‘Tis the night before Christmas Vacation

‘Tis the night before Christmas vacation
and all through the land
not a parent is sleeping
for teacher gifts await – to be made by hand

There are crayon wreaths
and cookies
Ornaments galore
I might’ve lost the baby
in the mess of ribbons on the floor

Such care is taken
Special attention to detail
There is no room for error
No such thing as a Pinterest fail

For our beloved children,
teachers go the extra mile.
It’s really the least we can do –
to burn off our fingerprints
with an overflow of hot glue

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If we’re being real . . .

At daybreak, the kiddies
to the bus they will go
your precious cargo – the gifts –
into their throes
But you’ll hear the bus driver exclaim as she drives out of sight:
What, was your mom up making that all night?

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When does a perinatal mood disorder start?

Please read on to pinpoint when you or a woman close to you will begin to see signs of a perinatal mood and/or anxiety disorder.

  • When two lines appear on the pregnancy test
  • When pregnancy is unexpected
  • When pregnancy is finally achieved
  • When pregnancy is not achieved
  • When the mother loses the baby
  • When the mother chooses not to have the baby
  • When the adoption falls through
  • When the drastic changes in lifestyle that having a baby will induce begin to occur:
    • nausea
    • extreme exhaustion
    • no more wine with dinner or beer after a rough day
    • limited mobility
  • When the hormones at flux in the pregnant body affect thought processes
    • heightened anxiety at the amazing responsibility of growing and then caring for a baby
    • fear of the unknown or varied outcomes of gestation, labor, delivery, and aftercare
    • ambivalence over the new self the mother must create or become
    • mourning the loss of the former self
  • When medication regimens must be altered due to unknown effects of routine prescriptions on the fetus
  • When mother worries and feels guilty about continuing medication and its effects on fetus
  • When mother suffers a loss during pregnancy
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    postpartumpathways.com

    • death of a loved one
    • separation from partner
  • When the mother has no partner or support person
  • When a drastic transition occurs during pregnancy
    • moving homes and/or locations
    • away from support network
    • loss of own or partner’s employment
  • When labor and/or delivery does not go as planned or expected
  • Traumatic labor and/or delivery
    • physical trauma
    • emotional or psychological trauma
  • Complicated recovery from labor and/or delivery
    • infection
    • injury
  • When adoption is complete
  • Unexpected medical condition in infant
  • Loss of infant
  • Difficulty feeding infant
    • breastfeeding
    • colic
    • reflux
    • allergies
    • tongue tied
  • Extreme fatigue recovering from labor and caring for newborn around the clock
  • No routine
  • No schedule
  • No down time – constantly being needed, touched, suckled
  • Disappointment at real life not matching imagined version of motherhood
  • Hormones further thrown into flux after baby-growing part of process complete
  • Stress
  • Too much interference and advice from others
  • Not enough support and help from others
  • Isolation
  • Weaning child from breast (days, weeks, years after birth)
  • Being sole caregiver for a fragile, totally dependent being

After reading this list, it should be an incredibly simple and precise process to pinpoint exactly when you or a woman close to you will exhibit signs of a perinatal mood disorder. Diagnosing and treating it should be even simpler. And recovery? Piece of cake.


Hopefully it is quite obvious that the way I’ve chosen to frame this list is tongue in cheek. The individual items on the list are anything but. They are varied; some mutually exclusive and many overlapping – to show that there is no one road map for predicting, preventing, diagnosing, or treating perinatal mood disorders. Perinatal mood disorders come in many different forms with many different time lines. The one surefire tool to helping yourself or a woman close to you who is suffering is awareness. Awareness of the myriad possible causes and many symptoms that can present. And then reaching out.

To her. To your physician. Midwife. OB. GYN. Pediatrician. Counselor. Therapist. Psychologist. Psychiatrist. Friend. Mother. Partner. Neighbor.

With an illness this insidious, multi-faceted, and far-reaching, silence is not an option. The lives of our mothers, babies, and families depend upon it.

In the Market for a Mother

My pace was slow as we approached the store. Partly because I’d just filled my belly and bladder and couldn’t walk without a hitch, but also because I wasn’t necessarily looking forward to crossing the threshold.

