Why this one?

I’m on a mission to save Otis. He is a five(ish)-year-old Boxer I found yesterday near my office. He was walking down a busy street. I picked him up without thinking it through. I can’t leave a dog. 

My last fostering experience ended with the death of a dog I had grown to love. Cooper was an English Coonhound I fostered through a rescue. I had never fostered formally before, and I expected more support. I expected more communication. I networked the dog myself, and found a potential home for him in Florence, South Carolina. The people filled out the application, sent in their vet references, and I did the home visit. Everything looked perfect. A week later, I received a text from the rescue organization director. It read: Cooper is dead. Upon calling the director, I learned that the adopting couple had left the dog in their parents’ outdoor kennel while they were moving. Cooper was bitten by a snake and he died. The director was angry and sad. And she blamed me.

Rarely does a day pass that I don’t think of Cooper, being bitten and dying — maybe slowly — alone on a summer day. It gnaws at me. If I had just kept him a little longer. If I had adopted him to a family in Greenville. If I had not been so eager to get him adopted. 

There’s no happy ending there. No resolution. For a long time, Matthew forbade me from fostering. I complied, not because I’m good at listening, but because I felt like I was shitty at rescuing dogs. 

A few people I work with love animals as much I do. About a month ago we pooled money to rescue a yellow lab, Cherokee, who was just hours away from euthanasia. After pulling her from the shelter, we realize she was in bad, bad shape. At the emergency vet, we were advised that due to a vast number of simultaneous issues, the dog should be humanely euthanized. We agreed. And we were publicly berated for the decision.

So yeah. I’ve had two horrible experiences. I’ve questioned myself and my ability and my commitment and my decisions. But when I saw Otis lumbering down the street, panting and affixed with a thousand-yard stare, I didn’t question myself.

If you’d like to learn more about Otis and his story, check out his Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/saveotis. If you’d like to help us with his medical expenses, check out his donation page: https://www.youcaring.com/saving-otis.  

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Best damn smoothie

Matthew wanted pizza tonight. I wanted to eat clean, because I’ve been a little off track lately and that makes me feel pretty bad, both physically and mentally. Over the past few months I’ve been going to a gym, shelling out money for a personal trainer I can’t afford, and lifting heavy. My body has noticed. And all those people who swore that working out would terminate my stress: Hats off to you. I concede. I hated you for a while, but you were right and I was lazy.

Back to the smoothie. I typically make this killer green smoothie from Thug Kitchen, but I’m out of pineapple and orange juice. Meh. I did, however, have organic strawberries, a few blueberries at the bottom of a carton, and a big tub of spinach. Improvisation.

spinach smoothie

Throw it in.

There’s really no recipe; just take what you think might be alright and mix it up. I used:

6 strawberries
15 or 20 blueberries (this isn’t a food blog, ok?)
Handful and a half of spinach
Little bit of milk
Little bit of plain yogurt
Couple chunks of already frozen bananas

Trust me on this: You do not taste spinach. Translate me on this: Your kid will not taste spinach.

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The Nitty Gritty

I had always equated nits (head lice if you’re nasty) with John Hughes-era, backwoods elementary schools in dirt-road Appalachia. I mean, really, who gets lice?

We do.

About three weeks ago, just as school was about to end for the year, Cole mentioned that his head was itchy. As this coincided with the first days of a Southern Summer, I chalked it up to sunburned scalp. Just a week ago, he had his mop cut into a smooth, swim-friendly cut. The hairstylist clearly didn’t notice his head was, uh, apparently home to parasites.

Wolf cut

What you know about rocking a wolf on your noggin?

How did we not know? Well, because you don’t know what you, uh, don’t know? He never complained of itching, sans twice in three weeks. I would have never even thought to look. Until we thought to look.

