Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Dear Brain

Dear Brain,

This is a final notice to cease and desist any and all pointless worry.  In concordance with the terms of your lease, you are required to maintain a habitable environment and I regret to inform you that your anxious pondering and obsessive rigidity are a violation of your contract. 

I am aware of the Creativity Thief that has been stalking the neighborhood and apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused you.  Hopefully following today’s court proceedings, he will no longer be a threat to our residents. 

I would like resolving this matter amicably, and would suggest the sage wisdom of a Ms. Ida. “99% of what we worry about never happens.”  I realize we have had a turbulent relationship previously, and are optimistic that we can come to a peaceful compromise in the immediate future.  Otherwise, you will be receiving an eviction notice within the week. 

Please do not hesitate to contact me, say a prayer, or take a pill at any time.

Thank you,
Your Landlord

Friday, January 21, 2011

Understudy Auditions

This comes from a previous blog post: Casting...  written after Mother's Day...

I thought I needed an understudy. I used the term ‘family of choice’ while holding auditions for mothers take 2.  I must have been out sick when they taught that nobody is perfect, that sometimes you have to ask for what you need, that mothers are simply you plus twenty years. I missed the gift I was born into through the years that I plucked new mothers to try on for size.

There was Susan, the therapist I saw when I was sixteen, whom I thought hung the moon.  She was young and naive enough to try to save her motley crew of patients, despite our insistence to stay sick.  She was free to empathize absent the background noise that my mother carried: an illness she couldn’t cure, the pains of watching her daughter suffer, and the sadness buried under piles of unfulfilled dreams.  Ignoring therapeutic boundaries, Susan dove in determined to pull me to the surface, dismissing my mom on the shoreline reaching for my hand.  At the time, I considered our unprofessional coffee dates and offers to adopt me proof that she really loved me and not just because ‘we pay her to be nice to you, Lauren.’  When mother’s day rolled around, her card was my hook, my plea to care about me most, to rescue me aside from my patient status.

Armed with my own therapy license, savior isn’t the word that comes to mind.  She was an inexperienced counselor, armed with good intentions, but leaving wreckage in her wake. She often was an hour or two late for sessions because clients continually were in crisis on her couch, knowing that meltdowns bought additional minutes with our beloved therapist.  I rode her horse and played with her puppy, boastful with my other therapy group friends until I heard that Sarah had done the same.  Not special enough.  Not sick enough obviously.  I amped up my efforts with a hollow suicide threat that won me a nighttime home visit and silences that conveyed absolute misery.  She was my life raft at 16.  The thing I looked forward to all week, the only couch where I could exhale and drop the act of ‘fine and dandy’. 

She was definitely creative, confiscating Lucy’s baggy overalls and extra large hoodies serving as emaciation disguise while replacing them with spandex aimed at a body image reality check. She wrote up contracts for our parents to sign, and advocated for our sanity while we set out proving her wrong.  Susan became my God, the road map for Woman, and my answer to ‘What do you want to be when you grow up.’  She was smart, funny, confident, and still knew how to play.  Yet, she was my therapist, so the fact that I knew this hints at trouble from the get goes.  I set her words on repeat as my personal soundtrack, and if Susan was going to jump off the Empire State Building, my question was merely ‘When are we taking the leap?’ Just as she got to play mommy without the mess of being a parent, I cast myself as Favorite Daughter, and through my rose-colored lenses, shaded her with perfection. 

It was 9:30 pm by the time I got home from Hebrew High School, 2 weekly hours spent meeting with friends at the campus and then heading over to the Coffee Plantation before the first bell rang.  As the 16 year old, who didn’t drink, do drugs, sleep around, or go to parties, I figured I was entitled to ditching as the bare minimum of required rebellion.  Wait a second….ok, what the hell happened while I was sipping my coffee??  My room was naked.  Over 20 bunches of dried roses were missing and my wall of framed photos gleamed white.  I saw orange.  Literally. I found a folded loose-leaf sheet of paper on my bed next to a small can of white paint and a watercolor brush.

“Lauren, You may come back to see me when your room is white again.  Until then, I suggest you take some time to consider what you are doing to your life.  Love, Susan.”

