There is no magic wand

There are times like this, in the middle of the night, when I wake up for a pitstop and worry sneaks in before I can get back to sleep. Not helpful. I fruitlessly wish for a magic wand to erase the fearful thoughts from my mind to allow me once again to get the rest every body needs.

I’ve been on my recovery journey for almost ten years now. When I began, I had no idea it was an endless journey. Not that I presumed I’d immediately “get” all the things I needed to “get” to be recovered. It’s more that I had no idea of the many layers of recovery that were both needed – and possible. I am humbled, I am grateful, I am relieved that this is a journey that continues for as long as I am alive and have the capacity to live and grow and understand and change.

The past couple of weeks, my recovery focus has been on Steps 8 and 9: made a list of all persons we had harmed and became ready to make amends to them all; made direct amends wherever possible, except when to do so would injure myself or others. When my sponsor and I met last, I pulled out the amends list I had started…in 2012. It had overwhelmed me then; my body tells me it terrifies me now. And that feels unreasonable to me.

This journey is not simple. It’s not easy. At times, it isn’t even fun. (Imagine that.) Yet it is so very worthwhile! I don’t think it’s worthwhile; I know it’s worthwhile. I have been graced with more blessings than I ever thought possible, in terms of how I think, how I’m experiencing my life. There are times when I look back over the last few months and I am in awe of how much I’ve changed – at how much my Higher Power, whom I call God, has transformed me and my thinking.

That’s why it puzzles me and frustrates me when I get stuck in fear, in feelings of being overwhelmed, in the anger and resentment and general grumpiness that have been accompanying me these past couple of weeks. My sponsor and I laughed when she shared about the “earthquake” in her own thinking with a book we have both been recently reading. Now I’m having my own “earthquake,” as the gnarly, ugly bits of resentment still present in me are getting stirred up.

The crazy part is, I still want to take these Steps toward greater recovery, albeit in that “I don’t wanna! I don’t wanna! I’m freaking scared and already feel terrible enough about myself that I’m not sure I wanna do this at all” kind of way. You know, that digging-my-heels-in way of insisting that I be dragged into this, even as I know I cannot be dragged into this. I can choose to stand still or to walk forward. I suppose walking backward is an option, but that is unthinkable. It already feels like I’m walking backward just to have the negative feelings stirred up and brought to the surface, as if one can ever stay clean and tidy mucking out the stables that have held those hurts and resentments.

A few days ago, I read in The Forgiveness Handbook that “our biggest demons are those we do not have the courage to face” (p 42, Diana L. Guerrero). I think she’s right. And I think I’ve found one of my biggest demons. At least it feels that way in this moment. I’ve also often heard that I need to trust the process – trust that working the Steps, doing the best I can to do my part, and letting go of the results will bring me to the recovery I desire. I know it’s true. Both intellectually and on deep body levels, I know it’s true, because I’ve experienced the truth of it over and over again.

When fear and worry creep back in, I futilely long for that magic wand to make the fear, the pain, the feelings of being overwhelmed vanish, to return me to the serenity that’s hiding in the closet once again, the serenity that was with me so deeply only a few days ago. Yet, ironically, I also know that it is precisely my willingness to walk through the fear and the pain, even kicking and screaming all the way, that enables me to return to that serenity and experience the deep inner healing that comes with it.

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Seeking Balance – What *does* it look like?

It’s been over a month since I’ve written a post, even though dozens of times I’ve had ideas and experiences I wanted to share. It seems as though my life has been about rediscovering balance…and it still feels elusive.

At the beginning of March, I moved into a house with three other roommates. I never thought I’d want to move in with so many strangers, yet it has been a pleasant and delightful adjustment. The gay couple who own the house have been so easy to get along with, always wanting to make sure I’m comfortable and happy here. And I am! Just the other night, one of them told me I was the best roommate they’ve had. It was a lovely affirmation of what I already knew – that this is exactly the right place for me to be right now.

