Friday, January 11, 2019

The C Word

When my sister Crystal died of ovarian cancer in 2013, I somehow thought that meant my family and I could somehow sigh in relief. It was the most horrific and challenging part of my life thus far. And as hard as it was, I thought that meant that we had paid our dues and could move forward putting the awful C word behind us. I learned so much about cancer during Crystal's journey. She documented it in her blog here: https://www.caringbridge.org/visit/crystalheimgartner/journal Truth be told, I just cringed a bit having to login to the journal to post the link and left as soon as I could cut and paste it. Five years later and seeing her thoughts and feelings about the disease still shakes me to my core and I am unable to read about it again. However, I am so grateful it is there so when my heart is ready I can relive the journey with her. She also made beautiful tributes to her girls in there several times and one post even especially about me. It is a treasure to have and something I am eternally grateful for. Before Crystal's journey, I knew nothing about cancer. Like nothing. Like most people, I imagined it to be this awful disease (disclaimer it is) but honestly I had no idea what it actually even was. Over the years, I learned the difference between a CT scan and PET scan; what scan showed what and how they were integrated into treatment. I learned how a biopsy is performed and how a radiologist determines what the mass actually is. I also read every book imaginable, including all of the hippie-dippie Susan Somers books about holistic non-medical treatments (stop rolling your eyes all of you science geeks). I learned that many tumors LOVE sugar and how marijuana can be integrated into treatment. I learned about raw foods and vitamin supplements and chemotherapy and radiation all work. I watched specials about John of God, Mexican treatment facilities, German experimental treatments, and the list goes on and on. I learned how the stages of cancer are assigned by your oncologist (a doctor who specializes in cancer). I learned what the cellular makeup of a tumor looks like and saw raw images of tumors taken from my sisters own body. I learned that nurses are angels sent straight from God to care for others and always be nice to them no matter how much you are hurting. And again, on that day when she died somehow I took all of the knowledge and bagged it up in a trash bag and threw it away, thinking I'd never ever ever have to access it again. And I was thankful for that; "good riddance" I told it. I actually had a therapy session where I said good bye to all of that information to help clear my mind and try to get back to some sort of "normal" without my sister. Part of that session was a reminder to myself that knowledge in this case does not necessary equal power as every human is unique and I wasn't going to outsmart cancer no matter how much I studied it. I really didn't like hearing that, but hey I was never going to use it again anyway so I obliged my therapist and said I agreed. And then Saturday night happened. I was out celebrating a dear friends birthday when that damn trash bag got thrown back into my world. Five years later, it smells like utter and complete shit after festering for five plus years, but it's still there packed full of things I never wanted to think about or remember again. To God, the Universe, or whomever---I really wanted to keep the damn bag in the dump. I never wanted to see it, think about, or most importantly feel it again. But here it is, right at the doorstep of my heart banging to come back in and do this journey again. For those of you that know me well (which is pretty much all of you reading this), you know I will be fine. Part of being in graduate school to become a therapist is a very rigorous self-therapy program for yourself so I have support. Not to mention my support system in all of you and my amazing husband and daughter who give me strength I didn't ever realize I had before them. You know that my family and I will fight with every single fiber of our being. But this SUCKS! I am angry and frustrated and confused and angry and did I say angry? I am and will forever be a Momma's boy. I don't know anyone as close with their Mom as me and mine. We speak on the phone for hours each week. She's funny, she has a heart of gold, and is one of the kindest most loving and accepting people on this planet. But also, when you fuck with her...or me for that matter...we will WIN! And if we don't we will fight like hell on the way out. You know the very best part about my Mom, though? She nailed being a Mom. She spoke to me like a grown up from early on, told me I could tell her anything (and I have), and I knew she would never waver. If I killed someone, she told me to call her and she'd help me bury the body. And she meant (and still means) it. I can't think of a more beautiful gift to your child than them knowing that you'll stand with them no matter what they do or say or how they act and love them through it. I am so beyond grateful for support of everyone in my life. The number of calls and texts and meals and love I can feel from my front porch here in Los Angeles and it is soooooo appreciated. We are just at the beginning of this and don't have enough answers for anyone, or ourselves for a few more weeks. One thing I did learn (the hard way) on Crystal's journey is to allow the person fighting the disease to choose for themselves how they want to fight, what treatments they'll undergo, and how they want to take on this monster. Everyone has an opinion or a story of something that worked for them or a theory or a story of a loved one who did this or did that or went here, and I know it is meant in good faith but I ask that you allow Mom to choose for herself what she wants to do, how she wants to do it, and surround her with positivity and strength in whatever her heart and body decides is right for her. Now to the C word. GO. FUCK. YOURSELF.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Take the plunge.