My mother and I were headed to the baby superstore. She had kindly offered to supply our new little one with bed linens, mattress pads, etc. It would be fun to pick at least the patterns on the sheets, and it made sense to come to such a store with a ridiculous variety of options; still, I hesitated – and not just when I realized the restrooms were in the far rear corner of the store. (Seriously, people? Preggos and newborns? Damn the marketing man.)

The fact that this store had such a ridiculous variety of options was part of the problem. If I’ve learned anything after three babies, it’s that simpler is usually better. The addition and care of a little person complicates life enough. Why does a parent need a proprietary gizmo for each and every function? They only suck up money and space.

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Have you ever googled ‘baby gear image’?  Don’t.  (pearlsonastring.com)

One of the liberating aspects of this older, wiser, and unexpected pregnancy (ie gave away all our stuff) was that it would be bare bones. All that stuff I’d registered for and thought I needed and accumulated now was non sequitur. I could pick and choose what was truly needed to care for my baby. And really, that was not much of anything besides my hands and heart. (though, disposable diapers would be nice).

Especially after the rough ride with #3, I was looking forward to a pared down experience focused on the mother-child bond rather than the circus that can sometimes surround newborns and new motherhood.

So after my mother graciously offered to walk back to the front of the store to acquire a shopping cart, she found me staring glassy-eyed at the crib sheet display.

You’re overwhelmed, aren’t you?” she asked.

More than anything, I felt like I was in an alternate universe, never having expected to find myself in this aisle again. It had been years. I felt older. A little self-righteous in a been there-done that sort of way. Appalled – and again older – to see how much the prices had gone up since I’d last bought this stuff. Amused by the upper tier options people who didn’t have any frame of reference would actually spring for.

After choosing a good foundation of necessities, we wandered into other departments, which was probably a mistake. Bedding I could do. The child couldn’t sleep itself into a sweaty, sticky mess on a bare mattress. But cradles, and cups and spoons, and bottles, and little padded strap cushions. Mom and I decided to get a few nursing supplies since I’d need those right off and call it a day.

Don’t get me wrong, Mom and I swooned when we saw the adorable itty bitty sheep on a crib sheet. I picked up a little fox and she nearly hugged a fuzzy penguin. Humans love fresh starts, soft little fingers and toes, and the fragility of life we often forget otherwise.

But I feel like the culture of modern motherhood and merchandising drowns all that. Sure, it shines through in a precious petite bodysuit. But the rows of cribs, reclining chairs, canvas art work, and countless accessories? No mother needs all that. If she wants it, fine. But I think the first insidious brainwashing of the perfect mother myth is that she must have it. The material, the physical accoutrements must be perfectly laid for her to perfectly welcome and care for her baby.

For those times when the maternal bond is muddled, all that material just masks the root problem – and ultimate solution – further.

It’s time to get back to basics.

I picture myself holding my baby, swaddling her* close, and facing the world together – without the marketing man anywhere in sight.

 

*And no, this is not a veiled announcement of the sex of our child; female pronouns just roll off the tongue after three girls

Bonus Day

Yesterday, the first day of spring, my children had a snow day from school.

No, the irony does not escape me. Yes, I realize our region of New England does not preclude such occurrences (one blizzard happening several years ago on April Fools’ Day – apparently Mother Nature has a healthy sense of humor every year). Alas, the snow totals fell drastically short of the predictions and the sun shone and snow melted by what would have been dismissal time.

As I lay in bed Sunday night, after receiving the robo-call from the school department, I was more relaxed than usual knowing I wouldn’t have to rush the kids out the door the next morning. I did say to my husband, however, that I wasn’t looking forward to a whole day inside with the kids. He agreed with me that my comment didn’t exactly sound nice, but I’ve gotten used to some quiet school days as a respite. Plus, I’ve been having iPad battles with the oldest (see previous post), all the girls have been having battles with each other, and I just end up yelling.

It made me laugh, then, when a friend called in the morning, saying I had a ‘bonus day’ with the kids. None of us were dressed. I’d been on my phone all day. They’d bounced between their rooms, the Wii, iPad, and computers. Her use of ‘bonus’ implied unexpected and appreciated quality time. I think I was on vegetation/survival mode.

