"In daily life we must see that it is not happiness that makes us grateful, but gratefulness that makes us happy." Brother David Steindl-Rast

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Quitter

Today I am grateful for my sister Danita, on this, her birthday and for the opportunity my son Sam has to try wrestling this season. I am also grateful that I no longer smoke.

The same day I saw the eagles soaring, and in the same area, I also encountered a man who asked me if he could borrow a cigarette. I was happy to say "Sorry, I don't smoke." If I did smoke, I may have given him a cigarette, to help out a fellow smoker. It brought back my deep sense of gratitude for being able to quit smoking myself.

I was never a heavy smoker, but smoked some for about 12 years, from late in high school until I was 30 or so. I started smoking when I was drinking. They went well together in my book. Many times, I would buy a pack of cigarettes when I got drunk, smoke a bunch, then get mad at myself and toss the rest out the car window.

When I quit drinking, I kept smoking. I have known many alcoholics who had a tougher time quitting smoking than drinking, in terms of the physical cravings. Nicotine addiction is strong and I know many people who have tried to quit time and time again and not been able to stay quit. I worry about friends and others who smoke. Many people I knew and worked with never would have guessed I smoked. I felt like a hypocrite as a coach. But I was hooked. I would smoke in my car, my apartment, and some social situations. That's when restaurants still had smoking sections. I still sometimes crave a cigarette after a nice meal or with dessert.

I wanted to quit smoking for the obvious health reasons, but also because I was addicted. A counselor I worked with suggested that as long as I had an active addiction I wouldn't get to the bottom of some of my "stuff." Addictions hide our true selves, our true emotions, or at least part of them. So I tried to quit on and off for years. Only when I tried prayer was I successful. I prayed every day for a full year for the courage and strength to quit smoking. Then I tried one more time to quit and I was successful. Thanks for the help Higher Power!

I know today that I can't be a recreational smoker, like my husband who will have a cigar a few times a year. Like I can't have one drink, I can't have one puff. I am so grateful I don't smoke anymore. On this issue, I am happy to be a quitter.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Making a Comeback and Soaring

Today I am grateful for job changes and challenges that stretch me and bring new learning. I am also grateful for the sound of laughter from my husband and son.

Over the weekend I had the opportunity to witness a stunning view of eagles soaring over the Mississippi River just hundreds of yards from me. I was by myself and it was a beautiful blue-sky day. First I saw two eagles, then four. Two of the four quickly went to perch in trees across the river from me. The other two continued to put on a show for a couple more minutes. They are grand creatures and to watch them fly and soar so gracefully was a gift in itself.

I am very grateful that right actions were taken to save the eagles. They have made a comeback and now seeing them in my river town is not all that unusual. (Though seeing four at a time is.)

The eagles needed intervention and help from humans to repair the damage done and the wrong actions that were killing them and making them endangered. Human action first hindered, then helped the eagles.

How often is it like that in our lives? We hurt others and ourselves with wrong actions and then, if we are lucky, we get an opportunity to take the right actions and make things better. We get a chance at a comeback.

I am grateful for comebacks.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Getting Out of Self

Today I am grateful for my job and I am grateful for a car with working heat.

I have changed my profile picture again to highlight my sister Danita's creativity and to continue with the color purple for Lewy Body Dementia Awareness Month. Read more about that here.

Yesterday was a day with a range of emotions for me. Nothing big happened or didn't happen. I suspect fluctuating hormones were a factor, as well as some level of tiredness. Anyway, I was a bit cranky and frustrated at one point--a.k.a. feeling sorry for myself. I rested for a short time and that was a reprieve, but not enough to quell the "poor mes." 

I proceeded to make an appetizer for a potluck for a retiree at my school. I cleaned up some squash and put it in the oven for my family's dinner. I texted a recovery friend to see about getting together. I went for a run, taking Oliver for a mile or so, then doing another three miles on my own.

As I ran, I started thinking about how important it is for me to get out of myself when I get stuck in the self-pity. All the things in the previous paragraph helped me do just that--get out of my own head.Even the running. I was doing it for myself, but it got me out of self. It helped clear my head of the troublesome, and mostly unproductive, thoughts I was having. It connected me with nature and the other people and pets I saw on my route.

I returned to a place of gratitude. To be healthy, running, have a family, a home, a job . . . those all matter more than what I was ruminating about. Gratitude requires moving beyond our own self. To thank others, or circumstances, or a higher being for giving us nature's beauty. And so much more.

Then I received a gift via this blog. A comment from a reader who had been inspired to take action after reading a recent post of mine. I will keep reaching out and sharing my passion for and belief in gratitude practice.

It works. It really does.

Monday, October 28, 2013

"Help me" and "Thank you"

Today I am grateful for recovery wisdom and honesty shared by others. I am also grateful for sunshine and a family bike ride yesterday.

The quote in my gratitude journal yesterday just happened to be from my favorite writer-Anne Lamott. Here it is:

Here are the two best prayers I know: "Help me, help me, help me" and "Thank you, thank you, thank you."

There are many ways you can consider these prayers. For me, both prayers are about getting out of myself, right-sizing my ego. Asking for help means I recognize that I can't do it all alone, nor do I need to. It means that I might even realize that my way is not the best way, or even the right way.

Saying thank you reminds me that I can't take all the credit, that others helped me in big ways or small. Thanking others or my Higher Power sends me the message of worthiness as well. I am worthy of the help others have to offer. They are worthy of my help too. We are all flawed and worthy at the same time.

The copyright in my gratitude journal is 2005, so Lamott said these words years ago. She went on to write a book about them more recently (2012) called Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers. Read my post about the book from January 7, 2013 here. I continued to blog about the ideas in the book for the next five days.