Last night, I was surveying the corner of my room that I reorganized a week or so ago. It’s still rather chaotic, not particularly helpful in terms of making things accessible, and not at all what I want it to be. It’s the corner where I’d like to put my tall bookshelf – the one that’s in storage. It’s filled with boxes and buried behind a layer of boxes and will need considerable effort to bring here. A challenge for another day…

It occurred to me last night that one of the reasons this place still doesn’t feel like home is because I’m still not close to being settled. I have truly been honoring the slogan “Easy does it!” I have been settling in slowly, letting things find their proper places in my bedroom, in the bathroom, and in the kitchen. The bathroom is happily in order. We haven’t yet expanded my space in the kitchen because I haven’t been inclined to rush and organize anything – I’ve wanted to take my time. And now I’m ready to begin transforming my room.

That’s the funny thing about transforming living spaces – it takes time and it usually begins by transforming ourselves first.

Most of March I was tired – unaccountably tired and sleepy virtually every day. My days were literally about getting up, getting ready for work, going to work, coming home, eating dinner right away, and heading to bed an hour later. I felt really good if I got something as simple as adding up my checkbook done. I wondered how I could ever do anything else I wanted to do in life. It turned out that at least part of the problem was that we needed to further adjust my thyroid medication. (Too much hormone and you sleep poorly. Oy…)

The last couple of weeks I’ve finally begun to feel a bit better. My schedule hasn’t changed a lot, but I now have the energy to begin asking myself what I can do differently. And on my mind now are two particular questions: What can I do differently to be able to enjoy more of life during the week, so there’s more to my life than sleeping, eating and working? And what can I do to make my room feel more like home?

The first question will require my inventorying what I’m doing now, considering “How Important Is It?” (the slogan from last week’s meeting) around each part, and discovering what I might do differently. My journey in Al Anon has taught me to listen and notice what works for me and what doesn’t. I’ve discovered that small changes have the biggest and most lasting impact, which is exactly why I’ve been disinclined to rush to rearrange my room.

Have you ever had the experience of quickly moving and settling in, even if only for a visit with a relative, only to discover you can’t remember where xyz is because you so quickly put things away and it isn’t where it used to be or usually is? Well, I have – dozens and dozens of times! And I’m tired of it and no longer willing to do that. But I do want to create some order and begin to make this place feel like home.

The balance I’m seeking right now may not be earth-shatteringly important. But it is important to my serenity. It is to pay attention to what I’m doing, to see what I might be able to do differently, and to enjoy the incremental improvements in my energy by considering how I can make this house my home.

Baby steps, Bob. Baby steps. 😉

23 Days – Leaps and Stumbles (Sun – Feb 17)

May I always remember that growth happens even in the rocky places

May I always remember that growth happens even in the rocky places

I’m finding myself challenged – yet again – in this 60-day journey to a new beginning. This is my birthday month and I have come to think of myself as being “birthed” into the “third trimester” of my life – and it is coming with “labor pains”!

There’s something going on here that I don’t yet fully understand. Even though I “get” that recovery and progress are not consistently even and straight lines of progression, I seem to be ricocheting from serenity to fear and back again in varied and repeating cycles. And it isn’t fun at all!!!

Mostly the fear is around finding a place to live. For the past several years I have moved a ridiculous number of times. Sometimes I’ve been house-sitting, sometimes renting, sometimes living on grace with family. Now, I’m two weeks away from the date my landlady (and I) would like me out of here. A week and a half ago, I spent a day gripped by fear that I couldn’t shake, worrying about the situation. The more I fought against the fear, the more it stuck with me (of course).

Since that particularly difficult day, I have gradually moved back toward serenity and peace with the situation. Last weekend, I had some delightful time with a couple of different friends and appreciated a bit of help moving a few things into a storage unit. It felt good to take those preliminary steps that will make the actual move a bit easier.

This evening, I posted another ad on a popular free-“classifieds” website, as my earlier post had expired a few days ago. What I find puzzling is that editing and re-posting my ad served to trigger anxiety rather than to bring me some peace of mind for again being pro-active. What is up with that?

What keeps rolling around in my mind is that this may somehow be tied not only to the frequent changes in where I’m living in recent years, but also to a somewhat similar early childhood experience. I do not remember this, but my (younger) sister has told me that our mom let go our apartment every summer and took us to live with her parents. Our mom was a single-mom trying to raise two young girls on a teacher’s salary. It wasn’t easy for her and saving rent for the summer evidently helped.

