educated, more famous, more honored. Fuller’s book should be required high school reading.
None of these rankings, high or low, has any bearing on our value or dignity as an individual human being. They may bring us fleeting recognition --- not less worthy of celebration because of its brevity, but also not related to our fundamental worth. While they may make us ‘king for a day,’ that does not make anyone our servant.
And tomorrow, we must always start over. …Fame and fortune are often mistaken for the goals of life. In fact, the deepest satisfaction flows form simple recognition from others for whatever we contribute to them. It has nothing to do with trophies, money, or fame, which are prized rather for the protections they afford us against the indignities of this still rankist world. 

After years of respecting AA and having this personal experience of a meeting, I still needed the proverbial brick over my head before I started attending the Al-Anon Family Group---their program for families of alcoholics. Alcoholism is generational in most families and certainly persisted in mine. Stories about my maternal grandfather lovingly referred to him as an “Irish drunk;” cirrhosis of the liver took him at an early age. My grandmother then married a second drunk for whom she sometimes drove the car from the passenger’s seat! My paternal grandfather always came up the long sidewalk by their house singing “Hey, Hey Good Lookin” which signaled he was on a binge. He also died young.
In the next generation on my mother’s side, there were four siblings. Not one of them was an alcoholic but of the three who had children each has one alcoholic child! In the next generation on my fathers’ side, he is, of course, the headliner alcoholic because he still drinks at age eighty-five, never admitting to alcoholism though he fits all guidelines offered by AA. In my generation on Dad’s side the damage is too pervasive to delineate. My children teased that I looked for an alcoholic under every leaf. Since becoming a part of Al-Anon and my deep affinity with AA, I realize there are two under every leaf and as a nation we continue to address alcoholism poorly.
After attending my first meeting of Al-Anon Family Groups, I called my friend Mary and screamed “Why have I never attended these meetings before? Reading this material is tantamount to reading my biography!”
AA folks say “You come when you’re ready.”
Mary also said “Your years of therapy, training in pastoral care and expertise in interpersonal communications and relationships probably postponed your ultimate arrival at the Al-Anon door. You had skills for coping until you didn’t have skills for coping.”
My family’s reaction to the publication of this memoir formed one of the bricks thrown at my head which drove me to Al-Anon.
Reading through that first packet of information from Al-Anon reminded me of that long-ago reading of the Marilyn Van Debur article on sexual abuse. I know and have lived these stories that are attributable to families of alcoholics. I played the role of Queen Enabler. The first lesson I learned is to stop the co-dependent merry-go-round. I’m ready to get off. I hereby resign as Queen Enabler. I would be hard pressed to decide whether my Queen Enabler activities reached their peak with my Mom, my sister Margaret or my sons. Cleaning up their messes, literally and figuratively, and propping up their lives with money seemed second nature to me. I accepted that role in their lives never questioning whether it benefited them or me. I didn’t want to be one of those people who climbed out of poverty and then kicked the ladder to the ground so no one else could use it. I never questioned that my methods of enabling were far different from showing someone else the ladder and waiting with patience while they made or didn’t make the decision to use it.
Some of the high notes in my aria as Queen Enabler included: giving sister, Margaret, the down payment for her home, then watching her abuse the home, borrow from the equity and sell it short of what she owed on it; buying Mom a car on which she let the insurance lapse and allowed my sister Vivian to drive and wreck it; and drawing my line in the sand with Mark by telling him I would no longer contribute to his life until he decided to quit smoking pot and take that brilliant mind off to college. Each of these constituted the circumstance which finally got my attention with that one person. Getting off the co-dependence merry-go-round happens one person at a time. If I complain about how slowly the process is my Al Anon friends remind me “Progress, not perfection, is our goal.”
Of the Enabler stories I’ve heard since being in Al Anon, the prize and pinnacle is the woman who found a pair of women’s panties in her bedroom that were not hers. She confronted her husband and he insisted they were hers when she knew they were not. She washed the panties and wore them rather than forcing the issue of his infidelity and alcoholism!
I’m finally letting the fact sink deeply into my soul, enabling others benefits no one.
However---big however---I find it necessary to learn some Al Anon principles over and over again. One principle that goes hand-in-hand with my co-dependence, and still has the power to thwart my good intentions, is accepting all people wherever they are on their educational, psychological and spiritual travels. I have spent much of my life trying to help others along on their voyage. Learning where to draw the line between legitimate support for others and when my help crosses into co-dependence is a vital skill. Backing off and accepting people for where they are feels like deserting drowning puppies in a lake. The answer, of course, is to place the rescue ramp where they can find it and trust they will make the climb when they have had enough of swimming. Sounds simple; hard to do when you are much more inclined to provide solutions to everyone you meet. I’m still a work in progress. Experts have been known to agree that the best predictor of success is not the absence of failure but the ability to bounce back from failure. Al Anon continues to help me bounce back from failure one day at a time. Thanks be to God for Al Anon.
The goal of serenity is as slippery as my hair gel.    

Saturday, July 2, 2011

"Who is My Neighbor?" photo exhibit by John Lynner Peterson

The synchronicity of supporting my husband while also promoting something I care deeply about is pure delight. John Lynner Peterson, photographer extraordinaire, will be exhibiting for the first time in Kentucky! His group of photos titled "Who is My Neighbor,"  will be shown at the Woodford County Public Library during the month of July. Opening reception will be July 10th from 2:30 to 5:00 PM. John will also lecture on the exhibit on July 20th at 7:30 PM.

I have written before on this blog about Robert Fuller's book, Somebodies and Nobodies. It addresses the last "ism" in our world---rankism. We, human beings, have all sorts of prejudices about other humans. Racism, sexism, homophobia---to name a few. We have a hard time embracing all people as our neighbors and worthy of our love and care and attention. Fuller's book maintains that putting people on a ladder with some better than me and others less than me is that last prejudice to need to abolish. John's photos poignantly and compellingly show us that all people are our neighbors.

Don't miss it!