Help me keep an open mind and heart today, so I recognize when others need my help and when I need to ask for their help. Thank you for giving me this day. I will try to make the most of it, one moment, one hour at a time.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Perspective Via Frustration

Today I am grateful for two dates with my husband Darcy yesterday. First, a long training run date in the morning. Then, a dinner date in the evening.

Yesterday afternoon I had a run-in with my lack of computer skills. I was attempting to create business cards with my blog information on them. It shouldn't have been too tough. I made some progress, but had far more frustration. And then I got even more frustrated because of the time I had wasted. My husband, sitting in proximity and hearing a little swearing from me, suggested I take a break. Good idea Darcy! Thanks!

I took that break, figuratively took a step away from the computer and literally started thinking about gratitude and perspective. Sure, that little foray into frustration did waste some time, but I also learned a couple things about creating business cards. Sure, that's an hour of my life I won't get back, but I could have been doing far worse things-like drinking.

A little frustration was put back in perspective. It was still a really good day. We had a great training run, I got to take a nap, I got my daily hug from my son. Darcy and I still got to have our date night while Sam was at a youth group Halloween function.

It really is all about perspective and perception. Gratitude practice keeps them both much healthier.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Short List, Long Run

Today I am grateful for the comforts of our home, including the working heat as the weather turns colder.

What else am I grateful for this morning?
*fresh coffee
*good running shoes
*my marriage
*comfortable running attire
*a working sense of taste and smell
*ongoing motivation and ideas to keep me blogging
*peanut butter
*air to breathe
*working lungs

If you have never tried a gratitude journal or a gratitude list, I would encourage you to try one.I write down two things I am grateful for each day in my journal. (Some days those may match what I write here on the blog, but many days they are different.) Or start a list on your phone and add to it daily or weekly. Or do an A-Z gratitude list as you commute, walk, or fold laundry.

My husband Darcy and I are off on a long training run this morning. Twenty miles. One step at a time. Gratitude practice. One day at a time.

Friday, October 25, 2013

The Dangers of Social Media

Today I am grateful for students with energy and enthusiasm. I am also grateful for the comfortable recliners in our living room.

I have one more post focusing on the words of Glennon Doyle Melton. She wrote a blog post on September 26th that contained some powerful thoughts on the dangers of social media. She took a 40-day hiatus from all things Internet and then wrote about her insights. Read that post here. The biggest danger among those she discussed, in my opinion, was this one: Social media threatened my only source of real peace and joy, which is gratitude.

Melton's own words as she discussed it in the post referenced above:

Social media threatened my only source of real peace and joy, which is gratitude. All of this posting about my life shoved me out of THE MOMENT, which is where gratitude lives. Choosing to live my life out on social media meant that I was never truly present because as soon as a great moment presented itself to me –I jumped right out of it. My brain said – Well, this is something remarkable, and then leaped immediately to: how am I going to describe this, and where? Facebook, Twitter, Instagram? With this, I moved right out of the moment, into my head, and then onto my computer – and just like that, the moment was lost. My kids might still be there, but I wasn’t. The sunset might still be there, but I wasn’t. And since gratitude is in the now and gratitude is the only path to joy – choosing to hop out of the now and into the cyber world is rejecting gratitude and stealing joy from myself. And so I had to retrain myself to live in gratitude again. To stay present with beautiful people and moments. Because I’ve found that remarking on every remarkable thing just makes everything less remarkable.

The moment IS where gratitude resides, and feeling grateful can only be sustained if we are able to stay mindful and present. It can seem like a tall order, and I don't know anyone who has mastered mindfulness. But what I do know is that the more I practice gratitude, the more I live in the moment.

Remarkable things are fleeting. They are meant to be. That is part of what makes them remarkable.

Why would I want to reject gratitude and steal joy from myself? Why do so many people get sucked into the remarking and lose the remarkable?

Thank you Glennon Doyle Melton. I enjoyed your book and I very much appreciate your "living outloud" approach.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Above + Beyond Cancer

Today I am grateful for my job and the variety that comes with it. I am also grateful for good energy in the world . . . I will try to create some today and share it with others.

Please take a minute to look at my updated profile picture as I continue to share my sister Danita's purple creations for Lewy Body Dementia Awareness Month. To read more about that, check out Tuesday's post here

The picture below is a self-portrait I took after the half-marathon on Sunday. What an angle! I wanted to share this picture because of the shirt I am wearing. I got the shirt at a tent before the run started. I didn't wear it on the run, but I got chilled after I was done, so I added this new layer. Above + Beyond Cancer is an organization that began and is based in Des Moines. You can read more about them on their website here.



Here is their mission:

Their website also talks about transformative experiences like a team of cancer survivors running 4,000 miles across the U.S. and another group climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro. It looks like a worthy organization and I will be keeping track of them.

But I especially liked the name of their organization and the sentiment behind it. I feel like I am living above and beyond cancer. I am forever grateful to have this ongoing opportunity. Cancer changed me in many ways and is now a part of my life experience. I consider every day to be a transformative experience. I just need to pay attention and stay grateful.
 

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Honoring Loved Ones

Today I am grateful for a good night of rest and for my eyesight. I am also grateful to honor the memory of my father.

Fifteen years ago today, at age 74, my father died suddenly. A semi-retired farmer, he had a heart attack while helping with the fall harvest. I still vividly remember getting the call from my brother at my job. And the days that followed with the wake and funeral. In ways, it is hard to believe that fifteen years have already passed. I hope Dad would be proud of me and the life I have today. I sure wish Sam could have known his Grandpa. They would have enjoyed talking with one another about farm and other stuff.