I finally got my butt in gear enough to strip all three of their beds, a task – believe it or not – they’d been bugging me to do. My very particular middle wanted tightly tucked sheets. My little wanted new blankets. The oldest sleeps with such reckless abandon her bed was just torn to shreds. I figured with them home, perhaps they could help me. I also hoped I’d find my middle’s long-lost library book shoved under her mattress. Ha ha!

When I pulled the bunk beds out to sweep for books and animals lost to the abyss, I made the mistake of leaving the room for a bit afterwards. We all know what empty spaces and crevices and unexpected configurations are for, right? For me, it meant extra room to tuck in those pesky sheets on the far side of the bunks. For them, it meant fill with stuffed animals and baskets and blankets!

'Sure I know what would solve this problem. More floor space.'

Or personal space . . .

 

Suddenly, awash in piles of bedding flooding the hallway, random crap scattered everywhere on the bedroom floors, another step added to an already unwelcome task – I was transported back to days when all three were pre-school. When it was one step forward, two steps back. When it was literally shoveling shit against the tide. When keeping them happy and/or entertained and a house with the least order of squalor attainable and some semblance of sanity was a nearly impossible balance.

And I was scared.

I was reminded what life was like with a house full of littles. As the sole caregiver, comforter, cheerleader, coach, craft guru . . . I am well aware that I need not be all these things at all – and certainly not all at once. But my anxiety treats any deviation from a perceived plan or expectation as a misstep, a notch closer to irritation, panic, anger. It makes me hide in a corner of my couch, balled up in my pjs, content to try nothing rather than get frustrated with things not going according to plan. Or overwhelmed by the enormity of a whole day with all these people – when it should be about the moments.

Even when summer vacation starts and I have not only the new infant, but the older three, it will not be the same as those insular days when they bounced off the walls like ping-pong balls. They are not all toddler and preschool age. They can have some independent and alone time. Even while I tend to the baby, they can play on their own or swing outside. Hopefully they will understand that I won’t be able to – nor should I – entertain them all day. Hopefully I’ll remember that, too.

And to take each moment one at a time for what it’s worth – not worrying the whole day away before it’s even started.

 

Pietro

 “Excuse me . . . miss.”

The way he addressed me, I almost thought he mistook me for a clerk. The blue and white check on the shoulder of my rain jacket flashed as I turned and reminded me it looked nothing like the blue polos of the store employees. He spread his fingers across the bridge of his nose.

My glasses. I forgot them.” His index finger moved to the half gallon of milk he held in his hand and its mottled hieroglyph of a date stamp. We peered at it together.

March 26th,” I said.

Today’s . . . the . . . 11th,” we said together, the last part punctuated by the speed of certainty.

He tilted his head back and forth as if weighing the amount of milk against the weight of days.

That gives you time,” I said.

I’d seen the same dance from my grandmother countless times. What was an easy decision for me – to throw two full gallons of milk in my cart for my burgeoning family – was agonizing to a single person afraid of pouring sour dairy down the drain.

We laughed, relieved to have solved this problem together.

Eh, the basket, where do you get them?” he said. At least that’s what I thought he said. The beautiful lilt of an Italian accent rounded the edges of each word. I went through the convoluted description of obtaining a shopping cart from the coin-fed chain contraption all because of one misunderstood noun.

Oh no, the pasta. Pasta fagioli?” He uttered a few other phrases to clarify what he was seeking, which included Germany in there somewhere, I think. I finally nodded in assent and scanned the signs above the aisles, pointing to the next one over.

Pasta!” I said.

Next aisle, ah yes. Thank you very much.”

After he shuffled off and I resumed the task of picking out paper towels, his voice carried over the rack of metal shelving separating us.

Pastina,” he said. “Pasta. Pasta fagioli.”

Pastina? You mean little pasta?”

For pasta fagioli,” he insisted. “In Germany.”

This is all the pasta we have, sir.”

He had found a clerk this time, but I could tell she was as thrown by his accent as I had been. And obviously hadn’t been raised on the tiny bits of pasta Italian families added to their soups and fed buttered to their babies in high chairs.

Armed with the knowledge my Italian husband and his family had fed me with, I figured I’d better hightail it over to the pasta aisle and intervene. I’d failed translating the first time, but maybe this time, I could help. Plus, I needed some campanelle of my own.

Pasta fagioli,” he said again to the confounded clerk.

They both looked at me as I approached. “You mean in a can?”