What I remember is spending lots of time at my grandparents’ home and at my cousins’ home, which was conveniently nearby. I remember having fun, playing, feeling very much part of a big, loving family. There were five kids in their family and it was a place where I felt safe, accepted and loved.HPIM2039

Yet, as I continue to think about it, I suspect that the constant moving, which probably meant we could keep much, in terms of possessions, were more of stressful than memory indicates for me. When I imagine what it might have been like for me – leaving our current apartment every summer and whatever else was familiar, then returning to different apartment in the fall (though they were almost always in the same complex) – I can’t help but imagine it must have felt terribly insecure. Having fun visiting cousins you like is great fun; having to start all over in a new apartment with few possessions every year probably wasn’t.

When we finally did move into an apartment where we stayed year round, my sister and I lost all our toys one day when the charity truck took all the toy boxes on the porch, instead of the ones my mother intended them to have. My sister and I were crushed! And mom didn’t do anything to see about getting them back. Another loss. Another incident that left me with a need to hang on tightly to what I have.

I don’t know that these early childhood experiences of repeated loss were traumatic, but I do suspect they are at the heart of my deep-seated yearning for a consistent, reliable place in which to live and perhaps even at the heart of my ridiculous accumulation of the stuff that makes it so hard to keep changing living spaces.

I don’t quite know how I feel at the moment, but it does feel a little better to share about this here. Hanging onto the serenity is rather like trying to grasp mercury. It doesn’t work. I can only keep my hands open and let myself experience the surrender of trusting in a God who loves me and wants my happiness even more than I do.

As my sponsor has told me often, trust the process. For now, that means I will continue with my nightly practice of writing my thank-you note to God, jotting down the things I’ve done or noticed in the day that are affirming, and reviewing my “Dream Book” (which is growing) before I turn in for the evening. Whatever has happened that day, I appreciate the opportunity to remember where to place my faith.

Let me come with open hands...

Let me come with open hands…

A pointless delay or Divine intervention? Day 339 – 27 days left (Wed – Nov 7)

Sometimes I wonder if those little things that delay my getting out the door in the morning are actually my Higher Power lending a helping hand to keep me from harm’s way.

This morning, I had hoped to get out the door about ten minutes sooner than I actually did. Come to think of it, I intended to remember to leave even earlier than that, since there was to be road construction with up to twenty-minute delays on the route I normally take. But I had forgotten all about that this morning until I was walking out to my car. Since there was nothing I could do about leaving any earlier, I let it go.

As I approached the turn onto the back road I normally take, a very ‘still small voice’ said, Go right. Without missing a beat, I simply turned right instead of left, as I usually do. To my surprise and delight, there were virtually no cars going the way I was going and I encountered lots of green lights. Then, as I drove over the freeway on my way to the on-ramp, I noticed the traffic was backed up and seemingly at a stand still.

By this time, there wasn’t much I could do about the route I’d chosen, nor were there any alternate routes from that point. So I slowly – very slowly – inched my way along until I finally merged. It wasn’t even stop-and-go traffic. It was stop, inch, pause, inch, wait…

It took about half an hour to cover the distance that normally takes perhaps five minutes. I knew there must have been an accident in the stretch where we still only had two lanes before we could spread into four. I began praying for the people involved, the emergency response teams that were either there or on their way, and even for the emergency vehicles trying to make their way through the clog of cars.

When I finally drove past the accident site, which was much farther ahead than I had guessed, I saw at least four cars that looked badly mangled from the collisions that had obviously happened.

My efforts to let go and simply pray for those involved, including releasing concern about being late for work (I knew no one would be upset – which is something I might not have recognized a few short months ago), enabled me to experience a lot of serenity during what could have been a stressful driving experience. Most people I know aren’t too happy when their 15-minute commute turns into a 45-minute commute. Yet I was truly at peace with that part and more concerned about whomever may have been in those badly damaged cars.

Shortly before I left the office at the end of the day, I heard that two people had been killed in that accident. In checking online just now, that, as so often happens, may be an exaggeration. According to the report I read, two people did suffer major injuries and six cars were involved. Apparently a trailer had come off of a big rig and caused the multi-vehicle accident, closing that section of the highway until shortly after I got there. Leaving considerably earlier wouldn’t have gained me more than a few short minutes.

