Independence Day

It’s July 3rd as I write this. I can’t help but think about how I LOVED the 4th of July.

Poolside cocktails. Beer and volleyball. Shots and sparklers. I reveled in having a holiday where it was socially acceptable to drink. All. Day. Long. I felt like I could let my hair down and be …. myself. So aside from the fun and games there were other things:

Ditching the parade because it was too early and loud and I was hungover. Walking through my then-boss’s screen door and being so wasted that I kept walking, the door on the deck with my foot in the middle pushing it along with a metallic scrrrrrraaaaaaaaape. I stared stupidly at the white metal frame and the broken screen, my sneakered snookered foot in the middle. “Get off of our door!” A voice shouted. I giggled and lifted my foot. I staggered, swayed away.

On another 4th , I got stung by a bee inside my lip . Can you believe it!? I was hot and playing volleyball and stopped to go pound my can of beer. Something wiggled angrily in my mouth and I spit out a bee. My lip swelled WAY out. I was kind of happy. I liked the concern people showed me (I could not get enough booze and I could not get enough sympathy) AND I liked that I was slurring and they knew I wasn’t drunk. That might come in handy later when I’m getting ready to leave.

I remember my first sober 4th of July. I was pregnant. I was relieved. I hated the thought of not being able to drink on the 4th of July. I hated the thought way back in January! Yeah, I was already thinking about that and wondering what I had gotten myself into. But I was glad to be pregnant. I “knew” I wouldn’t drink. Knowing what I know now …… I know that pregnant alcoholics DO sometimes drink. And it was by the grace of God that I didn’t. I went to meetings, but I was bitter. I didn’t “get it.” I think I went to my ex-husband’s family’s cook-out. It was nice. Good food, nice people. I stopped feeling like I was missing out on something. A couple of them had ONE or TWO beers. Some were unfinished. I was perplexed. I knew I couldn’t do that.

I think of the independence I have today. Now it’s a real independence day. I don’t have to worry about whether or not I’ll have enough booze and how late package stores will be open. I don’t have to worry about someone’s silence, wondering if it is in response to something I said or did. I don’t have to worry that I’ll drive home drunk. I won’t have to take “the back way” to ensure I don’t get pulled over. I won’t have to inspect my car for dings ……. or even rush outside first thing to make sure it’s there. I will wake up with someone I love waking up to. I won’t have hazy memories of someone’s horrified face after I blurted out a filthy joke — and feel that remorse and then mold it into anger and bitterness because she was such a freakin’ prude and therefore absolving myself of any and all responsibility. I won’t have to figure out if it’s okay to have coffee on my sloshy stomach. I won’t smack my lips and grimace at my vomit breath. I will be able to look at myself in the bathroom mirror.

There’s a lot to be thankful for. I’m glad I have my dependence on a higher power and my independence. Have a safe and happy 4th.

Death By Misadventure

That was how I wanted to go. Having imbibed too much. Sounded nice – and neat and clean. No blood splatters or wrecked cars. Just alcohol poisoning. Would be like dying in my sleep, wouldn’t it? And sleeping people are pretty and peaceful looking. No harm done, right?

I didn’t think that choking on my own vomit and getting kicked into a life-and-death struggle to breathe for the last few minutes of my life wasn’t a thought that entered my mind — that acrid taste, that suffocating smell, and not having the physical ability to get up. I didn’t think about the horrible discomfort of hypothermia, my body temperature plummeting and being unable to get warm. Seizures would be possible, too.

I’ll stop and take your question now. “If one experiences death by misadventure on purpose , then that is suicide, isn’t it?”

Ohhhhhhhh, you raise a very good point. You do. But that was the beauty of it. I didn’t want to plan this. I wanted to experience it. I wanted it to be a surprise even to me. Ohhhhh, you got me. I guess this is what they call “passive suicidal ideation” in the psych world, right?

Of course how this would impact my family was beyond me. This was in part because I was so fucking selfish and partly because my self-esteem was at a crisis level. Death by overdose or alcohol poisoning or accident following a “celebration” is just so selfish; it’s the ultimate in having the last word on your bad behaviors.

But I think about what Layne Staley (former lead singer of Alice In Chains) said of his then late-stage addiction: “This f—ing drug use is like the insulin a diabetic needs to survive,” he said. “I’m not using drugs to get high like many people think. I know I made a big mistake when I started using this sh–. It’s a very difficult thing to explain. My liver is not functioning and I’m throwing up all the time and sh—ing my pants. The pain is more than you can handle. It’s the worst pain in the world. Dope sick hurts the entire body.”