My Italian relatives would cringe at my suggestion, but the way he kept repeating it, I thought maybe he wanted some ready-made.

No, no, the pastina, to put in the pasta fagioli.” His thumb and forefinger made a small gap of light to show its size.

I had assumed that’s what he had wanted all along. Even though he was elderly and shopping alone, living perhaps presumably alone, a man who requested his type of pasta by the Italian name of the dish it was destined for, in a voice tinged with his mother tongue, would want to whip up a batch himself.

The clerk repeated that what was in the aisle was all they had. I agreed that I didn’t see it, nor the ditalini I instinctively knew would also work.

Sorry,” she said as she moved back to the front of the store.

Are you Italian?” he said.

My husband is,” I said.

Your husband,” he repeated as if processing the information.

Yes.”

What is your last name?”

I’d had this conversation many times before in supermarkets, nursing homes, and once a cab ride in Rome. It was not an interrogation. It was a sharing of roots; whether common ones or airing your own; a sense of pride; a tradition borne across the world.

Basile.”

He was not the first one to stumble on my last name, but his was not due to pronunciation. Once his hearing clarified it, he pronounced it more precisely than I could.

Calabria, Campagnia, Sicily?”

I knew, of course, where the maternal and paternal shoots of my husband’s tree hailed from, but struggled to find the short answer in the middle of the supermarket.

Rome.” I decided on the branch that bore our surname.

Ah, Roma.”

Si,” I said.

He smiled.

And you, you are American?”

I shouldn’t have been thrown by such a question, especially coming from someone who certainly did not sound like a native English speaker. Yes, I was American, but my family had been for three generations now – and that was the most recent immigrant branch.

Yes, Jennifer. My family is Irish,” I said.

The Irish,” he said.

My genetics must have been ingrained with the biases my ancestors dealt with, for I was almost afraid how he would react. I wanted to assure him with my grandmother’s assurance made just fifteen short years ago, that Irish and Italians marry well.

My daughters,” he said. “I have two. One she lives upstairs from me. The other, she lives in New York. She married an Irish man. Kevin O’Rourke. He’s a good man,” he said. “Even though, you know.” He paused to make a guzzling motion with his thumb and pinky extended, then laughed. I couldn’t tell whether this was an indictment of his son-in-law or the Irish in general.

Well, I don’t,” I said. “Especially now,” I quipped, indicating my pregnant belly.

He smiled. “A boy?” I couldn’t tell whether he was rooting for a boy as any Italian relative I’d encountered during any of my pregnancies did, or if he was just wondering whether I knew the sex of the baby.

I don’t know, yet,” I said. “We already have three daughters.”

He indicated pleasure rather than the surprise that admission usually met.

And what is your name?’ I asked.

He extended a strong hand spotted with age. “Pietro.”

It’s nice to meet you, Pietro.”

Yes, you have a good day now,” he said. “Good bye, ciao, auf wiedersehen.“

His litany of multilingual greetings threw my mind into a tailspin. It spun wildly for the words to wish him a good day in Italian.

Perhaps he mistook my pause for confusion, for he explained ‘auf wiedersehen’ was from the German. I realized I’d never asked exactly from where he’d hailed. He was obviously tied to Germany as well as Italy.

Si,“ I agreed.

He laughed. “Ciao, bella.“

As he left, I turned back to the pasta. Not only did they not have pastina, there was no campanelle either.

– Jennifer Butler Basile, 2016

Growing

Baby #1: I was excited. I was in awe. I read all the baby updates in all the manuals on the assigned week. I brought my legal pad of questions to each appointment. I was petrified of labor. I cried the hollowest cries while my husband slept beside me on the couch cradling our baby. Who would now console me?

Baby #2: I was excited. I was exhausted. I worried about my first baby with a new baby. I began to look forward to those late night/early morning feedings for the quality one-on-one time they provided. I was so fiercely devoted to protecting baby’s soft little skull and sacred nap time from boisterous big sister, I screamed a lot.

Baby #3: I was blindsided. I was in shock. I was overwhelmed, agitated, obsessive, irritable. I still hadn’t come to terms with the idea of a new baby even as I lay on the delivery bed. I loved her so fiercely I was afraid someone would take her from me. I flipped out at hair elastics stretched over finials of dining chairs. I swore, I flew off the handle, I hid in the bathroom. I cried, begged for it all to be over.

