Saturday, October 16, 2010

I made a friend today!

My children have always been quite the social people - ever since they were very young. They would just chat with people, pretty much wherever they went. Naturally, we taught them safety tips about not talking to strangers, etc.  Our daughters seemed to be especially talkative, and, as they got older, it became common for them to tell me about the "friend" they had made that day. This usually meant they talked to a person waiting in line with them for concert tickets at the Ticketmaster outlet in the local grocery store or had talked to another patient in the waiting room of the dentist's office. The new "friend" du jour (whom they would never see again) either had some common interest (i.e., were rabid InSync groupies or watched the most popular reality show) or had shared an interesting story about their life, which my child would then relay to me. It never ceased to amaze my husband and myself how frequently our children made new "friends"; we got quite a kick out of it.

Today, I made two new friends. Maybe they could be classified as just one "friend" because, well, they are married and they were together when I met them. Either way, I may a new friend or two today. I can't wait to tell my kids.

My "real" friend of 22 years and I met for a "give-me-some-sage-advice and kick-me-in-the-ass-if-you-need-to" get-together. She lives in Iowa, which is also where I grew up. However, where she lives and where my extended family currently live are 7 hours apart, on completely opposite sides of the state. I brought my mother back to Iowa (she lives with my husband and me in Georgia) and dropped her off at my sister's and proceeded on to meet my girlfriend halfway between eastern and western Iowa.

We chose a quaint little town in which to spend our few quiet days together, catching up on our children, our husbands, our friends, and our current struggles. We always laugh a lot and inevitably shed a few tears. What a gift a trusted girlfriend is!

As we always do, we found ourselves shopping on the vast two-block stretch of downtown that exists here (it's a really, really small town).   There were surprisingly some charming boutiques with fun, unique merchandise. Not what you'd expect to find in the middle of Iowa. Maybe Demi Moore comes here when her young hubby (who is from Iowa) brings her "home" - so the show owners want to be prepared!

The first store we visited was called "Sue Casa." We were actually in the car just driving past when the name caught my eye so I  asked my friend if we stop there. Her response was, "I don't really like Mexican food." I chuckled and told her it wasn't a restaurant but was a self-proclaimed (via signage) "one-of-a-kind" boutique. The sign jumped out at me because I refer to one of my sisters as "Sue Casa, " - or simply "Casa" for short. It's a long story... but even when I call her on the phone I say, "Hola, Casa!" when she answers. So I just had to go into this store called "Sue Casa" - and yes, I took several pictures.

My friend and I browsed through the store, which lived up to it's promise of pedaling unique wares. Just before we were preparing to leave, we began picking through the jewelry that was near the checkout counter. The owner or owners were seated at a desk/table just a few feet away, engaged in conversation with one another. The woman came over and was talking about some lip balm and we embarked on our new "friendship." During the next 20 minutes or so, we learned that she was from Texas and that she and I had both attended Texas A&M. She met her husband in Texas but he convinced her to move back to Iowa, where he is from. He had lived in the Iowa town my friend lives in (and where I lived for ten years before moving to Texas) and he and I both went to Iowa State University for undergrad. It was a fun and engaging conversation and we exchanged contact information because their child may attend A&M in the near future and my husband and I still own a house there, which they may rent while their daughter is in school there!

Aint it just a small world!?

The point is ... making "friends" can add an unexpected few minutes of happiness to your day, which is wonderful all by itself.  Many times it can lead to even more. Who knows - maybe we just met a future renter?

If you don't very often make "friends" through the course of your day, maybe you're taking life too seriously. If you're not a complete introvert (in which case I understand not making this kind of "friend") - then consider creating a win-win (happy for both of you) situation for yourself and a new "friend" today! The world is a better place when more of its inhabitants are chipper!

As always - if you need to - Get Help - but definitely - Get Happy!

Your "Recovery Conscience" - Connie Stapleton, Ph.D.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

I keep teaching myself the same lessons!

I made the decision recently to make some changes in my workaholic lifestyle. Don't get me wrong... I'm still spending as much time as ever being a human "doing" instead of a human "being" (something I'll work on another year)... however,  I have made changes in what I'm spending my time working on.