Tonight the kid has suffered through my cleaning mania, which is far more focused on the child than on the house. I find my own behavior a tad uncharacteristic, because I have a tendency toward obsession in terms of a clean home. The way I look at it, though, is that the bugs don’t live for long when not lovingly attached to a head, so fix the kid, fix the house. That translated to an hour and a half spent in the bathroom, first washing his hair with tea tree oil, then with Nix®, followed by the gel and a metal fine-tooth comb. He was a trooper, shedding just a few tears from the initial pull of the comb. At 10pm, he is asleep, his head clean but coated with a big-ass glob of Pantene hair mask and olive oil, in a hopeful attempt to get the last of those fuckers. And while I write here, relatively safe on a leather couch, Matthew washes all manner of bed and furniture coverings, God bless him.

It’s nasty business.

Funny thing, though. As much as it’s a giant pain in the ass, I am not… freaking out (much). It’s unpleasant, yes. It’s tedious, mmhm. But in the mammoth vastness of bad potentialities, this is small potatoes. And for the first time in a week or more, Cole and I had a quiet conversation. As I combed through the gel plastered to his hair, inch by excruciating inch, we talked.

Am I saying it’s been a blessing? Hell no. But I’m saying that sometimes it takes a little inconvenience to slow me down and jar me into awareness. Cheers, universe.

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gratitude

There are many times that I wake up, stumble to the bathroom for my contact case, and start the day with a low buzz of swirly, got-to-do thoughts. Sometimes I remember to stop myself. I take a breath, slow the head race, and remember these things for which I’m grateful:

for a healthy child

for a healthy child

must love dogs

for matt, who loves dogs (almost) as much as me.

big ellie

for the guardian of all small creatures.

for friends like this.

for friends like this.

 

and this.

and this.

 

dogs

for a house full of fur.

sleep.

for good sleep and a warm bed.

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two questions

There are a few reflection exercises I like. This is a daily one, and I’ve mentioned it before on my company’s blog. It helps me stay mindful.

Every night I ask myself:

1. Are you proud of the choices you are making at home?
2. Are you proud of the choices you making at work?

The exercise struck me as inherently Buddhist in its focus on action (not results). It’s a self-check, innit?

It’s also closely related to NA/AA speak. Meetings, and those who attend them, are full of platitudes. Some are great, in that I find them amusing and accurate (Those who relapse are attending powerlessness graduate school) and some are real shit, in that I find them nauseating in their triteness (Directions to AA: Just go straight to hell and make a U-turn). Clearly, I have mixed feelings about the program. Forgive me that (or don’t).

One, though, has stayed with me for years: Do the next right thing.

Like the daily reflections I’m really digging, I can get behind this for the same reason: It’s action oriented and it pulls me into the present. Most days, I wish I had done better. I lose my temper at home or my focus at work. I regret wasted time. The exercise is, most days, uncomfortable for me. I think there’s something to be said, though, on living through that uncomfortableness. 

just that.

just that.

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relapse.

I’ve planned and executed a relapse for over a year. It started in Barcelona in November 2011 when I slipped up after a mere five months of sober time. I admitted that to the people I love most, and I started all over again counting the days. I didn’t drink again until Copenhagen the following year, and while I felt an awful guilt after both occasions, I chalked up the incidents to being out of the country. They didn’t really count.

Right.

Right.

I picked up again last summer, the second theoretical anniversary of my sobriety. It was, once more, an out-of-town experience. But I drank enough to be wicked to my sisters, with whom I was vacationing, and to feel like utter shit. Still, I never brought it home. That made it ok.

Fast forward. Accelerating signs: the slow withdrawal from NA and AA; the loss (or purposeful relinquishing, I don’t know) of writing as an outlet; the poisonous thinking that alcohol wasn’t really the problem; the good stressors of a new house and a new position at the company I’ve been with for five years.

SXSW is probably the worst possible place for me to go, ever. I went. On the plane, I said to myself that I wouldn’t drink: This is domestic. If you excuse drinking here, you’re done. Don’t fuck up. I did.