Baby #4: I was surprised. I thought I was done having babies. I have moments almost daily where I think, ‘we’re doing this again?’ and yet, I’m strangely at peace. I still get irritable. I hurt from the physical toll of four pregnancies. I put myself to bed before my children sometimes. I see a therapist. I take meds. I go to acupuncture. I do yoga. I pray the rosary.

But I’m okay.

When I look back at the timeline of my pregnancies, I can see the mounting mental anguish I couldn’t at the time. What could’ve been the ‘baby blues’ with #1, escalated into moderate mood dysfunction with #2, and plunged me into the deepest despair of postpartum depression and anxiety with #3. It still irritates me that something that was probably underlying all the time was manageable for me until I kept adding layer upon layer. However, I am not superwoman.

I am a woman, a mother armed to the teeth with resources and self-knowledge. Fighting, clawing out of that hole after #3, I will never let all that hard work be in vain. I will see the signs early on; I will know which preemptive strikes to take; I will make self-care measures so that I hopefully won’t even need the interventions.

I do not feel strong as a victor shining brightly; but stronger in my resilience, in my survival, my steely will to not succumb.

There is life after postpartum depression. It is different. It’s not easier – but somehow it’s clearer. The unrealistic mist of life as we thought we knew it dissipates. The real, the ugly, the harsh – and the beautiful – are etched crystalline. We see it all – and appreciate the beauty that much more.

To the life, growing inside all of us

Ode to Maternity Clothes

Thank you, maternity clothes, for making me feel less attractive than I already am

I realize the orb-like appendage extending from my midsection leaves you with lofty goals to attain; still, you fall grievously short of your endgame

With fabrics somewhere between highly viscous jet fuel and canvas starched to within an inch of its life

With shoe-string thin ties that either knot in one’s back or threaten to dip in the toilet in an already awkward dance

With handkerchief hems that add volume to our thighs, yet leave our sausage-like backside showing

Thank you

Thank you for pricing anything that looks remotely like real clothing out of range of anyone in her right mind – for three months of wear

Thank you to your merchandising gurus who decided to place your displays next to the plus size wear

Thank you for providing an infinite amount of baby-doll tops to go with three proffered pairs of pants

And to your partner in crime: the fitting room mirror

Thank you for showing me the parts of myself that I hadn’t realized has gotten so hairy under that belly

Thank you for accentuating just how wide my side view now is

Thank you for sallow skin, double chin, and purple circles under the eyes

Maternity clothes, you suck – only slightly more than trying you on

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‘Portrait of an Unknown Lady’ by Marcus Gheeraerts II

 

 

Embarazada: A Truly False Cognate?

No one likes to be contradicted – least of all by oneself.  But that’s what I’ve unwittingly done within the confines of this very blog.  Looking back at certain older posts from this blog – even ones written just before this pregnancy – I spoke of ways my life was altered by motherhood and ways it might expand as time went on.  There were posts lamenting the fact that I’d never have the chance to do mommy and baby yoga; pondering grand dreams of what I’d do with my life now that my babies were more self-sufficient; worrying that I still hadn’t fully recovered from the postpartum mood and anxiety disorder that had started six years earlier.

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Jennifer Butler Basile

Looking back, with all of the facts and the whole picture visible, it’s easy to cringe.  But if nothing else, I’ve dedicated this blog to my true state of mind at a given point in time.  And those feelings were true at that point in time.  Did I foresee this new off-shoot of our family tree?  Absolutely not.  Was I closed to the idea of new life and growth in our lives?  Absolutely not.  So the before and after of this point on our timeline are equally authentic.

Still, it’s hard to reconcile drastically unexpected turns of one’s life on a public stage. Would people always wonder whether this child was the ‘surprise’?  Would they ask whether his or her birth followed a remarriage, creating a second little family after a longer span?  Would the silver strands that seemed more plentiful than my dark tresses make me look like even more of an old mother than I felt?

It was when I found a white eyebrow hair that I had a small fit in front of the bathroom mirror.  How could I be making this journey I’d first started as a much younger woman once again?  How could my body do this (and to me)?  After a moment of reflection, however, I realized I wouldn’t be pregnant if I was too old to conceive and carry a child.  My body was ready – even if I was not.