Well, I actually did it. Have you ever had that internal voice whisper to you over and over again "keep searching?" For several years, I've tried to subside that voice and focus on my short term goals of making money, providing for my family, and being absolutely perfect along the way. But the voice inside kept getting louder and louder and finally, last month I finally listened. After an almost twenty year career in retail, working long hours, missing so many milestones, and genuinely giving my full self to my job, I quit. It was one of the most difficult decisions I've ever had to make and still to this day, I can't believe I really and truly did it. For years, the whisper inside of me to find a different career that aligned with my passion kept creeping in. I got really good and shoving it down, and finding every excuse imaginable to extinguish it. Like most people, I didn't even know WHAT the passion was, so how could I risk it all on something that I wasn't even aware of to begin with. I tried a bunch of things; offering to try on new roles at my workplace, job hunting for jobs in a completely different career field, joining forces with friends on business ventures, beginning a book (that I am still working on), but nothing really would stick. I also liked the way I appeared to most people-like I had it all together and figured out. But at night I would lay awake, sometimes crying quietly to myself wondering how most of the world saw me as "put together" when I felt like a mixed up seven hundred piece puzzle inside. The past year was challenging for a variety of reasons, and I finally returned to the same therapist I had seen five years prior when my older sister died of cancer. She reminded me of what a good listener I was and how I always was trying to find things that offered solutions to problems for people in my life. She also said that I asked a LOT of questions, about her and to everyone who I wanted in my circle. When she said, "I know I said this to you before, but have you ever thought about becoming a therapist?" the lights went off inside. Like most of my neurosis, I came home and matter-of-factly announced to my husband that I WAS BECOMING A THERAPIST! I don't blame his eye roll as it was becoming a weekly thing where I would come home after listening to a podcast and announce WHAT I was going to do with my life. But deep down, those bells were still ringing and lights were still flashing! And I thought to myself this is it! I began researching what it would take to become a therapist and formulating a plan. I actually had three plans- Plan A, Plan B, and Plan C. I also researched graduate programs, and found out it takes A LOT of work to become a licensed therapist! I applied to my program, got accepted, and started my master's program in July. I was continuing to work and trying to identify which of my three plans I would go with. Ultimately, I went with no plan. I handed in my notice to my job (one of the most anxiety ridden things I've ever done) and just took the plunge. I know how fortunate I am to even be writing this or have the ability to do this. It will be a big sacrifice, but I am more confident in my decision than ever before. I am just beginning my third class and learning so much about psychology, the human condition, and my own patterns and past. I am eager to help other people. I am working on my neurosis (not a clinical diagnosis of course) of having to plan everything out and just going with the flow. I've been able to reconnect with my daughter and spend her final two weeks of summer break with her bonding and having her beat me in too many games of Monopoly to describe. I joined the PTA and volunteer in her classroom. We've converted our guest room into my classroom. I walk the dogs every day up to the park, sold a car, paid off all debt, meal prep dinner each night, and finding any way possible to make it work. I wish I could've listened sooner, but then I realize that what if I had just never listened at all? What is that voice inside of you saying? Whatever it is, the only advice I can give is LISTEN TO IT! Go with your gut and figure out the details later.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Showing Up