As I was driving home, it dawned on me that if I had left as early as I would have liked, I might have either been a participant in the accident or perhaps a witness to it. As I learned a few minutes ago, it happened far earlier than that. Still, it helps me to appreciate the value in “being still” and letting things unfold. Even the time it takes me to get ready for work and out the door in the morning. Perhaps even the time it takes for my life to change in the bigger ways over which I seem to have so little control.

The door to grace? Day 337 – 29 days left (Mon – Nov 5)

Last night I experienced a moment of unexpected grace.

I am the “speaker seeker” for the Saturday Al Anon meeting I regularly attend and next weekend is our speaker weekend. There was, as yet, no one scheduled to speak. I had talked to a few people about a month ago to see if any were willing to be the speaker for this month or for December, but hadn’t gotten any firm commitments.

I had started leaving myself reminders to make some calls, but just couldn’t seem to get there. Interestingly, I wasn’t particularly anxious about it. I was almost more curious than anything else, wondering what was up.

During the meeting I attended last night, I felt serene – or perhaps just sleepy (or both). I wondered if there was someone there I might ask to be our speaker. I had already let go and accepted the possibility that I might not find anyone. I wasn’t particularly concerned, though it would be nice to have a speaker.

During announcements, I didn’t mention the upcoming speaker meeting (which I would normally have done). Then, after the meeting, the woman who had given me a tentative ‘yes’ for December came to tell me that December wasn’t going to work for her. She then asked me if I had found anyone for this month (which she had thought wouldn’t work for her when we spoke a few weeks ago). When I said ‘no,’ she told me she would be glad to be our speaker!

I was struck by the fact that I had followed the leading I had been given – which had actually been to do nothing. I kept thinking I should make calls, but I would forget or simply be too tired. Yet, through it all, I didn’t feel particularly anxious. I just kept wondering how things would work out and kept listening for those nudges to lead me in a particular direction.

So many times it’s tempting to get busy and “make” something happen when, in fact, what I need to do is to “be still.” I know now that the reason I never felt an urge to make a call was because God already knew that I wouldn’t need to find someone to speak. She was already on her way to me, even though neither of us knew it till last night.

As I drove home from work today, I was thinking about this experience. It occurred to me that this was no different than a lot of other things I’d like to have happen in my life – like finding a new place to live or a more sustaining work situation. Those kinds of changes usually require patience and more waiting than I’d like. Rushing about in a frantic search usually leaves me exhausted and no further ahead than before I started.

The next time I’m tempted to push myself to try to “make” something happen, I hope I can remember this tangible experience of waiting and leaving space for God’s grace. Perhaps it’s the waiting that allows the door to open…

Day 219 (Jul 17): What does it mean to “be still”?

For the past few weeks, I have been unwilling to continue the endless pushing that seemed to have become a part of my daily life. My mornings had become a stressful, rushed process of the many tasks I need to do before I leave for work – or at least thinkI need to do before I start to work. The litany of tasks looks something like this:

From table to bed…

Get up. Migrate alarm clock to the desk/table (where I can see it more easily). Make the bed. Migrate the piles on my desk to the bed. Gather my two bags – one with my lunchbox, the other with my cereal bowl and ingredients – and take them to the kitchen. Head to the bathroom to brush my teeth, shower and dress. (I leave my clothes for work in the bathroom at night. One less things to schlep in the morning.) Take my pj’s and other things back to my room. Go to the kitchen to fix/cook my breakfast and prepare my lunch. Gather my bags (lunchbox now full), breakfast and glass of water and go back to my room. Eat my breakfast while I do my morning journal reflection. Take my dishes back to the kitchen if I have time to wash them. (Otherwise, they wait in my room till I return home later in the day.) Brush my teeth, finish dressing, organize my things and head out for my day.

Btw, every time I go from my room to the bathroom or the kitchen, I have to pass my aunt and uncle’s room, where they are (hopefully) still sleeping peacefully. Thus my mornings are about doing a number of tasks as quietly as possible, including repeatedly tiptoeing down a hopelessly squeaky hallway in hopes that I do not awaken them, because all of this starts at 4:45 a.m.

On a good morning, I can get all this done in just over two hours – if I’m efficient and what I’m fixing for breakfast and for lunch doesn’t take too long to prepare. It takes more than a couple of minutes to make a sandwich or to cut up a few fresh veggies. I’ve given up cooking the kind of breakfast my body most appreciates and have settled for having a bit of meat (for the protein) and hot cereal most mornings.