I like to think of my new "free time" in the evening hours when I used to be with patients as "hobby work." I'm doing things that I hope contribute in some positive way to the world, but in ways that fulfill the "Connie - you've got to take better care of  yourself" message I get rather frequently from friends, mother and husband.

One of my newfound guilty pleasures is a website I had heard of some months ago but never made time to pursue on a regular basis. Basically, the site is for reporters looking for people to contribute to articles they are writing. If  you qualify and are interested in the topic they are writing about, you can submit information to them; if they want to interview you, they pursue it from there. Sometimes I respond as a psychologist, and at other times simply as a person. I recently responded to a query for people who have an aging parent living with them. My mother lives with my husband and me so I sent in a few lines. The woman responded and sent me a list of questions to answer about the topic.

Poor reporter... she got a lot more information than she was looking for, I'm sure. What happened was that I found the questions incredibly thought-provoking. I took the opportunity to "journal" in my responses to this woman's questions. I literally thought to myself a number of times as I was responding that she really didn't need all the information I was supplying, but rather I needed to process my own thoughts and feelings related to having my mother living with us. In doing so, I refreshed my own memory about some lessons I have learned over and over in my life, and which I preach to clients all day long:

1) Taking time to journal IS such a great way to work through  your own thoughts and feelings about things. Just formulating the thoughts into sentences and putting words in front of my eyes helped me to gel these idea fragments that keep flitting through my mind into a cohesive whole. It was like defragging my brain!

2) One of the questions was related to what suggestions I would give others who are taking care of their aging parents who live with them. Two of the things I recommended were really advice for myself. I said that it is important to give yourself permission to have someone in your life that you can just vent it all out to without having to add the "pretty words". In other words, I need to be able to say "The way my mother repeats the same stories over and over and over is driving me crazy!" rather than feeling like I have to say "I know the day will come when I wish I could hear my mother telling her stories over and over... however, today it's driving me crazy." We all need one or two people we can say what we need to say in whatever tone of voice we need to say it in and they won't think we're horrible people for not adding the "pretty" words that make it all nice. These people know us well enough to realize that we're just venting.

The other advice I gave to "others" (ha!) also had to do with permission-giving. I said that caregivers of aging parents also need to give themselves permission to be human and allow themselves to have whatever feelings they have about the situation - in this case, permission not to feel guilty about getting frustrated about things the aging parent does (or does not do - like flush the toilet). Give yourself permission to have whatever feelings you have in relation to the situation. What's important is acknowledging and accepting your feelings (hence, having that good friend to vent to) and making sure you deal appropriately with whoever is involved.

This applies to everyone in any situation: allow yourself to experience whatever  your feelings are. It's not having feelings that gets us in trouble... it's if we deal with them in unhealthy or inappropriate ways that lands us in trouble. So give yourself permission to have all of your feelings and take responsibility to handle them in appropriate ways.

3.) I also reaffirmed to myself one of my favorite sayings: Work Smarter - Not Harder. I am a fantastic multi-tasker and combining my "me time/hobby time" and using it as a way to get some work done as well, is a great way to sustain my workaholism! Sort of like this blog - I get to process things and share it with others!

Ironically, it turns out that my over-responding to her questions turned out to be a win-win. I bragged about my kids in the responses; her son is pursuing a similar job as my son has and she asked if her boy could contact mine! A God thing, I say...

I gotta get to bed... !

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Johari's window... maybe it ought to Ibe called, "Take a long look in the mirror, hypocrit"!

Johari's Window...

Have you ever heard of it? It's been on my mind a lot recently. I know as I write this that there is great potential for this blog to bite me right square in my arse... let me explain.

I've been noticing lately how people tend to vent, complain about, scoff at, and otherwise judge things (or others) that they themselves,  are blatantly guilty of. (Herein lies the personal danger of writing this... because yes - I am as guilty as the next person)! 