Furious that my parents had okayed this stunt or honored that Susan loved me enough to come over to my house and decorate?  I was torn.  (Notice that I never was angry with her for defacing my pretty room. Of course not.  Parents were definitely to blame.) Everywhere I looked, I saw orange.  Orange.  The one color I couldn’t stand.  Locating her lost painter, Susan had come armed with orange paint, and left truthful messages that I read as insults as they dripped down my walls.  “You’re throwing your life away down the toilet”  “All you care about is how you look.” “It’s shallow to only care about the number on the scale.” “Looks aren’t everything. You are more than the size of your jeans.” “Having an eating disorder doesn’t make you special.” “Any one can starve.  It doesn’t make you unique.” “You are wasting your life.”

I knew she was trying to shake me up, rattle my delusional thinking, and shock me into recovery.  She gets points for originality, but the beauty of her creativity was lost on me.  All I could see were my fears splashed up for any and all to read.  I cringed to think that I was perceived as vain.  It wasn’t about food or how I looked, and Susan knew that.  But she also knew the world’s perception of eating disorders, and while its not about the food or weight, it’s all about food and weight.  Plus, teenagers were the ones that only cared about looks and dieting.  I was not going to fall into that category, despite my chronological age.  Glancing at the tiny watercolor brush and her note, I realized it would be way too long before I could see her again if I played by her rules.  Having mastered the art of lying, I bought a rolling wall brush and caked my room white by the next day, showing up in her office for our scheduled appointment with innocent insistence that the watercolor brush worked amazingly well.  Guilt-free, I looked her straight in the eyes and vowed that I didn’t buy a bigger brush.  I cared only about seeing her, and making sure that she still loved me.  Morals could wait for another day.  The trouble with lying is that it masks the primer, and shadows future eyes, with orange paint peeking through the deceitful cracks on my walls decades later.

            We said goodbye over coffee before I left for college.  I avoided her eyes as I handed her my gift, keeping up appearances of being ‘fine’ while desperately hoping she knew I would drown without her. I had made her a journal hand-filled with quotes, my writings for her, and lyrics I knew she would cherish.  I needed her, needed her like oxygen, needed her not to forget me, and not to find a new favorite client to lovingly save.  With perfect synchronicity, she handed me her wrapped present; a blank journal with her card tucked inside next to a poem. I drove home blurry with tears, gasping for air, positive I’d miss her forever.  Despite my teenage taboo, I managed to conquer dramatic teenage angst just fine. I went to St. Louis and found new oxygen and new adoptive mothers, while still tripping over cracks of orange truths.  1.  The Mom role had been cast with the best woman from the start.  2.  It was time for me to let go and become my own savior.

Letting Go
Author unknown

To "let go" does not mean to stop caring,
It means I can't do it for someone else.

To "let go" is not to cut myself off,
It’s the realization I can't control another.

To "let go" is not to enable,
But to allow learning from natural consequences.

To "let go" is to admit powerlessness,
Which means the outcome is not in my hands.

To "let go" is not to try to change or blame another,
It’s to make the most of myself.

To "let go" is not to care for,
But to care about.

To "let go" is not to fix,
But to be supportive.

To "let go" is not to judge,
But to allow another to be a human being.

To "let go" is not to be in the middle arranging the outcomes,
But to allow others to affect their own destinies.

To "let go" is not to be protective,
It’s to permit another to face reality.

To "let go" is not to deny,
But to accept.

To "let go" it not to nag, scold or argue,
But instead to search out my own shortcomings, and correct them.

To "let go" is not to adjust everything to my desires
But to take each day as it comes,
And cherish myself in it.

To "let go" is not to criticize and regulate anybody
But to try to become what I dream I can be.

To "let go" is not to regret the past,
But to grow and live for the future.

To "let go" is to fear less,
And love more.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Thou Shalt...pick up dry cleaning

Just for fun...

for those to-do lists and sticky note reminders that need some added oomph, these post-its can be yours for only $6.99

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Stale Rules

As I continue to work on my book, I am expanding, editing, deleting and rewriting some past blogs. This comes from an old post:   Rules for Playing but is the new and improved 2.0 version!