It was a shock when Dad died suddenly, but today I appreciate that he went like he did. It would have been so hard for him to continue to decline and be able to do less and less. It would have been so hard for those of us who love him to witness that too.

I try to honor my father today by living life fully, by being a kind and gentle person, like he was.I miss my dad, but I am grateful I was an adult, with several years in recovery from alcoholism, and with my life on track, before he died.

I try not to take the people in my life for granted. We don't know when someone could be taken suddenly. It is one reason I always say "I love you" to my son and husband when I leave the house.

We can honor the memory of deceased loved ones on days like this, but every day is a day to honor the loved ones who are still here with us. I need to remember that when I am tired, frustrated, or have hurt feelings for whatever reason. Gratitude application helps me look past what has me bothered, and look right into the eyes and hearts of those who mean so much to me. Thank you for being gifts in my life!

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The Color Purple for LBD Awareness

Today I am grateful for sore muscles to remind me of my physical capabilities. I am also grateful for what my family members teach me as they live their lives--both my own family and my family of origin.

My sister Danita is teaching me about handling a very difficult set of circumstances with dignity and grace. Her husband Roger has Lewy body dementia and the disease is progressing. Roger used to bike and hike for many miles and he used to be witty and sharp in conversations. Though he is still here, this terrible disease has taken her husband away from my sister. The man she is caring for today is not the man she married. Words and phrases like "extremely difficult," "incomprehensible grief," and "heartbreaking" come to my mind when I think about the two of them. And I think about them daily.

Like many people, I had never heard of Lewy body dementia until it struck someone I know. This month is Lewy Body Dementia (LBD) Awareness Month and the color to promote that awareness is purple. Danita is an expressive soul and applies that to creating things like this:

 
 
She made several such creations and took them to facilities in her community, along with information about LBD. As she talked about the energy she applied to this work, the word therapeutic came to my mind. She is definitely making a difference and spreading awareness. She may never know how many people it will touch, but it is sure touching me. I am proud of my sister. My heart aches. I am not in her shoes and cannot fathom what she is dealing with on all levels. I may not be in her shoes, but her and Roger are in my heart, and in my prayers, every day.
 
To learn more about LBD, go to the Lewy Body Dementia Association here.
 
Home


Monday, October 21, 2013

26.2 divided by 2 equals 13.1

Today I am grateful for safe travels this weekend, time spent with my stepdaughter Emily, and that she is off to a good start with school and work. I am also grateful for a good half-marathon experience.

This was supposed to have been our marathon weekend this year. But setbacks like surgery and tough training runs amidst a busy and challenging summer changed our plans. The Des Moines Marathon experience became the Des Moines half-marathon experience. Being able to visit Emily was great and we had a nice time. Since we had already paid for the marathon and you don't get refunds, we decided to run the half instead and get a good training run out of it and see some different scenery.

The conditions were ideal and Darcy and I each decided to run on our own. We sometimes start out together and see how it goes. Yesterday, we set out on our own amidst the thousands of runners that were there, with our own goals in mind. I set a goal of finishing under two hours. It had been a while since I had done that. I knew I would have to push the pace. It felt good and I really appreciated the crowd support. My favorite sign along the route: "You're running better than our government."  It was also nice to run the streets and trails of the capital city of my home state. We started and finished on the Locust Street bridge downtown and it was really a nice setting.

I was also running with my brother-in-law Roger and others with Lewy body dementia on my mind. This month is Lewy Body Dementia Awareness Month. I will be writing more about that this week. Purple is the color for this awareness campaign, so I had a purple band and bracelet that I wore. They are my profile picture now. The band says "Focus" and when I needed to push myself yesterday, I thought of Roger and his wife, my sister Danita, and others facing this extremely difficult diagnosis."Focus, push" became my little mantra. It worked because I achieved my goal, coming in at 1:55.51.I am feeling it today, but I am so grateful for my physical capabilities and the joy running brings me in so many ways.

I am sore and tired, but grateful and energized.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Treasure Hunting In Minefields

Today I am grateful for time with friends yesterday and for laughter amidst life's messiness. I am also grateful that I am a writer.

Here are some more words from Glennon Doyle Melton, late in her book Carry On, Warrior:

"So that's why I write--to find the treasures in the suffering. And as I write, my memories change ever so slightly. Reality and writing work together to create my memories, and the final result is that I remember events more beautifully than they actually happened. Or maybe in writing them down, I'm able to see for the first time how beautiful they really were."

"I do not know Zen. I just know gratitude. I am grateful for the beauty in the midst of suffering. I am grateful for the treasure hunt through the minefield of life. Dangerous or not, I don't want out of the minefield. Because truth and beauty, and God are there."  (These are both from p. 228)

I find these words very meaningful as I reflect on my own writing. I don't know if my memories change as I write about them, but I know my memories are captured by writing them down. If I didn't do some official recording of my life's experiences, some would be lost forever in the depths of my less-than-efficient memory. Actually, I tend to lean toward the second option that Melton mentions above-writing allows me to process events in a way that brings out the deeper meaning, the underlying beauty. Indeed, some of the best treasures were amidst or following some of the worst suffering.

And the second paragraph quoted above? What a wonderful way of talking about gratitude. Treasure hunting through the minefield of life. Gratitude can be found in every day, even the tough days, if we are paying attention. And in my case, if I take time to process what has been happening by writing about it I tend to find the gratitude more readily. Minefields are dangerous. Life can be dangerous if we make ourselves vulnerable by unarming, but that is also the only way the truth, beauty, and God get through.

I believe it is worth the risk. I have been shown that time and time again. I will keep treasure hunting.I hope you do too.

I will be taking a blog break tomorrow. Have a nice weekend!

Friday, October 18, 2013

Stop Pretending

Today I am grateful for reminders of both my humanness and my worthiness. Recognizing both in myself helps me recognize it in others.