Yes, he did Heroin. Do you remember him like this?: Layne

Because remember he was once someone’s:
Layne Little

I identify with his quote, though. At first I drank to feel good. In the end I drank to NOT feel bad. That was the best I could shoot for. I couldn’t get drunk anymore. I just had to feel as close to normal as possible. Stop the shakes. Stop the high-voltage nervous system from doing its thing to my body and to my thoughts. Stop my heart from rambling on its bumpy-road-expressway. Dry up ……… dry up the sweats.

At that point I detested it. It was my master. It no longer served me; I served it , and I couldn’t stop. The consequences of not drinking were far worse and more immediate than the consequences of drinking.

Death by Misadventure. Sounded so appealing. Sounded so Hollywood. Sounded so Front Page. Sounded like the final , exciting crescendo before the final silence. And yet it sounded so peaceful. No more shakes. Just serenity.

Thank God my misadventures didn’t take me out. I remember everything seeming so hopeless and dark. I wanted the things other people had: families, houses, cars, jobs, etc. I had no idea how blissful it would feel to not only have those things but to know what to do with them. In early recovery I was like a dog chasing a car. If I caught one, I wouldn’t know what to do with it.

Poor Layne. He had fortune and fame. I don’t know about the family. I’m sure his relationships with everyone were pitiful and hurtful. He must have hurt people and known it. There must have been shame and all of the normal things we experience when we realize what we are doing to people. In his last interview, he asked the interviewer not to tell his sister Liz. He knew what it was doing to people.

How nice it would have been if he could have had the relationships worked out. We have that chance. We’re alive here today. We have that chance.

Taking Responsibility ……

So I’ll bet you read the title and thought this would be a Ninth Step kind of post. Or maybe I did my searching and fearless inventory and am taking responsibility for some newly discovered dark thing about me.

No. No. Alas, no.

What I write about is this kind of responsibility one should not take. Taking responsibility for someone else’s shit.

Yes, I’m an alcoholic and addict. But don’t we all have someone in our lives who, too, is an alcoholic or addict? And don’t they do to us what we did to others?

What I’m getting at is when a loved one relapses. I go to that “I should have seen it coming” place. I scrutinize the events and interactions leading up to the other person’s relapse. I put the days after they started using under the microscope. Many “aha” moments are enlarged there. The sleepy, glossy eyes. The fingers in the mouth — this person ALWAYS puts their fingers in the mouth when they’re using. Like a baby who rebels against sleep just as much as he or she wants it.

Somehow the whole feeling “duped” thing is something I’m taking responsibility for. Why am I responsible for being duped? Why isn’t it HIS responsibility for lying? That’s right. It is his responsibility.

And I can’t make him take responsibility for that. I can’t make him stop using. I can’t make him admit to using — been there, done that.

I put myself under that microscope as well. I squint and enlarge and probe. Was I in denial? Or was I giving a heaping, happy, healthy , loving dose of “benefit of the doubt?” Here I am going back to that place…….. I should have seen it coming. Or maybe I did see it coming but didn’t.

So I’ve been doing all of these things. But I’m going to stop. Just for today. Just for today I’m going to sit and be with me and accept that things are the way they are and that I’m powerless. Of course, I’ll have to see what happens when a counter-intuitive train of thought comes clacking and rattling into the station at top speed. I often get into a positive, powerful “just for today frame of mind” and unwittingly hop on these trains when they arrive. I have the power to watch them thunder past me, papers and dust flying in their wakes. I don’t always execute that power.

Good night.

Pissing on Your Foot & Telling You It’s Raining

“No, I’m not drinking,” I would protest or whine or insist or yell or mutter or slur or shout or maintain or report or say or mumble or sputter or whisper or hiss……. or belch or snicker. Depended on the day and who was doing the asking.

“I only had a couple…….” I would counter or insist or demand or swear sincerely or ask or state earnestly or attest or report or mumble or sputter or whisper or hiss…… or belch. Depended on the day and who was doing the asking.

No matter how I said it, one of two things would happen:

The person would call me out on my lie — this was verrrrrry occasionally.

OR (more likely):

Their lips would flat-line, their eyes would squint, their eyebrows would furrow, and – almost invariably – they would fold their arms. Sometimes there would be an additional gesture such as an impatient foot tapping or an irate eye-roll. But usually the lips would straighten into a thin line and the eyes would squint.

People just didn’t have the patience to play the “yes you did”/”no I didn’t” game. The alcoholic or addict always can hold out longer and pull out evidence that would never be admissible in a court of law, typically beginning with the sentence-starter: “Even ask _________ [so-and-so].”

Yes. We had proof positive. And reliable alibis. And charrrrrrrrrrrrm. And puppy eyes.

When I saw the lips flat-line and the eyes squint -or ……….. no, let me derail that train of thought. I would also insist on my abstinence to sometimes two people. Did you ever do that? And BOTH their lips flat-lined and they would make eye contact with one another? Silence that said SO much. That made me feel instantly ganged up on, outnumbered, pissed off, and willing to double my efforts to persuade them to believe me.

