Wednesday, May 25, 2011


Today is the The Oprah Winfrey Show finale. The end of an era and, I fear, the beginning of a long heartbreak for millions of fans around the world.  What excuse will I now have everyday at 4pm to shut off the world, pour a glass of wine, and get on the phone with my girlfriends to say, "Oh my God, are you watching Oprah?"  I just might have to have a lesbian affair with a bi-polar, body building, politician who jumps up on my couch to declare her love for me then surprises me with a makeover by Carson Kressley in order to fill the void.

Where will I get my spark of inspiration to look inward, or my gratitude for the life I am living versus the life of her guest?  Where can I now find the sheer carnival effect of plagiarists defending their actions (James Frey), pregnant men defending their "xx" chromosomes (born a woman), swingers defending their lifestyles, and authors of books defending their works as something I am supposed to "get" (Toni Morrison).  I really tried to read Beloved, The Seat of The Soul, and The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, but I just lost interest and ended up feeling like I wasn't smart enough to stay engaged.

In tandem with my twenty-five year relationship with Oprah has been my consistent treatment in psychotherapy.  Since the age of twelve I began sitting across the couch from a stranger divulging my dirty little secrets in order to answer the question my family members always yelled at me, "What is wrong with you?"  Watching Oprah interview guests which suffered the same maladies I had suffered like eating disorders, sexual abuse, depression, and overall failure, I was able to find my voice.  Between Oprah and numerous therapists I figured out that the only thing wrong with me was the fact that I was too scared to live my authentic life for fear of what other people might think.

When I try to be who I think others are most comfortable with me being, it never seems to work out very well.  Anywhere after three hours to three years of sporting the pink cashmere cardigan, headband, and pearls that my peers wore while trying to present a demure, ladylike persona I always found myself crying in bed for days while shoveling spoonfuls of gourmet ice cream in my mouth between hysterical sobs.  I just can't do it.  I am too loud, too clumsy, too bawdy, too uninhibited, too hyper-sexual, too direct, too big-boobed, and too intolerant of other people's bullshit to fake it any longer.

No matter how hard I tried, I have finally come to accept that I will NEVER be able to pull off the "Susie-Bow-Head/Sorority Girl" persona.  I may not have been a poor colored girl growing up in segregated Mississippi, but just like it took an outsider to tell Oprah to take off the Tina Turner wig in 2005, it has taken teams of professionals over the years to convince me that I am okay just as I am.

How does one even stay in therapy for twenty-five years?  Well, after my sixth or seventh appointment with a new therapist I typically hear this familiar phrase:

"Carrie, normally I don't do long-term therapy where I keep a client for years and years.  My style focuses on identifying the problem, working it out, and giving you the tools necessary to leave this room confident to confront whatever it was that brought you here.  You, on the other hand....well...I think it would be best if you just kept an appointment on my books at all times and perhaps came to see me no less than once a month for the time being.  I think it is best that we keep in touch to monitor your progress."
At first this statement was somewhat insulting, making me think I must be so screwed up that the practitioner needs to keep a leash on me as some sort of professional obligation.  But then again I drew great comfort as therapy has become something of a hobby for me to sort out confusion, plan goals, relieve stress, and talk about what I saw on Oprah that made me sob for two days.  Some people golf, some shop, some do yoga, and some others even compulsively drink, gamble, eat, or polish tile grout.  My vice of all vices is therapy, as it is the only thing which keeps me from doing each of the former all at once while standing on my head naked then posting it on YouTube for the world to see. Yes, I had to agree that it would be best to keep in touch. 

So as of tomorrow, I am on my own on that therapy couch.  No longer will Oprah figuratively be at my side to guide my voice with the courage and conviction to tell my truth.  I must rely on myself to capture the power to change my own life for the better.  I am reminded of the quote which Oprah is most fond of where Glinda, the good witch in The Wizard of Oz tells Dorothy, "You don't need to be helped any longer. You've always had the power."  It is true, we all have always had the power, now we must be brave enough to use it.

Sunday, May 8, 2011


For the first twenty-nine years of my life I spent the second Sunday in May each year celebrating my mother and the mother of whomever I was dating or married to by remembering at the last minute to hit the Hallmark store and pick up a card.  After securing a heartfelt sentiment written by a stranger I would then advance myself to a family celebration at "someones house" to devour brunch or dinner. I now realize that once you become a mother, the importance of that sacred holiday is not to be taken lightly.  Mother's Day is second only to a woman's birthday in terms of having the luxury of thinking of no one but herself, if for no more than a few brief hours .  If you are lucky and have trained your husband and children well, you might look forward to this day more than any other payday you have ever experienced.

If you are like me, on the other hand, you will spend your first seven Mother's Days deeply frustrated and disappointed at the inability of your loved ones to read your mind.  My husband, Ken, just last week -- six days prior to Mother's Day -- was seeking my enthusiasm and support in his effort to spend my special day golfing with his buddies, while leaving me alone at home with our two small children.  After he dislodged the ice pick I thrust into his head via his left eye socket, he said, "So, I guess what your saying is that perhaps another day would be best?"  My silence and refusal to clean up the blood stains were enough to clarify my opinion that this coming Sunday was created for Mothers, NOT Mother Fuckers!