"Life unarmed" is one of Glennon Melton's catch phrases, and it's a good one. It seems that we get so caught up in worrying about what other people think and/or trying to fit some unattainable ideal. We just need to be busy living our lives fully human. That's what Melton is getting at. If we unarm, then others unarm, and we can have genuine discussions about what really matters and we can come together instead of feeling more and more apart.

Consider these words from Carry On, Warrior:

"Because you have listened to and spoken to enough honest parents to understand we're all in this together. And that there is no prize for most composed. So you've decided to stop making parenthood harder by pretending it's not hard." (p. 131)

Now that's what I call truth-telling. We do this dance with parenting, but we do it with many other things as well. Unarm. Disarm. Take off the shield. Then we realize that other people feel exactly like we do. None of us feels as alone. None of us feels as judged.

I have had the privilege of having many conversations with many parents during my 25 years working in the education field, and especially in the last 15 years in my role as a school counselor.Those conversations have been such good teachers, such eye-openers. Some have been exhausting. Others have been exhilirating. Some started out tough and got easier. Some started out easy and got tougher. But in every instance, I can tell you I was speaking to a parent who loved their child and was trying to do their best. When we hear each other, really listen, then the shields peel away. It doesn't mean that we have to agree on everything, but it tends to lead to a much more productive conversation.

Becoming first a steppaprent, then a mom myself, has been by far the toughest learning curve. I have to forgive myself pretty much daily for messing up in one way or another.My son hears daily that I love him. He sees me acting all human, and at the end of the day, he still knows he means the world to me.

Thank you Glennon Doyle Melton for such thought-provoking words.

Parenting is real hard. It's work. It's exhausting. Consider going unarmed today and sharing your stories with another parent. You'll both feel less alone.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Action Required

Today I am grateful for my freind Sheila, on this, her birthday. I have known her for 35 of those birthdays and she is a blessing in my life. I am also grateful for the opportunities to practice mindfulness and presence.

I will talk more about the writings of Glennon Doyle Melton, but today I want to talk about the importance of taking actions to practice gratitude. Those actions are what allow me to enjoy mindfulness, the full awareness of the moment I am existing in and what surrounds me in that moment. That can be a tall order for me, but practice has allowed progress.

I can't just think about being grateful. I need to take out my gratitude journal, pick up my pen, open the journal to the right page, write down two things I am grateful for, mention some prayers and special intentions, close the book, put it back where I store it, put the pen back too, and close the door.

I can't just think about my next "Habitual Gratitude" post. I have to sit down, get the computer out of sleep mode, log in, start composing key by key, word by word, do some previewing, make some changes, corrections, and revisions, preview some more, publish, and log off. And often that is after I have started a post the previous evening, or have jotted a few things down in a notebook I carry in my purse.

Another small example of how I practice both gratitude and mindfulness is when I write an email to a certain group of people. I email them about three times a week, focusing on recovery from alcoholism in ourselves and others. I could do a contact group, or just hit "reply all," but instead I start a fresh email, type each of their names in (there's just 9), and as I do, I think about that person and what I am grateful for, or I think about their pain and their challenges and I get out of myself a little more. I think about how grateful I am to have support in my own recovery.

Little actions. Small steps. Big rewards. Mindfulness is a gift that I desire, but often still find elusive.I will keep working on it and I encourage you to do the same. Have a good day, one moment at a time.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Sacred Pain

Today I am grateful for people to reach out to in recovery. They help me start my day with the right focus. I am also grateful for the early morning quiet.

Here are some more words from Carry On, Warrior by Glennon Doyle Melton:

When her pain is fresh and new, let her have it. Don't try to take it away. Forgive yourself for not having that power. Grief and pain are like joy and peace; they are not things we should try to snatch from each other. They're sacred. They are part of each person's journey. All we can do is offer relief from this fear: "I am all alone." That's the one fear you can alleviate. (p. 49)

I agree. Pain and grief are as sacred as joy and peace. And I believe that without the pain and grief, we don't fully grasp or appreciate what makes joy and peace so wonderful. We can't feel anyone else's pain or grief for them, any more than we can or should try to take it away from them. But that part about not being alone? That we can do something about.

Sitting with someone in their lowest times often means pushing ourselves outside of our own comfort zone. Being with someone else at their most difficult times is a most difficult assignment. But we make it harder by trying too hard to make it easier for them. It isn't meant to be easy and the lessons aren't learned by skirting the real emotions. We simply need to be with the other person, let them know we care, and that we will stay with them and listen to them when needed, and we will take our leave when they need time to themselves to work through what has brought on the pain and grief.

I appreciate the painful life experiences that are part of my story. I appreciate the trust others have given me by sharing their pain and grief with me.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

"Carry On Warrior" by Glennon Doyle Melton

Today I am grateful for the painful experiences in my life that have taught me valuable lessons. I am also grateful for working heat in our house.

It's time to focus on another writer I mentioned in this recent post. Glennon Doyle Melton is the author of Carry On, Warrior: Thoughts on Life Unarmed (copyright 2013). She blogs at Momastery. You can listen to her TEDx talk "Lessons from the Mental Hospital" from May, 2013 here.

Melton calls herself a truth-teller and uses many catch phrases like "living outloud" and "we can do hard things." There is much insight and food for thought in what she says. She talks about taking off the various masks of shame that surrounded her bulimia and alcoholism. I try to be a truth-teller with my writing too. Some of it is my own personal truth that I need to hear, but much of it is also the simple truth of our human experience. We are flawed and imperfect and doing the best we can each day. It's nice to share that triumph-struggle stuff with fellow humans.