Time to write…reflect…

In other words, the beginning of my day, most days, is the quintessential opposite of “being still.” Because things like traffic and parking come into play, leaving early is a primary concern of mine, so everything hinges on my departure time. Thus, even when I do have the time to do my morning reflection, I feel “under the gun,” watching the clock, shortening up my reflection, rarely having time to really hold still and listen.

As I put on my current favorite necklace this morning, a small metal disk with the words “Be still” on it, I found myself wondering, What does it mean to “be still”?

Does it mean doing nothing? Does it mean more slowly “rushing” about so it doesn’t feel so rushed? Does it mean dropping things from the routine even when they are important things? (I’ve wrestled with the change to my morning reflection time, for example, where I used to take as long as an hour and have time to write two reflections. Now, many mornings, I barely complete one.) Or does it mean focusing on what I’m doing so “precious” seconds aren’t lost in daydreaming? Or is it possible to let my mind “wander” in conversation with God while I perform tasks (hoping I remember what I’m doing)?

I’ve noticed that when I’m experiencing serenity, I can be surprisingly efficient. Worry isn’t crowding in to clutter my thoughts and derail my efforts at getting things done quickly. When my mind wanders down the path of fear, I forget what I’m doing and have to go back to do this or that because I forgot it in my distraction. But serenity isn’t a switch I can simply flip to the “on” position when I need it. It takes practice and, for me, it requires a desire for serenity that outweighs the temptation to worry.

I would be most interested to hear of your experiences of what it means to “be still.” Have you thought about it a lot? Have you practiced it? How do you practice “being still”? Or is it, like it is for me at times, something you aspire to and only occasionally experience, wanting more?

…to listen…

I may not be here as often these days, with internet access still found in places other than my own computer. But I’m here, and I’d love to hear from you.

Day 192 (Wed Jun 20): Between peace and panic

Why do I feel at times like I’m still a beginner?

Today has been an odd day, where I have flowed (and sometimes bounced) between peace and panic.

My car still sounds and feels like it needs some attention. The challenge is, its symptoms are not clear enough to readily describe to a technician. I decided to drop by the dealership and see if they might have time to check it out today. They didn’t. But it was helpful to talk with the person in charge of my car’s maintenance. She helped me consider other possibilities to the nature of the problem. (And no, it isn’t the driver.)

We have an appointment for Tuesday morning.

Because my finances are not quite steady, I was nervous about going there this morning. So I said some prayers, then turned on the CD I’ve been enjoying a lot lately. My favorite song is called “Strength for the Journey” (I think). For once, I let myself become enveloped in the words. I surrendered to them and the message I needed to hear: that I need to let go and let God handle this because I can’t do this alone.

When I turned to my little devotional book while I was waiting for the garage to open, I was amazed to find that today’s reading reflects what I had been hearing and “getting” from the song: that we must rely on God and others to help us on our way. These are the words I especially appreciated reading this morning:

Self-sufficiency is impossible. As much as we hate to admit it, no one can get through life on his or her own strength. At some point, we all need help…God knows we can’t get by alone. That’s why…[God] reaches down to help us up. (June 20 in Every Day With Jesus ©2011 Worthy Publishing)

After feeling myself surrender to the song lyrics on the way to the garage, reminding me that I want my Higher Power to be my strength for this journey, these words were a welcome affirmation. They expanded the peace I had been feeling on the way.

Perhaps that’s why it felt so decidedly ridiculous to experience such an opposite state a short time later. At 8:30 this morning, less than an hour later, I wrote this in what I thought might become a blog draft: Okay, this is just plain annoying! Just thinking about preparing a posting [e.g., in Craigslist] to find a new place to live is raising my anxiety level. I can feel the butterflies in my tummy going berserk and I feel anxious all over. Augh! This feels so dumb and silly!

Now wouldn’t you think that a healthy dose of peace might have washed away the tendency toward panic? I would have! Even though I’ve experienced swings between peace and panic countless times, I still expect to remain in that place of peace when the scary thoughts arise.