Sometimes I would see shoulders slouch back down, eyes soften, a smile ease into the flat-lined lips and warming them. I won them over. But this was rare and I knew it. But I fought that fight every time. Trying to win them over.

I’d take the proverbial piss on their feet and tell them it’s raining. I’d tell them to ignore the temperature – ignore the sunshine and there being NO clouds in the sky – and ask them to ignore the color yellow. It’s raining. It’s supposed to be happening. You’re supposed to have wet feet. Everyone has wet feet this time of year! And they would walk away with their wet feet ska-winching in their soaked sneakers, smiling and thinking this was normal. I persuaded them. Sometimes.

The squint. The flat-lining lips. I kept insisting.

Those empty bottles under the table cloth of the end table? They are someone else’s from before. My staggering? I stood up too fast and my blood pressure is low and how DARE you pick on me about a medical condition I can’t control. The smell on my breath? You’re imagining things.

Oh, yes. I’d boomerang any evidence so they would question their own judgment and sanity, and in the end they would feel guilty for having tinkered with such a nice lady like me.

“You’re as sick as your secrets,” they are wont to say in Al-anon. And they’re right. And I had a million secrets stacked on secrets shoved in drawers between secrets shoved in closets of secrets inside attics of secret basements…… I didn’t know where I kept them all and couldn’t keep them straight.

I realize just exactly how free I am today. I am relatively secret-free. Except the occasional appropriate secret such as what I got you for your birthday (you’re going to love it) and what I did the other night ……… ’cause nice girls don’t kiss and tell. And sometimes they do nothing, but they don’t need to advertise that either.

I am free. I can look people in the eye. I don’t have to hesitate before answering questions, trying to remember what I told them last time or what I told this person’s spouse because I need the lies to be consistent…………. I am not accused of anything. I don’t need a defense today. I’m free. I’m out of the prison of my own making.

They say to “live like someone left the gate open” (and the saying is superimposed over a spritely little puppy in running joyously in midair). I hope to do that. But for now, I’m just happy that I left the gate open and I’m out and about. Free.

Green Is the New Black

Jagger saw a red door and he wants it painted black….

I saw some shamrocks and I want them to turn black.
No greenery anymore, I want it to turn black.
I watch people walk by dressed in their St. Patrick’s clothes.
I have to turn my head until my darkness goes………….

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Well, maybe St. Patrick’s Day isn’t that bad, that filled with darkness.

My brother passed away on St. Patrick’s Day, but I don’t begrudge drinkers their green beers and Guinness. I don’t begrudge the ski areas their green snow. I don’t begrudge restaurants their fiddle music and corned beef. I don’t begrudge McDonald’s their Shamrock Shakes (I’m drinking one now). I don’t begrudge the masses wearing green t-shirts, green berets, green hats, green beads, shamrock pins & jewelry ………. ohhhhhh, it’s heartbreakingly everywhere. I entered a grocery store yesterday and saw multitudes of green carnations. I burst. But I don’t begrudge the world flowers, either.

I try to imagine if I relapsed. I imagine I would spend St. Patrick’s Day in a bar. Since today is a Sunday and the holiday has stretched its legs across the whole weekend, I imagine my trip to the bar would’ve started on Friday with a few naps and a couple of fights before Monday morning. I imagine I would have rapid-cycling mood swings in the bar and I’d be wailing about my poor brother and expecting free drinks and to be the center of attention – – sympathy, please! That cup would be impossible to fill. I would be just as greedy for sympathy as I would alcohol. No question about it. I would also probably become hostile and confrontational to anyone who irritated me and I would feel justified because “it’s a tough time for me right now.”

Because I did NOT relapse, because I have an outstanding network who helped me through this tough time, I am still sober. Because of the 12 steps of AA I am still sober – particularly since I worked them before the shit hit the fan. They would not have worked for me in an emergency and only in an emergency.

My new tradition to cope with the loss is to go to an AA meeting. Let me rephrase that. I have ALWAYS gone to a meeting on this day, but now I choose to attend an anniversary meeting. It’s nice to go and see people surviving and life getting better and better. It’s a celebration of a new life. I go and a lump grows in my throat. Tears pool in my eyes. I keep tissues and listen as best I can. With this rollercoaster of emotions, I don’t always hear the full story.

My brother died 4 years ago today to the day. Today the celebrant was, in fact, celebrating 4. It was very moving (and powerful!) to go to a meeting and hear about the day when someone’s new life was just beginning as my brother’s ended. It was beautiful. It seemed everything came full-circle . I tried to explain this to him, the celebrant. He nodded compassionately and mentioned his recollection of my being in meetings during that first week, how he had seen me in a lot of “nooners.” But I don’t think he fully understood. How could he?