I like her writing style. She's witty at times, painfully blunt with herself and us at others. These words from p. 25 of her book definitely struck a chord with me:

The night I first danced sober was one of the most important nights of my life. "Dancing sober" is what I try to do every day. Dancing sober is what I do when I write. I just try to be myself-messy, clumsy, crutchless. Dancing sober is just honest, passionate living.

I remember my first sober dancing too. Not that I was much of a dancer when I drank, and I'm still not much of a dancer, but to dance sober was so freeing. I had been stuck inside myself and my inhibited and painful emotions for so long. Alcohol had been the only thing able to loosen me up really. When I got sober and learned to loosen up in other ways, when I learned to just be okay in the moment and the current feelings I was having, I knew that a sober life could also be a fun and passionate life too.

And let's face it, life is messy and clumsy. But that is where the joy and gratitude resides as well.

I am grateful to be "dancing sober" today, appreciating recovery, sobriety, and the fact that I have learned to not take myself and life so darn seriously all of the time.

Monday, October 14, 2013

What Keeps the Fire Lit?

Today I am grateful for time to enjoy the wonderful weather yesterday on both our front and back patios. I am also grateful for what I continue to learn about the disease of breast cancer. I feel more empowered with more information.

The other day I wrote about what lit my fire for breast cancer advocacy. What keeps that fire lit? Several things, not the least of which are the two scars where my own breasts used to be. At times, I feel judged for choosing not to have reconstruction, for choosing less surgery, less invasion of my body, less chances for chronic pain, more chances to keep running marathons and to do so comfortably. I have my own story and my own reasons for making the choices I did. Every woman and every man diagnosed with breast cancer has their unique story and their deeply personal reasons for the choices they make. One reason I remain an advocate is my hope that all BC patients feel empowered to make their own decisions and have the right kind of information and knowledge available to them.

I was also proud to be part of the second "Voices of Hope" DVD, titled "Family and Friends." My husband and son were also part of the DVD and now the two DVDs are available as a set to newly diagnosed patients and their families/friends. Read more about that here on this blog or at https://www.voicesofhopebc.com/.

Because of my sisters, my 14 nieces, friends like Jenny and Sheila, and the friends I have made at our local breast cancer support group, I know many women at high-risk for getting BC and many more who have had breast cancer. That scares me. Who will get it next? Who will it come back in? Statistical odds say it will happen to someone I care about sooner or later. That keeps me motivated to take the actions I can to help. We need more research dollars and subjects.

Fellow bloggers mentioned in recent posts--Nancy at Nancy's Point, AnneMarie Cicarrella at Chemobrain, Gayle Sulik at Pink Ribbon Blues, and Lisa Bonchek Adams among others--also keep me informed and inspired. Dr. Susan Love and her research foundation also deserve a mention.

I appreciate that there are so many people doing such good work to bring the right kind of awareness and to bring us closer to finding a cure. There's plenty of kindling to keep the fire lit.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Today is Metastatic Breast Cancer Awareness Day

Today I am grateful for a good training run with Darcy yesterday. The conditions were ideal as we covered about 18 miles. I am also grateful for the positive experience Sam had with his football team this fall.

Today is the 5th annual Metastatic Breast Cancer Awareness Day.

Metastatic is not a separate type of cancer, it is what happens to some cancers, including many that start out early-stage. Metastatic cancer is cancer that spreads beyond the initial site to bones, the brain, and other organs. It is the cancer that kills. I refer to breast cancer here, but it can happen with any cancer. Cancer that stays in the breast is not deadly. It only becomes deadly when it spreads to other parts of the body. And that happens in about 30% of the women and men initially diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer. It is MBC that kills about 40,000 women and men each year, similar to the death rates of 30 years ago. This is why we need to step up our actions, why the pace of research needs to be faster (with our help as research subjects) and why we need to not get swept away by a misleading tide of pink in October.

I appreciate the words of bloggers Nancy Stordahl at Nancy's Point and AnneMarie Ciccarella at CHEMOBRAIN. . . In the Fog regarding Metastatic Breast Cancer Awareness Day. They are both bloggers that I regularly follow and that I respect. I also appreciate the work of organizations like the Metastatic Breast Cancer Network and METAvivor. Visit them at http://mbcn.org/ and http://www.metavivor.org/

But I am absolutely floored by the words of Lisa Bonchek Adams. Lisa received a Stage IV MBC diagnosis in October of 2012. Her blog is both informative and genuine. Her poetry will tear your heart out. She gives us all a better understanding of what it is like to live with such a diagnosis.Check her out here.

MBC is scary as hell to ponder. It is one of my biggest fears for my sisters, my friends with BC, other breast cancer patients I know, and myself. But I choose to let that fear catalyze me, not paralyze me. It also serves to remind me that today is the day that matters most. Am I grateful for today and my health? You bet I am!

Saturday, October 12, 2013

BC Advocacy: What Lit My Fire

Today I am grateful for the beautiful reds, oranges and yellows of the fall colors surrounding us. I am also grateful to be a morning person.

Yesterday I mentioned that I haven't been as fired up lately to write about aspects of the breast cancer debate. And it is a debate on many fronts. But what initially got me fired up?

*The diagnoses of my sister Zita in 2004 and my sister Mary Jo in 2006 certainly raised my concern and got me reading more and paying more attention.
*That ramped up with my own diagnosis in 2008. You can be only so aware and so concerned when it isn't you. It becomes a whole different ballgame when it is YOU.
*The many conversations I had with my friend Jenny, diagnosed less than a month after I was. Those conversations, our similarities and differences in approach, and the book we wrote together about our experiences really helped me find my voice as an advocate for myself and others.
*Reading Audre Lorde's book The Cancer Journals and her thoughts on mastectomy just a few short months after my own mastectomies.
*Taking part in the first "Voices of Hope" DVD project. Being in this video and sharing my scars in such a way solidified my acceptance and my confidence in my own story and voice.
*Discovering and reading Gayle Sulik's book Pink Ribbon Blues and following her blog of the same name.