We are in the middle of our East Coast Spring Break trip right now. While most of this trip was about having fun and visiting friends and having a great time, yesterday we planned a day to visit with my husbands family in Philadelphia. For most people, that’s just what you do when you go home, but for us this was a much bigger deal. You see, other than one brother, two sisters, and two nieces I’d never met any of his extremely large family, including his parents. We had been debating what to do and how to do this for quite some time. We finally decided a few weeks back to rent an AirBnB house and invite people over to visit in one spot. The weeks leading up this have caused some major anxiety. How would it all go with his deeply religious family meeting their gay sons husband and daughter for the first time? I never ever get nervous. It’s just not part of who I am, however for days I’ve watched in anticipation as we got on the plane from Los Angeles and into Philadelphia. I’ve done my normal travel thing by asking tons of questions and soaking up the rich history of this beautiful city. For me this wasn’t just about seeing Philadelphia, but moreso really understanding where my husband is from and how he became the most incredible person I’ve ever met. As we checked into the house, the owner was leaving. We walked in to the strongest smell of marijuana I’ve ever encountered. The previous renters had a house party the night before! I was starting to panic and get so nervous! I just wanted this to go well. And then suddenly I look out the window and a woman I’d never met was tying balloons to the posts on the drive way (black and white to signify our ebony and ivory union!) and within a few moments dozens of people flooded in, bringing with them trays and trays of food and drinks- pans of Mac and cheese, hundreds of pieces of fried chicken, crock pots of collard greens, cakes, pies, and more food than I’d ever seen. Every single one hugged me, genuinely, and asked about my life. I watched as the anxiousness fell off of my husband and he laughed and sang and danced and joked and hugged with his giant family for hours. I had built in my mind this idea of my Mother in Law as a vindictive person who would use her religion against me. Instead she gave me one of the biggest hugs and smiles I’ve ever seen. She brought a bag full of toys and goodies for Harper and checked on us both all throughout the evening to ensure we were eating and having fun, which we were. I’ve never eaten as well as I did. We had soul food. Moreso my soul was fed. My husband always reminds me how important to “show up.” I guess I knew that in theory but he has forced me to look at that head on. His brother and girlfriend drove in from New York City even though they’ll still be seeing us again in a few days! His sister and niece came from Jersey and even though they are annoyed by their family like so many of they came, they stayed, and made me laugh. And his two best friends tagged teamed in the whole night to ensure Harper and I were fine and well and that we had a familiar face during this huge gathering. After spending a night with his lovely family I think I understand that importance Of showing up even more. Just like that, the weeks and months of trip preparation and the big family meet-up have come and gone. I’m not delusional in thinking that from here we all move on as one big happy family. Maybe we will, but I think it’s more likely that we won’t. However I’ll soak up the memory of last night for years to come. I get it now. After six years together, I finally can see how my husband IS who he is. He has his Mother’s belly laugh and his sisters charisma and his brothers swag and his cousins wit. And when we needed it the most his family “showed up.”

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Call to Action for Superbowl Sunday! "The Time Is Always Right To Do What Is Right" -MLK

I've got an idea... We are three weeks away from the Superbowl and for one day the eyes of our country will be off our Head of State's Twitter and onto our televisions. We will come together, people from all backgrounds and join in our living rooms to watch a game, celebrate, laugh, eat, and most definitely heckle eachother over our favorite team. We need a flag. We need a "pause button." I am urging all people-including the teams who make it to the Superbowl-to use this as a day to bring us together and show the dignity of America. Invite someone to your house party who doesn't look like you. Go say hello to that neighbor you've yet to meet and see if they have plans. Put your cell phones away and just enjoy the community you're in for that day. Don't wince at the players who take a knee during the National Anthem for being brave enough to remind everyone that "Black Lives Still Matter" on the country's biggest stage. Try a food from a country you've never been to (Haiti has some killer "Griyo" that would pair great with wings and a beer). Laugh at the commercials. Cry at the commercials. Stand up and dance your booty off to Justin Timberlake at the half time show. We need this more than you know. Tomorrow we remember an incredible man who said, "Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that."- Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. #SuperbowlfortheSoul2018 #SuperbowlSoulSunday2018 #TogetherforSuperbowl2018 #UnitedSuperbowl2018