I know we’ve all been there, in one way or another. Maybe you get as frustrated as I do when you lose that serenity, and fear, anxiety or outright panic starts to set in. The only thing I’ve found that helps me – and perhaps you’ve discovered this, too – is to keep returning to the things that nurture me and return me to serenity. For me that often comes in the form of uplifting music, inspirational reading, practices like InterPlay and prayer, and remembering that we are not alone on this journey. At any given moment, I may feel alone because I don’t have another earthling walking along beside me (and probably not an extra-terrestrial either, for that matter ;-)).

Helpers

The truth is, we are all loved and helped every moment of every day by our Higher Power whether we know it or not. My Higher Power is God, the God of my understanding who loves me and is patient with me, who puts up with my repeated whining and complaining and the humiliating number of blunders I make, and who loves me anyway! I don’t recall off the top of my head who said this, but I like to remember that there is nothing – NOTHING! – I can do to make God love me any more – or any less.

Thank God!

Day 110 (Fri/Mar 30): Two days – Change happens in a moment, a journey within the journey

It's a bit scary, but oh, the possibilities!

What a powerful affirmation of the willingness to let go and trust! The five-to-six week temp position came through on my terms – to work only 32 hours a week (except a couple of weeks later in April) in order for me to be able to honor my part-time position. And at the higher of the possible pay rates!

I am still taking in what it means to be willing to stand up for myself, to honor my needs and to act with integrity, all in the face of possible rejection if the other party, in this case a potential employer, decides I’m not worth it. The thing is, I am realizing that I am worth it. And it has only taken me…um…well…a long time to get there. (Let’s not count the decades.) 😉

Today I am feeling grateful for my time with my sponsor yesterday. She affirmed and applauded my desire to act with integrity and stand up for my needs. And she helped me to see a bigger picture of my value when we talked about how much money I would need to earn to be able to live the kind of life I’d like to live. What I envision isn’t a life of luxury, but rather a life in which I can take care of myself physically, emotionally and spiritually, including having the time and money for fun, for health care and for being able to simply enjoy life – things I have neglected in recent years.

Sometimes even that which nourishes us can overwhelm us at first

For the past…well actually probably for too much of my life, I have allowed myself precious little time for fun. At the present time, InterPlaying has become one of the few resources for fun for me, either when I’m playing with others or because I’m allowing myself to see the playful side of life because of what I’ve learned through InterPlay. Thinking in terms of a spending plan that specifically includes money set aside for “fun” is new to me. In fact, thinking in terms of a spending plan that includes everything, from food/rent/living expenses to clothes to fun to other things that are fulfilling, if not “necessary,” is a new experience for me.

When my sponsor asked me if I had ever figured out how much I need to live the kind of life I want to live, I told her the mere idea of trying to figure that out overwhelms me – whereupon she promptly pulled out a pen, I pulled out a business card (to use the blank side), and she and I quickly developed a spending plan for me. It was so simple with her asking questions and helping me find answers I didn’t know. Left to my own resources, I tend to get tangled in the notion of being accurate and literal. But I’m learning.

One step at a time...

I suspect this post is rambling because, quite frankly, I could crawl into bed right now and sleep for ten hours. This sudden change in my financial state for the next few weeks is almost, but not quite overwhelming. It’s a lot to take in and I find myself surprised at how serene I am under the excitement. I know this temp position is a “windfall,” lasting however many weeks it lasts. So I want to exercise wisdom and discernment around how I use – and conserve – the resources that will bless me in the coming weeks.

Today I was blessed with the gift of some new clothes for work, thanks to the generosity of a friend. I also bought a few things with my most recent paycheck. Little by little, I’m acquiring a more professional-looking wardrobe. As much as I prefer comfortable and casual, I am learning to appreciate the look and feel of a more professional image.

A lot has changed for me in the past couple of days. I know God has a plan and this is another step along that path. Let me walk with wisdom!

So many possibilities on the other side of the gate

 

Big and Small Steps:

Let go worry about the cost as I looked for things that would enable me to dress more professionally for my new temp position – and was blessed with the gift of more than a hundred dollars worth of new and used clothes.

Exercised restraint (admittedly aided by fatigue and growing hunger) in shopping for a few more things that I paid for myself.

Noticings:

The push-pull of emotions around spending money on new clothes when the way I’ve seen myself has not quite caught up to the image I now want to present.

The surprising ease around accepting my friend’s generous gift of clothing. It felt like a little more of God’s plan.

How exhausting such big and sudden changes can be, even before I start living them.

© 2013 LuciasJourney.com