In fact, I'll use myself as an example. Way back in the day, just as I was getting involved in my therapy process (i.e., beginning the journey of Getting Help and Getting Happy) I would criticize and condemn mothers who were "selfish" in any number of ways. It was really awful the way my "friends" and I judged others. I once bought a greeting card for a friend that said, on the outside, "I love our intellectual and stimulating conversations..." On the inside it said, "Who should we rake over the coals next?" At the time, I thought that was so, so funny! 

Not shortly after that period of time, I found myself sitting in outpatient treatment for my addiction to alcohol and codeine... My judgmental attitude continued... I thought I was "too good" to be with "those other people" there, and I told the therapist so. "I don't belong here with 'those people.' My God - they've been locked in closets and have abandoned their children and all sorts of horrible things. They're such selfish people!" The counselor patiently replied. "Keep coming back, Connie," implying I had a lot to learn. A short time later, working with a different therapist in the Aftercare program, I was telling her about a look my infant daughter had given me one time. I told her that even though she was just a baby, I couldn't shake the feeling that my daughter was angry with me. The therapist said to me, "Connie. What do you think she might have been trying to tell you?" I must have remained silent for too long - or she had her answer all ready for me because she jumped right in there and told me: "She was telling you that you were selfish." O-U-C-H!!!!!

It had been true. I was very selfish. I had been living the creed of an active addict: "I want what I want when I want it - and the hell with anybody else." Although I hadn't abandoned my children in the ways I talked about 'those other people' - those bad, selfish people - having abandoned their children (as in leaving them all together) I had abandoned my children... by working too many hours, by using codeine and not being mentally or emotionally available to them, and in many other ways. I had negatively judged others and I was behaving in the same way, but I hadn't been aware of it. 

That's part of the Johari window....

The Johari Window (, named after the first names of its inventors, Joseph Luft and Harry Ingham, is a way of describing human interaction. A four paned "window," divides personal awareness into four different types.

Basically, what the four areas represent are:

1. Things that I know about myself that other people also know (like the fact that I speak my mind)

2. Things that other people know about me that I don't know about myself - or don't recognize in myself (which is what the example I wrote about myself above illustrates).

3. The things I know about myself that other people don't know (such as I like to pick my husband's zits)...

2. The things I don't know about myself and other people don't know either (such as... well, I can't say because I don't what these things are)!

Known to SelfNot Known to Self
Known to Othersopenblind
Not Known to Othershiddenunknown

This blog is about square number 2... what I don't know about myself that other people can clearly see. The things I am BLIND to in myself.

I know a person (I'll call her Silly) who repeatedly complains to another person (I'll call her Playful) about how much money a friend owes her. A number of years ago Silly borrowed a lot of money from Playful and, although it was addressed a number of times, Silly never paid Playful back... she is blind to the fact that she did the same thing she's complaining about.

It happens all the time:

  We criticize people for having a facelift while we are waiting for our botox injection.

  We condemn people for not being able to "just push away from the bar" while we drive around in the
   middle of the night to find a donut shop so we can get a sugar fix.

  We get angry at our girlfriends for spending time with a new boyfriend... until we get our own
  boyfriend and put our best girlfriends on the back burner...

The point is... focus on your own not-so-great behavior and take care of that! Because it may be the case that you are doing the same things you're judging others for.

AND... when we deal with our own issues... we are GETTING HELP AND GETTING HAPPY!

Saturday, September 25, 2010

If you're gonna to a social event... try to have some fun, for God's sake!

Last  night I did something extremely out of character. I went out to a social event. In spite of the fact that I "know how" to be extroverted and social, I am actually shy UNLESS I am with people with whom I am comfortable. (I know you thinking I'm fibbing,  but it's true!) Typically, I avoid social events where I know only a few people. I've only been to one large fund raising event (and I was working at that one) - until last night. One of the women who works in my office volunteers for a worthwhile local organization; they were holding a "casino night" fundraiser. It was a formal event, which meant getting all dressed up and mingling with hundreds of people. I decided to go, in spite of Steve being out of town. Normally, at such an event, I would cling to his hand and try to hide behind him. However, because the awesome women who work in my office - and their significant others - were going, and because I love them and am completely comfortable with them, I decided I would be brave and join them. I even volunteered to be the DD, seeing as how I don't drink anyway!