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

August 22nd, 2017

Friday, August 22nd, 1997. I had just completed my very first week of High School. As with most Freshman my biggest worries were about trying the newest acne cream and attempting to understand all of the changes happening inside of me as I navigated puberty. Although my home life wasn't perfect and I still struggled to appease my recently divorced parents, at my soul I knew I had a very charmed and blessed life. The summer was coming to a close, and I had just spent it with my Dad in a Nevada before boarding a plane back to Tennessee. It was a magical summer that culminated with a trip to Los Angeles to visit Knotts Berry Farm, Magic Mountain, and Disneyland. We had so many great memories and more laughs than any kid could dream of. When we got back to Tennessee I was hopeful that my parents also turned a corner. I overheard them on the phone and my Dad told my Mom that he was going to come visit us in Tennessee for the holidays. I remember her giggling on the phone and for a split second they seemed back to that lovey dovey couple that would make out and dance in the kitchen in front of us kids as we rolled our eyes at them and told them how gross they were. I vividly remember thinking that when Dad came, all of the wrong-doings of the past would magically go away and they would somehow get back together and we would all live happily ever after. We lived right down the street from my Aunt and Uncle and it wasn't unusual for us to spend lots of time at their house. My Aunt called the house phone and asked me to come up to her house and bring my younger sister. I really didn't think anything of it and away we went up the street. Katie kicked the back of my shoe- a pair of Adidas sandals with the black and white thick straps over the top- on the way up to Aunt Mary's house and I told her to go fuck herself. She said she was going to tell Aunt Mary when we got to her house and I told her to "go ahead, no one believes her anyway." I really regret that. I signed into Aunt Mary's living room computer on AOL dial up when I looked outside and saw my Mom walking in. It was strange that she was there so early, but I just continued on with the computer. When she came in I said hey and could tell something was off but just kept on surfing the very slow web. She asked my sister to come inside and told us the news. "Guys, you know I love you right? This may be the hardest things I've ever had to tell you. Your Dad is dead." People cried. Our local minister and his wife came in to attempt comforting words. I was absolutely frozen. The next few days, weeks, frankly years are mostly a blur. We flew back to Nevada where I got to see my big sister. She and I were absolutely pissed off. Katie, my younger sister, was emotional but Crystal and I were simply angry. For the record, my Father took his own life. He had battled with drug and alcohol addictions for my entire life, and most of his. He, while high on several different drugs, went into the garage and started an old vehicle and died of carbon monoxide poisoning. He was scheduled to go fishing the next day and had his bag fully packed, fishing lines already laid out with his tackle box ready to go. He left no note. That was it. In a matter of seconds he changed the trajectory of my entire life by making a selfish decision and not thinking clearly. I say this because as I've gotten older, and become a parent I have a harder and harder time grasping how he could give up on his own life and children in this way. I know that my Dad loved and adored me, but I can see how the power of drugs and alcohol can steal away a persons true self. If you are battling with addiction, let my story be the catalyst to want to help yourself. You mean more to the people in your life than words can express and you are not alone! As we prepared for his funeral, my Mom had to switch the days so that his viewing didn't happen on my Birthday. So much of my childhood Was stolen on that day. I craved acceptance and acknowledgement from teachers, friends and family, but nothing can fill in the void of your Father. I am thankful for those that did step in and help; I'm not sure I would've made it here without them. When I think of all of the big things he has missed it blows my mind- weddings, grandchildren, graduations. But it's the small things that really hurt the most. Being able to call him up and ask for simple advice or just shoot the breeze. He was a kind and funny man. I see so much of myself in him- a super hard work ethic, a super silly side that loves to sing even if we aren't great at it, passionate love for those closest to us and passionate rage when someone wrongs us. I've had him out of my life far longer than I had him in it, but today I wanted to remind him how much I loved him. After all, without him, there would be no me. Raise (just one) a glass of Bacardi and Dr. Pepper to my Daddy today and try to remember there is a pot of gold at the end of rainbow.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

I am invincible

I feel like the world right now is so chaotic and "out of tune." I'm sitting in an independent coffee shop in one of the most vibrant neighborhoods in one of the worlds largest cities, and I've literally watched thirty or forty people come and go without one smiling or laughing at one another. How did we get here? I've been contemplating invincibility lately. Having a six year old who is learning and growing and asking lots of questions is causing me to really dig in and think about the big things. For instance, last weekend Harper says to Sabe and I, "If God created everything in the universe than who created God?" Hmmmm...I thought to myself. I had to ask for time to think about it and get back to her but still haven't. August marks twenty years since my Dad's passing. I was a few days shy of my 14th birthday. The memories are blurred and I have so few concrete memories left, but I do know I was loved immensely and somehow that carries me through. That little six year old mentioned earlier is also kind of obsessed with death. There's been lots of questions about when things or people die what happens to them? I really wish parenting did come with a manual to assist. I wanna be open and honest, but don't want to totally screw her up either! Lord help me when we get to where babies come from! I'm attempting to slow down a little. For the first time ever I've seen the color purple everywhere! All of the trees are the most gorgeous shade of purple I've ever seen! I asked Sabin if it's this way every year and he said "no, I went around and planted them all for you." But I know they're always here, how have I never slowed down enough to notice? I miss my family. In a weird way, the fact that we disagree on pretty much every political or social issue and can come together to laugh and celebrate together gives me hope that we will survive this strange time where everyone is throwing stones but no one is catching them. I am tired of the tennis game, just grab the ball and own it. I love to say black lives matter, but still clench my steering wheel as the black homeless man approaches my car window to ask for money, but am some how internally OK when it's a scraggly looking white dude. I need to listen to my own advice, catch the ball, and understand that we are a product of experiences, social and religious backgrounds, and family upbringing, but we have to talk about it and own our issues. Then work on correcting them. Summer is coming! Only six more school days for my Kindergarten girlie. Where has the time gone? Please slow down. Please speed up. Please pause. ---Side Note: a man with a HUGE Great Dane just came in and had a laugh with the barista, I missed the joke but noticed that four others and myself put down our devices and smiled as they laughed; maybe all we really do need is love and laughter----a dear friend lost her Mom yesterday. When I read the news tears instantly streamed down my face. I don't know the details, but this friend is so full of love and light. She was adopted by a mother that was a different race than she is. She shared stories on her site about how her Mom would often say her traits "ran in the family." To me that is love and connectedness. What a beautiful tribute.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