I have had the privilege of having three guest posts on Pink Ribbon Blues. The first one was titled "What Lies Beneath."  You can read it here. I think it captures some of the fire. I appreciate the opportunity to share my thoughts on what is both deeply personal and, in my opinion, the right kind of awareness.

I am grateful for the life experiences that together have made me an advocate-writer for genuine information and a supporter of real action for the cause of ending BC.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Want to Help the Cause? Join H.O.W. Now!

Today I am grateful for the beauty of fall that we are being treated to. I am also grateful for laughter . . . the sound of other people's, the feel of my own.

Here it is October 11 and I haven't mentioned Breast Cancer Awareness Month at all. I have thought about it. I have read other people's continuing discussion of it. But I just haven't felt compelled to write about it this year. The passion and frustration I feel about pink ribbon culture and things like pinkwashing (selling products known or suspected of causing cancer while also championing the cause of breast cancer--think cosmetic companies as an example) haven't lit my writer's fire lately.

I do have plenty I have already written though, so here is my blog post from Oct. 1, 2012:

Monday, October 1, 2012   Take Action and Join the Count! Here's HOW . . .
Today I am grateful for the wonderful breast cancer bloggers I am getting to know in the blogosphere and for what they are teaching me. I am also grateful for the Dr. Susan Love Research Foundation's new initiative--the Health of Women Study.

It is also worth mentioning that Dr. Susan Love underwent a successful bone marrow transplant recently as part of her treatment for leukemia, which she was diagnosed with in June. I very much respect Dr. Love and the work she does surrounding breast cancer and finding answers. I wish her well in her recovery.

This is a blog about gratitude, but it's my blog and I'm a breast cancer patient so on this opening day of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I just want to say a few things. First and foremost, I feel deeply blessed to have my health and be able to do things like run marathons. I take less for granted than I used to and I remember my priorities better than I used to.

I am proud to be part of the growing discussion about what is wrong with the current breast cancer awareness movement and what is right with it. Dr. Susan Love Research Foundation's (DSLRF) efforts definitely fall in the "what is right" category. Taking action for a cause is empowering, especially if you have been personally touched by something, as so many of us have been impacted by breast cancer. Our own or in someone we care about.

Here are a couple ways to take action. Join the new DSLRF initiative called the Health of Women Study at www.healthofwomenstudy.org. It is open to women worldwide over the age of 18, both those who have had breast cancer and those who have not. The goal is to build a huge database of information from women about women to help find potential answers to the causes of and risk factors for breast cancer.

You can also join the on-going DSLRF initiative known as the Army of Women at www.armyofwomen.org. This is also open to all women regardless of breast cancer history. This database helps researchers locate research participants in months instead of years, allowing the pace of research to pick up.

It just takes a few minutes to sign up for either and then you have taken positive action for a good reason. You can then decide what you want to participate in. It is all totally voluntary and your information is protected.

Please consider joining one or both of these initiatives. I am already in the Army of Women which is trying to recruit a million members. (The Army is over 369,000 strong so far.) I was number eight-thousand one-hundred and something for the HOW study this morning. Let's get both numbers climbing rapidly.

One more thing as we begin a month that will provide many opportunities for pink purchases. If you want to support the breast cancer cause, please be a discerning consumer. Know where the money is going to and how much of it is being donated. If you don't like the answers or don't get an answer, consider returning it to the shelf.

And on that note, I continue with my day. Cancer patient or not, all any of us have is today. Make it a good one!
 
As of October 10, 2013, the Army of Women is 374, 453 strong and the
Health of Women Study has grown to 45,754 participants. I think we can do better.
Like gratitude comes to life by taking action, real progress to end breast cancer
comes when research can move forward faster. Consider taking action today.

 

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Keep Those Letters Coming

Today I am grateful for pizza. It is one of my favorite foods. I am also grateful for the simple act of letter-writing.

Last night I wrote two letters. I was inspired and energized to write them, so I did. One of them was a gratitude letter. It was my 26th such letter, and the first one I've written since early June. I will look for more opportunities to get such letters out. I would encourage any of you to give it a try. Who is someone who has made a positive difference in your life? Who is someone you would like to thank?Write a letter in your own hand and mail it off the old-fashioned way. Besides, you would be helping me keep the lost art of letter-writing alive and I would appreciate that.

The second letter was to a friend. We've sent some letters back and forth over the last couple years and it had been months since I reached out to her. I had been thinking of her and how she is doing, so now she will know that when the letter arrives.

I wrote a third letter when I got up this morning. It was to a family member who is currently facing a challenge of the kind that I can relate to. I hope my words can offer some hope, but I know they have already helped me.

Putting pen to paper always helps me. I am grateful to have people in my life to thank and to receive my letters.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Poisoned or Protected?

Today I am grateful for the sound of leaves beneath my feet or bicycle tires. I am also grateful for the joy and wonder it brings me to be a mom to my son Sam.

I was thinking about antidotes some more yesterday after blogging about my 500th post. I guess my thoughts were an example of antidote multiplication. (Read yesterday's post for reference if needed.) The job of antidotes is to protect us from poisons. Poisons like self-pity, self-hatred, fear, and that nebulous "never good enough" that comes with perfectionism.

My adolescent and young adult mind was especially poisoned by self-pity and self-hatred, and alcohol was an accelerant. My thoughts were killing me as I slowly killed myself with alcohol. My default thinking mode was almost always along the lines of how stupid or ugly I was, or how I should have known better, done better, been better, how much of a misfit I was, why nobody really, truly cared about me . . . ouch.