Without rules, we are like children without a bedtime, running wild, secretly seeking some structure.  Even as damaging as some of my early tractates were, they were still rules, allowing for direction and order.  So as I build my own adult life, I look around me and realize that for the first time, there is no one authority figure dictating my choices or outlining their worldview for me to subscribe to.

In the past decade as I’ve moved from state to state and job to job, I sought new teachers wherever I went. Instead of sifting through their lessons and deciding which parts I agree with and which parts I’ll choose to let slip through my fingers, I simply nod and smile, grateful for my new guidebook. It’s much simpler this way. No need to think for myself, no agonizing debates about values and morals, no uncertainty about what to say, what to think, or what to do. The fatal flaw came when I eventually moved: moved on, moved away, moved back and was left floundering, a mess of competing rules from different schools of thought. 

As a freshman in St. Louis, I discovered the thrill of breaking old rules, staying up until 3 am on my co-ed dorm floor, running to class in flannel pants, and the entertainment of drawing with sharpies upon the cheeks of passed out floor-mates after beer bong contests.  WashU was a wet campus, allowing freshman to drink on university grounds, and so I arrived at the party without having to leave my single room.  Some of the rules were familiar: Attend class.  Be smart.  Get A’s.  Find a niche to Shine.  The rest of the lingo and culture we learned in College 101: WILD means a day off of class, drinking beginning at 10 am, a day-long college sponsored concert standing for ‘Walk In Lie Down’.  ‘The Quad’ is the best place for flag Frisbee.  RA’s will join the 2 am floor dance if you invite them.  Best friends forgo sleep the night before thanksgiving break and commiserate on the dramas of going home.  Sleep is optional at all times.  Caffeine is more essential than air. 

 Banished from my dream college, I trudged to Crystal City, MO for yet another residential program.  In a bankrupt lottery winner’s mansion, I became the patient rules were based on.  A new center trying to cater to the individual and preach unconditional love despite destructive actions, I gave them a run for their money.  The endless diet coke supply became 2 a day.  Equal packets were doled out in multiples of 5 rather than the 200 I was using.  Molly Mcbutter could only be used as a topping, not a side dish, as was imitation vanilla, cinnamon, and mustard.  Walks were now monitored lest purging was the aim.  I learned to value movement over words and invest in art scribbles over childhood analysis.  I heard the staffing whispers of being stuck, unsure how to cure my tendency to crash every time I stepped out their front doors.  Rule #1: there must be a reason for sickness.  There must be a missing piece that will explain all.  Rule #2: Treatment centers are businesses looking for a profit.  Rule #3: Having an anorexic child in a treatment center across the country doesn’t qualify you to open your own program.  Rule #4: Actions are trusted more than declarations.  Body memories are not to be disputed.  Rule #5: Programs can ravage a family and induce rather than cure sickness. Rule #6: Professionals can be horribly wrong.  Rule #7: Professionals aren’t always Professional.

             In Buffalo Gap, Texas, the standard was confrontation and voicing your anger, one day at a time and tough love. I moved out of the residential center and tacked up pictures in the doublewide trailer nee halfway house, greeting the neighboring buffalo, Bob, for my morning walks.  I filled my days with group lessons on identity and anger. I’m Lauren: anorexic, bulimic, obsessive compulsive, sufferer of anxiety and depression, co-dependent, love avoidant, and survivor of emotional abuse. And then braced myself for the inevitable rash of confrontations.  Lauren, I feel anger when you purge behind the bushes and I would need or like for you to get with the program or get out.  Lauren, I feel anger when you sneak more than 2 Splenda packets at breakfast, and I would need or like for you to get honest.  Lauren, I feel anger when you skip your butter at dinner and I would need or like for you to follow the rules.  I clenched my jaw with stone cold eyes and vowed no seeable response, acting like I couldn’t care less as my best revenge.  Rather than using the peer pressure as a motivator to take steps toward recovery, I garnered my fury as fuel for increased deceptiveness and honed my manipulative talents.

keep-it-simple-stupid-kiss-thumb.png We had a lingo out in middle-of-nowhere Texas, fluent in 12-step clichés and tough love.  ‘Trying is lying.” “No is a complete sentence.” “Everything after ‘but’ is bullshit.”  For a girl who skittered away from frustration and spent a childhood sweeping up hurt feelings after my brother’s illegal angry displays, I learned to join in the cacophony of confrontations and found a home in our ramshackle trailer house.  The rules were clear, laid down by BMW speeding Queen, ex-pill addict, covered with spikes unless you became one of the chosen few, which I did.  Straight shooting and crass with manicured toes, Cindy had little patience for clients wasting her time, and led anger groups that ended with foam bats beating pillows and anorexic twigs tapping into years of stifled rage as they wrestled with her, often winning, to ‘get it all out’. 

