About ten years ago when I first joined Facebook it was a rather quaint place that felt like a virtual town square. I reconnected with people from high school and New York City whom I hadn’t seen or spoken to since the 1980s. It was all “hey, what’s up!” and fluff. But then more people started joining. Some of it was painful and triggering.
I am truly blessed and humbled to have reached such a milestone. Wayne and I went out to dinner yesterday to mark the occasion. I have many things to share about my sober journey; so much so that I’m going to write a book. Yes, that’s now two books in the works! Additionally, the summers in Maine seemingly last only a New York minute and they are joyfully filled with outdoor pursuits and relaxation. For those reasons I haven’t the time to post here as much as I have the past two years, but I’m not going away! I’ll still be posting here, just with less frequency. I’m also actively updating my Instagram account since I find it quick and easy to do so when time is limited, so let’s stay connected!
During coffee hour after church a few weeks ago I was speaking with Kate Chappell about her daughter, Sarah’s horse therapy farm in Lyman, Maine. Kate mentioned that one of the things the farm offers are programs for people with PTSD! I have often dreamed of one day operating a little animal therapy farm for traumatized youth so I was immediately fascinated. The offerings are extensive and include organizational/leadership development, team retreats, hippotherapy for people ages two and up with a diagnosed emotional, physical or cognitive disability and riding lessons to the general public.
Kate was so kind to arrange with Sarah (pictured above) an opportunity for me to visit the academy and share it with you here on my blog. My post is focused on the equine enrichment groups and working farmscape education tailored for at-risk youth and young adults, senior citizens, veterans and people in early recovery from addictions.
“God will not look you over for Medals, Degrees or Diplomas, but for Scars!” -Elbert Hubbard, The Note Book of Elbert Hubbard
I’ve learned that time does NOT heal all wounds but God loves them and us! There can be beauty in a graceful brokenness when we use God as a crutch. But wait, isn’t needing a “crutch” a sign of weakness?! YES! Aren’t we weak when we’re left to only our own devices? I choose spiritual prowess over destructive earthly vices I’ve given up. I no longer feel ashamed about my scars, a shame which fueled a lot of my destructive crutches (smoking, drinking, overeating). I’m not ashamed to say I’m in recovery, my last drink being almost twenty-five years ago. I’m cool with not being cool. My deepest scars are invisible, although I do have, shall I say, an “oven kiss” on my hand I acquired while removing a lasagna from the oven last fall.
The college admissions scandal has highlighted what some have referred to as “affirmative action for the wealthy.” As I mention on my “about” page, I grew up in subsidized housing but went to an Upper East Side prep school with the aid of a scholarship. My freshman year of college was spent at Bennington College, also via scholarship. It was too painful for me to continue to be the kid from the wrong side of the tracks in places where the vast majority of students came from very wealthy homes. It was then I decided to transfer to the University of Maine in Orono where I earned my B.A. in English.
I attended grad school at the University of Vermont where I lived in a tiny house in the woods complete with big spiders* (steel-toed Doc Martens are a form of organic pest control) and was fortunate to have been awarded an assistantship for two years which paid my tuition in full and gave me a small stipend. However, that also meant my days began at 5:00 a.m. and I didn’t get home sometimes until 10 at night. Even so, my most valuable life lesson learned wasn’t a part of my curriculum, but in a playground.
The photo of me above on the left is from 2009, before I lost 10% of my body weight in 2010 by following a 1950s diet that I documented in my book American Women Didn’t Get Fat in the 1950s. The photo on the right was me at my wedding in 2018. Since 2013 I’ve been reading diet books, articles and cook books from the 19th century through World War II, many of which are New England sources. I’ve maintained my weight loss and continue to have very healthy cholesterol levels by eating a traditional early New England diet balanced with retro American guidelines. And so, I have an announcement!
I’m always working to reduce mental clutter and recently had an opportunity to clear some out!
In the past I’ve spent too much time feeling guilty and inadequate because I had the mistaken belief that I wasn’t doing enough to help others beyond friends and family. Reading the news daily and passively witnessing reported tragedies, seeing good people fall on hard times or lose loved ones to cancer or other horrible circumstances can be so disheartening. But oh! There’s a GoFundMe! Now multiply that by a thousand. Then there are community causes that I’m passionate about, I want to serve in church and also continue my annual donation to the animal shelter. Because of so many great needs, my donations of time or money can feel like pennies thrown in a can no matter how expansive my desire to be of service. Then, having to set limits by not giving to every good and compelling cause has left me feeling powerless and anxious. Worse, I’ve often compared myself to others who have more time, energy or much deeper pockets. Until now.
That cold I wrote about at Christmas, where I lost my voice? Turned out to be bronchitis which I haven’t had since high school. Cough suppressants, including a heavy duty prescription syrup did little to reduce my coughing fits, but I did have some relief from taking Olbas cough syrup which I highly recommend (and it’s alcohol-free). Ricola Mixed Berry with Vitamin C (non-menthol) also continues to be helpful along with lots of tea and homemade chicken soup. My voice, although slowly coming back, is not my own! I sound like a hard-livin’ chain-smokin’ barfly until I laugh. Then I sound like “The Nanny”!
Here’s a simple evening exercise to help you gently step away from overly complicated living. One of the greatest conveniences of brief mental time travel (or going off the cultural grid) is that it doesn’t cost anything. No fancy machinery, expensive tickets, long lines, or invasive security searches need be involved. In fact it’s the opposite!
My experience from both sides of the “couch” has taught me that there’s nothing simple about PTSD nightmares. The things I tried in my teens and twenties–using food and alcohol to try and bury and drown them, sometimes to the point of blacking out, created new real-life nightmare scenarios. In my late twenties through my forties I was afraid to go to sleep; I averaged about five broken hours a night. When I did sleep, and the nightmares struck, I woke up extremely exhausted.
I wish I could say that I am now completely free of nightmares and experience restful sleep. The good news is that I have made incredible progress over the past couple of years. I have fewer nightmares, am not terrified of going to sleep and am making my peace with them.