I remember a glass of gin with a cucumber prettily placed on the rim, and I remember hating it. I know that I was confused, that I became lost. I know, only from an early-morning phone call from the woman who somehow acquired my credit cards, that she put me in a pedi-cab around 10pm. I am certain that I wandered for hours, but it may have been 5 minutes. It is a mad blur that only an alcoholic recognizes.

I have barely made it through the past three days. The hangover was killer. The shame and guilt have been far worse. I am embarrassed, but not just about slipping. I am embarrassed that I have not been completely honest all along. That everyone believed, with no objection from me, that I was a blazing light of sobriety. I have rationalized and justified my behavior. I have told half-truths.

Writing this down is not something I thought I would do. What I would have preferred is to hole up my house with Sex and The City reruns and a blanket – for a few weeks.

Repeat.

Repeat.

But it feels better to tell. Whether it’ll feel better or worse after I’ve shouted it out here, who knows? I’m chancing it.

It’s a funny (haha?) thing because I have no conscious craving for alcohol. I don’t want it. I just got lax and lazy and believed that it was time to test the waters again. How stupid, you fucking alcoholic. The waters are never safe. I knew that, but I sold myself the same lie over and over again until I halfway believed it, long enough to pick up a drink.

This is my rigorous honesty. This is me admitting that I have a terminal illness. This is me saying that I am shitfaced powerless over alcohol, that I fell down, and that I’m working on getting back up.

“I once heard a sober alcoholic say that drinking never made him happy, but it made him feel like he was going to be happy in about fifteen minutes. That was exactly it, and I couldn’t understand why the happiness never came, couldn’t see the flaw in my thinking, couldn’t see that alcohol kept me trapped in a world of illusion, procrastination, paralysis. I lived always in the future, never in the present. Next time, next time! Next time I drank it would be different, next time it would make me feel good again. And all my efforts were doomed, because already drinking hadn’t made me feel good in years.”

― Heather King, Parched

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You is kind. You is smart. You is sometimes a jackass.

“If you don’t start out too big for your britches, how are you gonna fill ’em when you grow up?”
– Stephen King

There are times, many, in fact, that I wonder if Cole doesn’t have a tad more ego than the average dirty-pants’d six-year old. Maybe ego is the wrong word. Maybe it’s not. I’d like not to admit that he’s either overly self-centered or bursting with an unrealistic (bloated) view of self. But he does think pretty well of himself. He’s happy to be Cole. So happy that, upon playing a “What Are You Thankful For?” game with the family, Cole wrote one word: Me.

From a Buddhist perspective, ego is a center of self, but it’s the false center, the one derived from others. True center is the one you’re born with — that’s the self. A kid is born without consciousness of self, and once born, the child because aware of the Other. The child is aware of his mother, how she holds him, smiles at him, and tells him, “You are precious to me.” And through that love and care, he feels good and important and valuable.

And then, through that interaction with the Other, he becomes increasingly aware of thatthingwecallself. He goes to school and learns that he’s not the center of the universe. Sometimes he fails. People don’t like him. Someone rolls her eyes. Another tells him that he’s not cool. Problem is, though, that’s not real awareness. It’s reflected. It’s born of a million different interactions with Other. It’s a complex, growing, tangled thing that’s shaped by how the world reacts to us. Ego changes. The reflected center grows and shifts and mutates until it’s a great hulking thing that we believe is … us.

(It’s not.)

Now is it possible that I’ve bolstered inflated Cole’s view of self? You bet it is. I lavish praise on the kid. I may have, on occasion, given him a line from The Help: You is kind. You is smart. You is important.

 

I’ve gotten better, though. I have. I didn’t realize that I might be doing him a disservice with the over-the-top ERMERGERD YOU’RE SO GREAT until sometime last year. And now, I’m careful to praise him for hard work, rather than intelligence; for kind action, rather than sweetness; for a job well done, rather than innate ability. And I’m honest. When he asks, “Am I the best bike rider you’ve ever seen?” I give it to him gently, but I give it to him true.

He’s working out his identity. I’m working on ensuring that identity is solid and realistic about his strengths and weaknesses. Again with the balance.

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