The Written Rules: A meeting a day.  Read your big book every day.  Pray daily.  Eat 3 meals a day, no white flour or sugar.  No snacking in between meals.  Work the 12-step program.  No purging.  No binging.  No drinking.  No drugs.  No cutting.  No isolating.  No gambling.  No raging.  No sex.  No over-exercising.  Attend all groups.  The Other Rules: The 12-step program is the only way to get better.  You must find a higher power if you will recover.  We know what’s best for you, so before making any decisions, bring it to group for ‘feedback’.  Staying close to the treatment center is the only way you’ll (Lauren and other frequent flyers) ever reach any semblance of recovery.  Blunt truth is always the best option.  Any action that steps over normal limits gets labeled as addiction, leaving me with no acquaintances that didn’t need some 12-step program.  Years later, it sounds cultish and crazy, but this coddle-free corner worked for me at the time.  I became one of the inner circle, a yearlong patient twice, both times moving to buffalo gap once I finished or was kicked out of the program. 

In psychology graduate school, the outlook was that of dysfunction, healing.  We learned how to soothe client’s wounds after making sure that our own scabs had stopped oozing.  I found a cohort of wounded healers, classmates drawn to the profession of sickness with sob stories seeping out of their baggage in the hall. Back in Arizona, I learned that family is a unit that stands together and falls together, that love has no limits but can also bring a family to its knees.  The guidelines were clear: keep breathing, if not for yourself then for us. Living out of guilt was my default position, and when I tried to quit, the Rule Makers forced my hand.

Shipped off to Malibu, I learned independence, feminism while still performing the people-pleasing dance.  There were all of the familiar rules: no cell phones, iPods, and novels not pre-approved.  30-minute meals with Ensure to make up the difference.  Exercise must be earned and groups were mandatory.  Within these, I managed to carve out space to breathe, encouraged to pen my own rules for life, but after a lifetime of institutions, I simply looked to my adored therapist and adopted hers.  I flipped from ‘worst patient ever’ to ‘star patient’ and each identity came with clear-cut mandates. I might have found space to ponder my life view, but I excelled at Hero Client, miracle story complete with vows of a bigger life and bread pudding for dessert.  I knew what I believed only by the reflection from others, and culled together opinions on politics, love, career, and life without ever having a unique thought.

In west LA, in my own apartment, there are no rules written on the chalkboard, no mindset that I can put my finger, dictating values and opinions. Being an obsessive order craver, I decide to make my own rules.  Some are old, some have been taught, and some are only applicable for today. The beauty of authoring your own constitution is that you get to add amendments at any moment without a majority vote.

For my own rules, see RULES FOR PLAYING but these sum it up pretty nicely!

Friday, January 7, 2011


The assignment was the write about nuts.  Finally, a topic I’m fluent in.  Until I finish the paragraph…nuts, cashews, almonds, peanuts…

Nuts are my people.  They are my roommates in treatment centers and my co-conspirators in psych wards.  They are the reality speakers blinded by truth that join me in alternate worlds, none of us knowing how to slip back into the life we abandoned long ago.  Nuts are my people; the alternative clique donned in depression, anxiety, ocd, bi-polar disorder, borderline personalities, addicts, and eating disorders.  We carry cards of identification marked by psychotropic drugs and bonus points for seasoned veterans who have done stints at multiple sites.  There is a hierarchy among the sick with the incurable reigning as Kings and specialness determined by number of diagnosis. I can spot my people in a crowd, set aside by the disease of normalcy and self-sharing that induces listeners to scan for an acceptable escape excuse. 