That’s not to say I can expect to let my body do all the work it did effortlessly the first time all those years ago.  I need to exercise and modify and hurt more than I ever have before.  I need to quantify and reconcile and deconstruct all my fears and thoughts.  I also need to embrace the wisdom and experience my three previous journeys have given me.  I have been on both sides, mostly all sides, of the multifaceted sphere that is motherhood.  I’ve not always been on the right side, but I certainly have perspective.

Perspective can affect outcome and attitude on any given day in many different ways.  As with any life change, it will not always result in a positive outlook.  If I ever had rose-colored glasses, they were shattered some dark night of some postpartum period.  There are and will be days I discuss those jagged images.  However, there are some positives I never would have claimed had there never been this pregnancy.

For my previous three babies, I did not know how to knit.  This time, I am able to create a blanket for my baby.  With all three older children now in school, I will be able to rest and ruminate with this child like I did my first.  I’ll get to try ‘wearing’ this child with one of those chic wraps you need to be a ninja to tie that caught on as my youngest aged.  And maybe I’ll even make good on my long-held desire to practice yoga with my infant at some sun-soaked studio.

My most fervent hope is that this pregnancy will wipe clean a slate sullied by my mental and emotional anguish surrounding the process and act of childbearing.  Even saying that worries me that I’ve set an unrealistic expectation – one of the paths to pmads – but I cannot deny the hope that struggles to blossom and grow.

Before or after; Expected or pleasant surprise; Prepared or brilliantly bewildered – Gracias a Dios for another chance at life.


 

What is a false cognate?

False cognates are pairs of words that seem to be cognates because of similar sounds and meaning, but actually have different etymologies; these word pairs can be within the same language or be from different ones. This is different from false friends, which may in fact be related but have different meanings. (wikipedia)

 

Looking for Signs of Life

A brown curled claw
skittering along the ground

Singular movement amidst
the frozen expanse of pavement

Only when you get close enough to see the fingers,
knuckles scraping the rocky surface,
can you distinguish the knobs of an oak leaf,
stem protruding like a tail

Propelled by the wind

a legion of birds wrapped in wing
a chipmunk
a squirrel,
a lizard scampering by

All alive according to the eye

But in this cold raw place between snow and spring
dry, brittle leaves are all that dance
born on the rhythm of weather patterns and wishful thinking

Recovery Contd.

In an online forum, a mother asked if she was the only one who thought about her experience with postpartum each and every day since she had given birth four years earlier.

I am six years out. While it’s not an everyday occurrence, it often comes to mind. In many ways, it has and continually shapes who I am – as an all-around human, not just certain aspects of motherhood.

Though I wouldn’t recommend it as a means of self-discovery, my postpartum experience taught me a lot about myself. I realized, that while I had been managing it, I’d been suffering from low-level depression and anxiety for years. What I thought was a failure to contain, control, was actually the event horizon of a long-simmering beast’s debut.

So I find it hard when people talk about postpartum recovery. I don’t feel as if I’ve recovered from postpartum depression. I feel like I’ve learned to manage it, but it’s the new normal. While I took an extended hiatus, I’ve returned to my therapist. I never stopped taking my meds. I still have low points that make me wonder if I’ll ever be healed; that make me seek out new treatments and pray for cures.

A cure lies somewhere within the intersection of self-acceptance, medical marvels, and divine intervention. I think it’s impossible that any one will work without the combination of the others.

I need to accept that this may (notice I’m not quite ready yet) be how my chemical makeup operates. That I didn’t fall short on some courage or stick-to-it-ness factor. That I didn’t fail to attract good things through my thoughts. I cannot will myself better with positive thoughts. Though my heart works that way, my mind simply is not wired for that.

Taking medicine to augment your mood is okay, even acceptable. It’s beneficial to your quality of life. It quiets the rage and keeps the nervous energy at bay.

And to fill the gap that always is – there is God. A spiritual dimension to the healing process is essential – and one I was missing for a long time. Unfortunately, this is not a one and done. I must continually seek this solace.

All three spokes of the wheel need continual attention. They all need periodic tweaking and developing. Much to my chagrin, my recovery and learning to live a full life is not a mountain to be scaled and topped with a banner of victory. I have to drag that flag with me wherever I go. As long as it still flies, I guess, there is still hope.

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