By Whitney McKendree Moore
“Mature adults gravitate toward new values and understandings, not just rehashing and blind acceptance of past patterns and previous learning.
As I celebrate my third decade in recovery, I am taking another Fourth Step inventory. It seems my daily Step Ten only goes so far in helping me look after my personal “fire” and tend it wisely, so I do a “deep dive” every once in a while. This inventory (my third) must have been long overdue because the way God revealed my need for it was not a party you would want to attend.
A Harsh Discovery
It unfolded just before the mid-term elections this past November when I was awakened by “needle-like” piercing me from back to front in the middle of the night. I recognized it as Shingles because I’d had that rash before, in 1979, at age 32. Based on that no-fun experience, my husband and I thought we knew what I was in for and went to the doctor immediately. We somehow expected this outbreak might be milder than the first because, this time, we’d gotten right smack ON it. But not.
This time, the pain started out the same but blew itself up from the size of a balloon into a blimp. As the pain accelerated and morphed into a crescendo, prescription meds were useless (not their fault, but mine, for being allergic to codeine). The pain became agony, and it was unrelenting, and I found it terribly challenging to accept that God was allowing this. I start every single day in Step Eleven, seeking HIs will for me and His Power to carry it out, so I think I’m teachable and willing to be corrected. Why then did I need to be flattened? I did not know the reason.
Dumbo the Baby Elephant
Lying there, stuck in stabs I could not stop, my weeping turned to wailing and my husband, compassionate but exasperated from not knowing how to help me, was available but mostly elsewhere. That’s when our son decided to take time off from work. He flew to fly down to help.
I must have seemed like Dumbo’s mother, jailed in a cruel cartoon cage when our son arrived. He was so sweet, reaching through the bars, speaking softly, sitting with me, listening mostly. After a while, he offered an observation. This. He said, “Mom, it seems like you are very good at loving others as yourself, but not so good at loving yourself as you love others.”
Lost in Pain, I Find the Memories
A lightbulb went off for me when he said that. Suddenly, I could see it had been grief that was lurking there. I had been mistaken in thinking I’d already processed the sadness of my childhood home.
A grief that was unresolved. That’s what had been lying (literally), flat like a plank, seemingly harmless, but actually, an alligator hoping I would be lunch.
As I ruminated on this, I remembered a pivotal “piano moment” from my childhood that triggered a deluge of sorrow. It happened when I was eight, one afternoon when our mother had been leading my brothers and me in songs that were her favorites: “My Funny Valentine” and “Sentimental Journey” and “Can’t Help Loving That Man of Mine.” Her voice sounded like velvet when she sang — until that day when she abruptly rose from the piano bench and fled to her room in tears. The three of us were bewildered, and to my knowledge, she never sang again. We all did, but she didn’t, and somehow, I got the idea that her sudden vamoose was all my fault.
No Pretend Happy Face
Being her daughter was confusing, I will admit. On good days, she would tell of visiting patients in Hell’s Kitchen, where her uniform kept her safe from harm, and how our father used to call her “the best nurse on the planet.” Something must have happened between those glory days and her flight from the piano and from ever singing again. Many years later, when I brought a group of carolers to her assisted living apartment, she shooed us out of her room saying, “Don’t sing, don’t sing. If you sing, I might cry, and if I cry, I might never stop.” Thus, my mother’s favorites songs turned to “elevator music” for me. Put on a happy face, really? So no one will suspect? This is the stuff that now sets my teeth on edge. It sounds like echoes of insisting that everything is FINE (!) when clearly, everything is not.
The onset of Shingles cranked the lid off a dusty, dented tin that was labeled SAD. I knew something was reeking inside that can, which might as well have been marked “Sad, SAD, Terribly, Terribly Sad!” Fortunately, Twelve-Step recovery teaches me to view any persistent problem as a rich opportunity, and that I only need the willingness to be teachable. Having coffee one morning, I heard these words said, “Thank Me for your problem. Ask Me to open your eyes and your heart to all that I am accomplishing through this difficulty.”
Revealing Leads To Healing
I knew it was God, so I did. I laid back for surgery, and for many weeks, it hurt. Still does, now entering Week Fifteen with pain that is tenacious but receding. I am grateful that it’s down to general discomfort now, with just the occasional jabs and stabs.
At last, I see why I had to be flattened. I needed to find a Twelve-Step program with my name on it, a safe place for good stewardship of me, by me. This was necessary learning, and I am grateful for the honesty and wisdom of recovery to help me tend the “fire” I’ve been given so that it’s kept and swept.
Voice and pen became Whitney’s personal ways to be heard. After she married in 1971, she published an article every year as she pursued her professional career and she continued to “sing constantly.”
A turning point for Whitney came in 1989, when she found her way into Twelve-Step recovery.
There, people were sharing “dirty laundry” and seeking God’s guidance to overcome. Now her writing is focused on encouraging others that God is still in the miracle-making business.
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