One Month In...

Grrrr! I, like most people, am sick and tired of politics. Here we are less than a month into Trump's presidency and I am a mix of emotions. On one hand I want to scream "told you so!" I mean there is no denying that Betsy DeVos is an imperial idiot. Maybe even more unqualified for her post than Trump himself. I don't know anyone on either side of the aisle arguing for her to be at the helm of my sweet innocent girls education. But it's literally Every. Single. Post. And I want to stay engaged. I'm an advocate. I don't support any bans on anyone, I'm proud of my immigrant roots. Aren't we all? I mean we are ALL immigrants waving our flags on Cinqo De Mayo or St. Patrick's, or whatever holiday we recognize our ancestors! I happened into a blood line that recognizes Jesus Christ as the Lord, but it could have easily gone a dozen other ways based on how/when/to whom I was born. I'm part of so many marginalized communities that are aching right now. I want to be strong for all of them. But it's hard. I'm also a proud American and while I vehemently was opposed to our current administration, I also believe in the political process, the electoral college (Yes, even when the popular vote doesn't win out), and therefore feel obligated to respect the office of the president, even when I don't support the man (or hopefully woman sometime soon) myself. It's excruciating. I realize we live in a microcosm of those that usually think like we do. I'm thankful (most days) that my social media floats somewhere in between. I want to stay informed on how the news is reported to both sides of the aisle so I have perspective. But it's also kinda like living in the twilight zone. Everyone cares about something different and their passion around that issue and difference in opinions infuriates them. If your Pro Life, you see red at how some people want to see innocent babies murdered (literally that's how many see it). If you're pro choice you don't understand how those pro-lifers, including the women who identify that way, don't want their own right to choose what's right for their own body or support Planned Parenthood for all of the reproductive issues they help with. If you are pro Affordable Healthcare Act your a socialist and want everyone to be covered despite pre-existing conditions. If your anti-you can't fathom how all of these Obama minions think we will continue to fund poor people's lives while you go to work every day and pay your "fair share." We can't continue to pay every deadbeats way while we are barely surviving. Isn't it exhausting? One thing I've noticed is no one, and I mean no one that I know (and I have a lot of super conservative family members and friends who I've intentionally not blocked or deleted) actually like or are enamoured with Donald Trump. Honestly, if they were invited to a State Dinner, I can't think of a single person I'm connected to who is so stoked to meet the man, the myth, the legend. They voted for him in spite of his opponent, or because who they believed he would nominate for the Supreme Court, or because they felt marginalized and looked over for many years. Or they are dissatisfied with the accumulated national debt and just wanted something different. Like I said above, everyone votes differently because of how they feel about certain issues. But in a nation where the president is definitely a celebrity, the irony is that since he already WAS a celebrity, Trump gets a strange hall pass. The smoothness and energy that followed the likes of Reagan and Obama (please pick your poison and just move on) has seemed to fizzle with our current Commandar in Chief. There have been days in the past month where I've intentionally NOT looked at social media. How much can one person really take? One important lesson I've learned is that most of it is just a scare tactic. If we actually internalized every post or believed everything said we would just want to curl up in a ball and disappear. Or worse give up. And that's the absolute worst thing any of us could possibly do. If you've even read this far, thanks for sorting through some of this stuff with me. I think it's important to close with the fact that while I love everyone and embrace an open dialogue, my heart is a die-hard Obama and Hillary loving, Black Lives Matter supporting, flamboyantly gay, feminist, pro choice, anti-wall, anti-entry ban, liberal man married to a beautiful black man. I don't want anyone reading my blog to ever mistake my openness to share love and ideas with me turning my back on my own personal beliefs. But I do believe, above all else, that there is plenty of room for all of us to express our thoughts while still loving and respecting one another. And sometimes I need that reminder most of all. Xo, AJ