We laugh at the stories of prom and all-nighters, silently adding our own escapades: ‘it was hilarious. When I was 16 and living in a locked psych ward while in an eating disorder program, Sarah and Megan were my best friends.  And we would play bunko every afternoon and paired completed crossword puzzles with hidden lunch scraps in the couch cushions.’  Snapshot: summer afternoon in Scottsdale Behavioral Health inpatient unit.  Four adolescent anorexics eating lunch outside with our warden/nurse.  Sarah, needing to gain weight to earn parole, next to Megan, whose only goal remained disappearing, gulped down her fish entrée while I watered the ficus tree with chocolate ensure.  Oh, we had some fun that summer.’

 I can do cocktail parties, holding my own in the vortex of weather small talk and extroverted talent. I can mingle while smiling pretty, but I hate it. I hate the awkwardness of moving on to someone new because I simply can’t handle talking about the weather any longer with my current conversationalist, half listening as I scroll thru acceptable excuses to move away, seeing as how ‘I’m bored with you now’ not so much making the list.  I hate the inevitable high school flash backs of lingering on the clique’s edge, emphatically not cool enough. Abnormal in a sea of my peers, my ears prick up with the hint of a fellow nut.  I catch the stammering explanation of late graduations or the awkward pauses when questions skirt perceived shame.  I sidle up; confident I have enough craziness to spread around, relieving the pressure off a more private compatriot. 

We’re all around, having swerved off the ‘Good Child’ track, leaving muddy tracks behind our trails of darkness.  We’re there in the midst of turmoil sure that a coat of concealer will magically transform despair.  It’s the lucky ones that show up after the rain has dried.  We come with tales of new lands and fresh eyes, comic adventures and epic bruises. Jealousy still creeps into my purse at these cocktail parties, wishing I had managed to stay on the ‘normal’ track.  I long for the Ordinary in these moments, and stuff my wounds in back pockets.  But there’s also the air of superiority among my crowd, tilting our chins down at the masses who haven’t been tested yet, haven’t had to sift through the meaning of life and claw their way out of cement holes.  We know trouble, and us lucky ones learn to weave crazy as entertainment, using scars as inspiration. 

These are my people, my nutty, crazy posse. If you want to chat about the weather or the latest Oscar nominees, I’ll stand there for a minute. Then you’ll see me scanning the room, searching for fellow nuts because as much as I might want to fit into the Normal mold, frankly I’m just bored…

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Grown Up...ish

Teenagers: An 11 year old’s list
1.  Bedrooms resembling the aftermath of a tornado
2.  Screaming back retorts at sweet well-intentioned mothers
3. Becoming boy-crazy, meaning shallow, stupid and annoying
4. Caked in make-up, transforming adorable little girls into objects of ‘she used to be so little and lovable'
5. Having a phone implanted permanently, in the pre-cell phone era, with topics ranging from boys, make-up, clothing, stupid parents, and boys
6. #1 destination: the Mall
7. Shirking all parental affection, wounding loving mothers and fathers callously
8.  Morphing into an angry, prickly, crabby, unlovable almost grown-up necessitating survival from all surrounding loved ones

Death was preferable.  I caught the furtive glances at my parents as I celebrated my 13th birthday, and listened closely to the messages behind the jokes of terrorizing adolescents.  Obviously, teenagers were nightmares of worry-causing trouble, high-pitched giggling beneath the eye shadow and shopping passion.  Teenage girls were petty and shallow, argumentative and boy-crazy. They hated their mothers and rebelled against their fathers.  They slammed doors while getting drunk, shedding sweet lovability in hallways.  They were dreaded beings that had to be survived and I wasn’t going to become one. I lurked in corners of adult conversation, jotting down ‘What not to be’, certain that with the right knowledge I could prevent the teenage stench and avoid being the object of parental weary sighs and eye-rolling frustration. 

Plus teenagers were just one hop away from becoming a grown up. 

A fate marked by mind-numbing routine, 9-5 jaunts serving solely to pay for the car to drive you home, the bed to crash upon, and the coffee to jolt you awake, rinse and repeat.  I was missing the appeal.  I couldn’t understand how they did it, these commuters hurriedly applying mascara at the red lights, the permanent brow furrows my mom sported while juggling hot dinners, Hebrew school pick ups, spotless floors and volunteering.  How did my dad wake to his 6 am buzzer, slip on his white lab coat and not strangle the masses with strep throat, diabetes, high blood pressure or loneliness that he tangoed with in rushed 10 minute consults?  Was I the only one seeing the futility in Grown Up land?  Was I missing the secret, the hidden purpose making it all worthwhile?  I studied my accessible adults: aunts and grandfathers, parents and teachers, sure there must be a redeeming prize hidden within the soft eye wrinkles.  Nothing. 