As soon as we walked in the door, I saw two people I knew and who I like very much. That started things off nicely as I chatted with them for a few minutes. Elvis was there and we had many pictures taken with him. Then we sat down to play Texas Hold Em with the fake money they give everyone to play with. Well - we had a riot! We made friends with the dealer who just kept giving me more money - cuz I suck. We laughed and celebrated loudly when one of us would win a hand. It was super fun.

Well... you'd have thought most of the people there were at a funeral, given how dull and solemn they were. The other people at our Texas Hold Em table rarely broke a smile, let alone whooped it up if they won a hand. In fact, a few of the people actually got upset if they lost a hand! It was FAKE MONEY! Amanda, our employee who volunteers for this organization and who was working, told us a man purchasing a drink gave her a one dollar bill for a drink and insisted he get change for his 20. He was adamant with her until the male bartender assured him he had given Amanda a one dollar bill; the man then apologized. It was a FUND RAISER! Trying to make money (by conning the gorgeous bartendress) at a fundraiser? Really?

I did see one other group at a roulette table having some fun, cheering when they won. And Elvis looked like he was having a damn good time, having his picture taken with all the chicks who were dressed up and looking H-O-T! I'm telling you, this was not a bunch of people in their 50's and 60's. Not that we weren't there (I'm 50 now, so I guess I have to include myself in that demographic... ouch). There were plenty of 20, 30 and 40-somethings there. I'm certain our little group had the most fun of anybody there.  And we all looked fabulous, I might add!

The point of all of this is LIGHTEN UP AND HAVE SOME FUN! Especially if you're out socializing! Dear God, all I could think was that those stuffy old - and young - people definitely need to GET HELP AND GET HAPPY!

Enjoy your day!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

A new decade begins...

My idea for blogging is to share things that will hopefully inspire others to "Get Help and Get Happy" in some way. At times I will talk about myself and my life, although that is not my overall intent. However, this weekend was so incredible for me that I have to share the relevant "get help and get happy" message with you. I turned 50 on Saturday; I had made peace with the idea of "that number" over the past six months, as I would refer to myself as being 50 in conversations when relevant so that I wouldn't die of shock when it actually happened.  My most joyful times are when I'm with my immediate family, and that's exactly what we had planned for the day. My husband, Steve and my mother, who lives with us, went to Atlanta to spend the day with our three kids and their new spouses. I was prepared for a day of game playing and suspected they had made me a video of pictures from the years (since all of my photo albums have been missing since June)...  What I did not expect was to find three of my best friends from around the country waiting with my kids in Atlanta. This is a big deal since they have all been to GA many times in the past year and a half as all three of the kids got married in a ten-month period of time so there was no way I would have suspected they would come here yet again... and here they were. In addition, the kids had other friends and family send video birthday greetings which was super fun! And the Facebook messages from people from all over the country. It genuinely felt like a celebration of my life. I felt so completely loved. 

And here is the message... 22 years ago - as a very young mother of three tiny children, with a husband who loved me and who I loved - but neither of us knew how to do so in healthy ways... we were on the brink of losing it all... I had turned to prescription drugs to deal with the mess I had made of life ... and only by the grace of God was I led to an outpatient treatment program. Our lives changed and myself and my husband GOT HELP AND GOT HAPPY. 

The rewards today are enormous and more joyful than I could ever express in mere words. All I can tell people is that when we made the decision to summon our courage and face our troubles head on - with the help of some incredible therapists and friends - we found out what a genuinely happy relationship is like and we learned to parent in healthy ways. I describe it as going from life in black and white to living life with the most brilliant colors imaginable!

My life at 50 is better than I could have ever dreamed life could be! And that is what I wish for each of you. And I know, from personal experience and from working as a therapist for the past 20 years, that for most people it takes getting HELP. 

So please - Get HELP and Get HAPPY!

Joy to you!