Stinging poison. Alcohol would stop the sting temporarily. But it was a cruel trick. It would then create more poisonous thoughts. Alcohol multiplied the poison production in my diseased mind. Alcoholism-and all addictions-have a strong basis in our brains and our thought processes. That's why simply quitting use of an addictive substance does not often help for long. Our faulty thinking needs to be addressed.

Gratitude practice has been a key component in my recovery, along with things like acceptance, patience, and humility. Together they protect me. They ward off the poisonous thoughts and send them packing before they can get a stranglehold. Gratitude practice shifts my thoughts from those that can poison to those that protect.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Post #500: Antidote Multiplication

Today I am grateful for the ongoing lessons gratitude teaches me. I am also grateful for the consistent outlet for my writing energy that this blog provides.

What began on March 27, 2012 is now at post #500. That both boggles my mind and makes me proud. I began gratitude practice nearly twenty years ago as an antidote to
self-pity. I have found it to be most effective. And I have also found that the supply of this antidote never runs out.

In fact, applying the antidote naturally creates more of the antidote to keep applying. It is antidote multiplication of the best kind. It's a win-win. Gratitude doesn't take anything away from one person to allow another person benefit. Gratitude shared is gratitude multiplied. Gratitude simply recognizes the obvious and reminds us of it.

I am humbled by the role of gratitude in my life. Grace has been defined to me as "the presence of God/a Higher Power in my life." By that definition, gratitude is grace. I am still going strong with this blog. I haven't come close to running out of ideas and inspiration. Further proof that the antidote keeps multiplying. My perception of self and surrounding world is consistently more positive when I maintain a grateful approach to each day. That is the best proof I have that this works.

To read more of my thoughts as I marked other century points in my blog posts,
read here.

Thank you for reading, commenting, emailing, checking in. Thank you for giving me reasons to keep adding blog posts on a regular basis. Thank you for sharing in this antidote multiplication.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Forward in Life

Today I am grateful for safe travels and for my classmates who were able to make it to our 30-year reunion this weekend.

There was a good turnout. Good conversation. Good company. Good food. Thanks again Tracy and the others who helped plan this. I especially appreciated the name tags. They were actually stickers of us from our senior pictures in the yearbook. They were good for some laughs, especially at the big hair of the '80's, and they were helpful for identification purposes at times as well.

I greeted many people I hadn't seen since our last reunion or longer. I had lengthier conversations with several classmates and/or their spouses. My husband Darcy would even tell you he had a good time too. I especially enjoyed seeing my friend Brenda, who I hadn't seen for 15 years. We had been close in high school and had lost touch over the years. It was nice to reconnect.

I went in to the evening with very few expectations. For such events, and life in general, it works better this way: accept more, expect less. I also don't compare my insides to other people's outsides. That is unfair to all parties. I can appreciate that all of us who were in attendance on Saturday evening have our own unique set of circumstances and experiences that have impacted our perceptions of self and surrounding world.

It was nice to go back in time some and reminisce. But I prefer to keep moving forward in life. My classmates and I are all doing that in a variety of ways--dealing with health issues, geographic relocations, changes to families, and so much more. I am reminded of that most basic of gratitude thoughts . . . I am here, partaking of life in this day. Onward!

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Back in Time

Today I am grateful for the physical capability to run and the mental and spiritual rewards I get from it.

Tonight Darcy and I will be attending my 30th class reunion. I appreciate that we are able to make it and I appreciate that my friend and classmate Tracy pulled this together before the opportunity faded away. I marvel at how fast the last thirty years have gone. I marvel at life in general.

I don't know how many people will be there, but I know that I will see some people I haven't seen in years and I will see old friends that I still keep in touch with. I will observe and I will participate, and as always I will reflect like I do before, during, and after such events.

Do I want to look good? Sure. Will all that running help me look good in my jeans? Let's hope. But I am not overly concerned about it. I quit drinking 24 years ago and smoking about 18 years ago. I have aged well in those respects. But more importantly I already know I feel better about myself than I did in high school and that is a blessing.

I am thinking back to those days and I'm sure there will be some reminiscing and plenty of laughter. I am also thinking about my six classmates who have passed away. Car accidents, an enlarged heart, cancer and a heart attack ended lives way too early. Life is precious. Events like class reunions are good reminders of our good fortune. We are still here, living life.

I will be taking a blog break tomorrow. Have a nice weekend!

Friday, October 4, 2013

Obvious Places-Musings By Steve Foran

Today I am grateful for rain gear to keep me dry and comfortable during another wet football game. I am also grateful for the other bloggers and writers I follow.

Steve Foran is one such person. He creates monthly videos surrounding the topic of gratitude. He's known as "the Gratitude Guy." That's my kind of person. He takes mundane, everyday events and has a way of turning them into insightful two-minute videos that allow us to look at our world a little differently. That's a key when it comes to gratitude. Cut through the clutter of our minds and our daily lives and get to what really matters--the gifts we are surrounded by.

Often, those gifts are obvious and overlooked. Our families. Our homes. Our health. And the list goes on. Gratitude practice has trained me to do less overlooking and more looking right in front of me. But it's a process and a skill I need to practice regularly. Steve talks about it in many of his videos.

Take a look at Steve's latest video here Steve Foran-Obvious Places.

Isn't that the way it goes? What we need is right in front of us.

He also includes an "Obvious Places Learning Guide" where he offers concrete actions to take to further pursue gratitude. He suggests writing gratitude letters and then following up with a phone call to the recipient a week after sending the letter. Great ideas. I have written over 20 letters, but I haven't done the follow-up calls. The key is being aware, present, and actively engaged in being grateful.It works. It really does.