So I spent the next 15 years grasping at childhood straws, shrinking ounce by ounce in a thin attempt to maintain my kid status.  I was sure I wasn’t missing a thing, living my small life in my imaginative never-never land, definitely not a little girl but not even close to a grown-up.  I waited for my instruction manual, searching for Adult 101 in my course listings.  As friends got married and settled into independent lives, I watched with wonder, secretly jealous as I scoffed with disapproval over their Grown Up crowns.

What was happening? We were the kids, meant to be packing for summer camp and writing book reports, backseat residents and the receivers of bedtime stories. They were the grown-ups back then, high heeled in responsibility, absolute possessors of universal truths and magic kisses to make it all better.  They were adults, strong and confident, wise and fearless.   Titles of ‘Mom’ and ‘Dad’ superseding lingering childhood, they were the final answer, protectors of safety, and owners of life’s guidebook.  I watched her put on her make-up, superfluous to the beauty I saw early in the morning, as I tasted a glimpse of this ‘other life’, cast in moonlight skies and whiffs of Escada perfume. They were old, with kids and houses, jobs and responsibilities.  They had all of it figured it. They must! I needed to believe that these two tall figures knew exactly what they were doing, that they really could deliver the sun, and that soothing words erasing fears were based in reality and not merely placating an anxious daughter.  They were grown-ups; of course they had it all together. 

Except as I look at the pictures from her 30th birthday party, it sinks in.  I’m 30.  Oh goodness.  Panic seeps thru confidence cracks as I ponder the two options:
1.   She had no more clues about life and parenting and living in her skin than I do now and was just making it up as she goes along, which induces the crumbling of childhood pedestals and notions of ‘when I grow up’ I’ll somehow be granted the missing key.
2. She was much more grown-up than I and really did have a life plan and know how to stand on her own two feet without peering around corners for approval and help. In that case, I am shockingly delayed.  Without the kids, house, or spouse, I have somehow stepped off of the timeline.

‘Grown Up’ has always been inversely defined by my two older cousins.  At 10 and 8 years older, whatever birthday they were celebrating immediately became fair game, un-adult, not old. They can’t old.  We’re still sitting at the kid’s table.  And my parents can’t be old.  They’re no different than they were twenty years ago, so as the years pass, I simply slide the ‘old’ marker up a few years, protecting those I love from having to dip a toe into the danger zone. But I look around and I know, secretly seeing it in my little cousin’s eyes.  I am one of them, crossed over into the grown up camp. I wish I could tell him the secret: I feel just like you, only with a few more stories to tell. We are adults.  We’re all in our twenties, thirties, forties, out living independent-ish lives, getting married, getting divorced, having kids, slipping on our own high heels. 

I’ll consider being Grown-Up-ish.  I’ll mull over the idea that this fault line following childhood might have been imaginary, and that adulthood just may hold some appealing qualities.  I’ll learn that adult doesn’t equal alone, and that interdependence is a perfect compromise between toddler reliance and hermit independence.  I’ll ponder freedoms appreciated and discover Grown Ups get to make their own rules, or at least add multiple amendments.  I’ll debate the merits of responsibility over the stress of bills, and laugh amidst days spent in pj’s. 

I remember my grandmother looking in the mirror as I fastened her necklace, caught off guard as if she couldn’t match her 85-year-old face with the young girl she was somewhere beneath the wrinkles. I’m guessing that’s how it goes.  We all skip and stumble, take risks and laugh through the falls. We do the best we can in the absence of instruction manuals, and we try to fill the oversized shoes left behind.  We banish monsters from the closet and kiss skinned knees, hoping that they won’t notice our own fears.  We are all kids playing as grown-ups, with sweet insecurities poking out as we build our Lego lives and pray that somehow it will end with ‘Happily Ever After’.  

I’ll concede to being an almost Grown Up.