My very first Mother's Day I was six months pregnant and day dreaming about how much fun motherhood was going to be.  A grand scene in my delusions included sharing my love for piano, singing, and music with my perfect family of four.  I decided I needed to quickly learn a more mobile instrument to accompany the next Von Trap Family Singers, The Von Valiums.  Pure delight and love oozed from my pores when Ken bestowed upon me the gift of a ukulele in tandem with a "You Can Learn the Uke" book and CD.  I remember sitting on the couch with my feet up for the rest of the day furiously learning my new instrument while Ken spent a few hours at the gym, then picked up his favorite dinner for us to share and headed over to his mother's house with a card and a gift for her.  I cried tears of joy about how the life I always wanted to live was coming to fruition.

My second Mother's Day I remember suffering from post-partum depression, exhausted, teary eyed, and wearing the same extra forty pounds and maternity clothes I had worn nine months earlier when I gave birth to 4lb. Valerie.  Life was miserable, sleep was a foreign word, and post-traumatic stress disorder was too light and breezy a concept to relate with.  I am sure my husband tried hard, but my memory is that Ken spent the day at gym working out, then picked up his favorite lunch to share before heading over to his mother's house with a card and a gift for her.  I cried tears of desperate darkness believing I simply wasn't good enough to pull this motherhood thing off.

My third Mother's Day was spent puking and sprawled out on the bathroom floor which had been my new home since conceiving Helmut six months earlier.  Between dry-heaving and simultaneously mothering my eighteen-month old, I don't remember much of that day.  The main part that sticks out is how Ken went to the gym to work out, then picked up his favorite lunch to share before heading over to his mother's house with a card and a gift for her.  I cried invisible tears because I was too dehydrated to produce them.

My fourth Mother's Day is very clear.  Now that my perfect family of four consisting of one daughter and one son was achieved, I was now ready to start playing family.  My crisply starched dream of waking up to breakfast in bed, followed by being taken by my husband and children to Sunday Mass, then picnicking in the park on a blanket for the sunny afternoon was the cruelest joke I ever played on myself.  Reality went like this: 
  • Ken believed eating in bed was unsanitary, so he summoned me to the table for runny eggs and burnt toast which I ate while balancing both squirming kids on my lap while he devoured his meal in peace.
  • Halfway through Mass, three and a half year old Valerie thought it would be the best time to throw a temper-tantrum, take off her dress, and run away from her parents who were trying to quiet a screaming baby.
  • Any plan I may have had for a picnic in the park was vetoed by the cold rainy weather and Ken's plans to go to the gym to work-out then bring home his favorite meal followed by a trip to his mom's house with a card and a gift.
  • I cried tears of defeat and surrender as I furiously flipped through my address book to call Glenda the Good Witch who had been my therapist since first discovering my post-partum depression three years earlier. 
"I want everyone out of this house for the day!" I exclaimed the day before my fifth Mother's Day, "I want to be LEFT ALONE in my house for the first time in six years!  Please be gone all day."  I figured all my attempts to celebrate motherhood had ended in disaster so this year I would simply spend the day doing what I wanted to do without interference or interruption from others. Ken did just as I asked and left me alone in stillness and silence. 

It took at least ninety minutes for me to stop furiously cleaning my untidy home which had not been perfectly clean all at once in five years.  In cleaning out the refrigerator I discovered an unopened bottle of champagne leftover from Easter mimosas weeks earlier.  Still in my pajamas I helped myself to a glass and made a toast to mothers everywhere.  I spent the rest of the morning watching the Edith Piaf movie, La Vie en rose, which was so wonderfully dark and depressing that by movie's end I had polished off the entire bottle of Veuve Clicquot and was soaked in my own tears.  Between the sadness of Edith's tragic life, which included being abandoned by her own mother, and my own constant battle to remain tethered to my own sanity, I found that my sobbing quickly evolved into a primordial scream like none I had ever experienced before.  Releasing years of frustration, confusion, desperation, regret, angst, and emotional pain, I truly felt like an involuntary exorcism was taking place from the depths of my soul through my cataclysmic screams and sobs.  Only through sheer physical exhaustion was I finally silenced.

It had only been three hours since my family dutifully followed my command and abandoned me, but it felt like a lifetime.  Aching for the "almost too tight" hugs from my kids, and the always forgiving and passionate kisses from my husband, I immediately called Ken and extended my command to bring everyone home at once.  Ten minutes later I was given the best Mother's Day gift ever consisting of sticky maple syrup scented kisses from my babies, and the luxury of Ken recycling the empty champagne bottle without a word to me, patting me on the head, and then gently putting me in our bed with the kids where I passed out for a three-hour nap with them. Ken promptly went to the gym for a work-out, picked up his (and now my) favorite dinner, and brought me home a card and gift of impatients in a hanging basket.  I like to think his choice of flowers wasn't by accident.

Like all other important lessons I have learned in my life, finally understanding the true importance of what Mother's Day means to my family instead of what the rest of the world thinks it should be, may have been the least complicated but certainly the hardest to learn.  So on this second Sunday in May, I sit here at 10am from my bed alternating sips of coffee and mimosa while indulging in my favorite soul-food -- writing.  As Ken clears my breakfast tray away, my kids joyfully color pictures to take to both their grandmothers later today while I enjoy the only silence and stillness I ever will crave again, sleeping.
Edith Piaf -- La Vie en rose