Today I will look in the obvious places for the many blessings and gifts I have surrounding me. Thanks for your insightful musings Steve Foran! They are appreciated by many.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Redeemed by Writing

Today I am grateful for working arms that allow me to reach that itchy area to scratch on my back. I am also grateful for the writing inspiration that came yesterday.

I have a few more thoughts on Domenica Ruta. There is certainly plenty of pain in her writing, but she also has humor and hope. It may seem like slim humor and sparing hope at times, but isn't that sometimes the best we can get?  There is also a redemptive quality to her writing. She moves forward, she leaves the dysfunction of her mother's home and life, she faces her own alcoholism. And all the while she keeps writing.

Writing has saved me. I bet if I could ask Domenica Ruta about it, she might say the same thing.

One of my favorite parts of the book is when she writes about her first recollection of the place writing would have in her life, though she could only do that in hindsight.

She was about 10 years old when she came in from outside, as her eyes adjusted to the scene in front of her, she sees her stepmother napping with her baby sister on the couch. Her stepmother is on her back with her hands behind her head. Her baby sister is on her mom's stomach in the same pose. This is what Ruta writes next:

"I looked at the shape of their bodies, one on top of the other, and whispered a single word: 'Echo.' It wasn't until much later that I understood what had happened that day. Inside me was someone new waiting to be born, not a baby, like my sister, but a future version of me, a grown-up, someone who would devote her life to describing such moments in time. This was her first word." (p. 53)

Writing definitely helped me find that future version of myself too, and helped me find it before I killed myself with alcohol and self-hatred. I am forever grateful for the role writing has had in my life.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Dominica Ruta's With or Without You

Today I am grateful for my family and friends and the many ways they support and encourage me. I am also grateful for ears to hear with and eyes to read with.

Domenica Ruta's memoir With or Without You (copyright 2013) has been described as "haunting, unforgettable, darkly hilarious, compulsively readable, and redemptive."  It's not a lighthearted read for sure. But it doesn't disappoint. The range of emotions and Ruta's style pulled me in.

When you live with a mother who is an addict and associates with other addicts, you will see bad things and you will more than likely have bad things happen to you. You will not make it out unscathed. The key though is that Ruta made it out. That is what saved her.

Here are a few lines from her book:

Describing her mother:
"But volume was never an accurate herald of my mother's mood; loud was simply the who and the what of her."  "What else do you need to know about this woman before I go on with the story? That she believed it was more important to be an interesting person than a good one . . . that she made me responsible for most of my own meals when I was seven and all the laundry in the house when I was nine . . . "  (all from p. 5)

Describing her own addiction:
"One day, gorgeous as usual, I'm walking to the store and two short sentences pass through my head: I'm an alcoholic. I need help. I have no idea where these thoughts come from, nor do I really understand what they mean, but I know that they're true."  (p. 168)

"I set up all these goals--I'm only going to drink until Thanksgiving, then I'll stop. Christmas comes and goes and I've been in a blackout for days. But that was the last time, I promise myself.No more.I keep drinking to the end of the year and the beginning of a new one."  (p. 171)

I want to thank Domenica Ruta for sharing her story through her masterful use of words. I went from near tears at times (that is usually as close as I get) to laughing at other times. Her characters were real people and I could almost feel them in the room. Cliche as it is, I could feel her pain.

I am saving a few more of my favorite lines from the book for tomorrow.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Writing from a Place of Pain

Today I am grateful for the fresh air and open windows on my commute yesterday. I am also grateful for our dog Oliver and our morning time together, just the two of us.

I am still catching up from a busy summer, including doing some blog posts about some of the books I read. I already talked about Anna Quindlen and Katherine Rosman. You can read about them here (Katherine Rosman)  and here and  here (Anna Quindlen). In the next days I will add Domenica Ruta and Glennon Doyle Melton.  And if you have followed me for a time, you probably already know my favorite author is Anne Lamott.

As I thought about these writers and many others, myself included, what I have often pondered is being confirmed time and again. The best writing, the most genuine and real stuff, often comes from a place of pain. Lamott's self-deprecating humor and spot-on insights stem from childhood pain and her struggles with addiction and loss. Quindlen and Rosman found writing inspiration as they grieved the deaths of their mothers.

Glennon Doyle Melton's book Carry On Warrior was recommended to me by my co-worker Mary.She thought it was my kind of book. She was right. Thanks Mary! Melton's demons include alcoholism and bulimia. I will tell you more about her writing soon.

I had not heard of Domenica Ruta until my sister recommended her book With Or Without You. Thanks again Aileen, and thanks for leaving a copy with me. Her mother was a hard-core addict as Ruta grew up and the daughter wasn't always protected from the type of people the mother hung around with. Domenica became an alcoholic and addict herself. She had plenty of pain, plenty of writing material. I will tell you more about Ruta's writing tomorrow.

My own writing began as an outlet to the pain I was feeling. Some of it was the pain of any young person heading into adolescence and unsure about pretty much everything. But some of it was the pain of not getting my emotional needs met. My older siblings called me "the screamer" because when I was little I would throw tantrums and do just that. I know now that I was just looking for attention any way I could get it. With 12 siblings, it simply wasn't possible for all of us to get the kind of attention we needed, beyond our basic needs. The roots of my alcoholism started young as well. I didn't start out liking myself and lose that. I started out hating myself for being "less than."

Writing from a place of pain allows the pain to be exposed to the light and it heals. Writing from a place of pain helps us uncover what was buried, hidden, denied; the joy of life. The writers mentioned above certainly get to the joy, the humor of life. My writing has helped me find the joy and humor as well. For that, I am truly grateful.