I had been in a lot of nooners in the prolonged period of mourning. I had never had a loss such as this and went to meetings every chance I could. Often this was twice per day. I went to them on my lunch break. I went to them at night. I went into them sobbing, unable to control it.

Will had been in the military and a considerable amount of time passed between his passing and the military’s returning the body. Or maybe it just seemed that way. In writing this, I thought it was nearly two weeks. In looking through my photos of visiting family and the digital timestamp from the camera, I learned it was 8 days from being informed of his death to the funeral.

Learning of his death stung me with one level of pain. Going to the airport and seeing the flag-draped coffin unveiled another level of pain – – oh, it was so real now. Then seeing him in the coffin for the first time impaled me with pain I’ve never felt. It was heartbreakingly real now and that lingering thought that whispered muffled in the back of my mind … the thought that there was a mistake and it was another sailor who died …….. was now squashed. There was no mistake. It was my baby brother.

It was my baby brother who wore footed pajamas and fell asleep in my lap when he was a toddler. It was my baby brother who knew all the names of dinosaurs – whether common or more obscure, knew every bug. It was my baby brother, the one who loved to sit in a BIG empty box with me and pretend it was a car. He would ask me to drive this cardboard car because he was too young to drive. His destination? Nicaragua. Yes. And he pronounced it like a 2-year old, skipping some vital letters such as the R. He’s the one who grew into a humorous young man who had some sarcastic whispers, some secret jokes, and attempts to withhold a smile – a smile that couldn’t be bitten or hidden more than halfway. Yeah, that bemused half-smile of his. My baby brother.

That pain stabs me in the heart again at random times throughout the year. Sometimes in the fall on a random warm and slightly overcast day. I’ll wonder what it is about that day and I’ll remember it was the weather pattern the last time I saw him. Certainly the pain comes on his birthday. The pain stabbed me when I saw pineapple upside down cake in a glass cooler in a diner where they displayed their desserts; pineapple upside down cake was his favorite. The pain pierces me on Christmas and Thanksgiving. Sometimes on very random days I cry like a tantruming 2-year old because I want to call him NOW. I want to hear his voice NOW. Sometimes I cry when I’m buying a card for someone – anyone – and I meander through the aisle with birthday cards and pass the section that says “Brother.”

Once in a while I smile. I’ll hear a joke that I know he’d appreciate. I’ll be at a family function and I can imagine some things he’d have to say. I’ll see a picture of him and that smile, that amused half-smile and I’ll giggle, knowing what he was thinking. I can only hope there are more of these smiles. I certainly had zero of those the first and most painful year. There seem to be more and more of these as time passes. I don’t miss him less. In fact with each passing day I have more I want to say to him. With each passing day I feel like he’s even farther away. The distance of time is greater than any mile, than any light-year.

Today. Today I heard a man tell his story, a man whose new life started in March 2009. Thank God he found us. Thank God his life got better and better. Thank God he shared his message of experience, strength and hope with me today. Today I went to a meeting where they hand out chips. Two people got up for their 24-hour chips. Maybe this is the very beginning of more St. Patrick’s Day anniversaries for me to attend.

10 Years Ago Today…….

Ten years ago today was New Year’s Day 2003.  I woke up in disappointed, discouraged disbelief that I had thrown away two months just a mere 8 hours prior.  I swallowed rum, Vanilla Extract, and  NyQuil with a chaser of Listerine.  I descended on these things like one-woman pack of hyenas on a carcass.

Struggling with sobriety, I went to a first meeting following my relapse.  People said “Hi, how are you?” and I answered.  I spoke slowly and methodically, bracing myself for a look of disappointment, discouragement and disbelief.  I saw none of that.  What I saw was encouragement.  I was embraced not disgraced.  I was encouraged not discouraged.  I was believe in and not disbelieved in.  While I didn’t have “approval,” I didn’t have disapproval.   I was appointed to the potential for a new way of life – not disappointed.  I left there feeling stronger.  It sustained me for a while longer.

By the time the spell started to wear off, by the time the strength had begun to ebb, it was time for another meeting.  Day two.  After that spell had started to wear off, by the time the strength had begun to ebb, it was time for another meeting.  Day three.  Etc.

Ten years ago today I had a one-bedroom apartment, and it felt empty and lonely and brimming with anger.  Today I live in a three-bedroom house with a family and it feels full and lively and overflowing with love.  Ten years ago today I had newly declared bankruptcy.  Today I can pay my bills; it’s a struggle, but today I’m not standing next to a stray dollar on the bar wondering if the bartender will think it’s mine and get me a draught or whether she’ll realize it was her tip from someone else.  Ten years ago today I had shaking hands.  Today I don’t have the hands of a surgeon, but nor do I feel like people are staring at me and seeing how awake and angry my nervous system really was.  Ten years ago today I had little hope for the future.  Today I know that each day keeps getting better and can’t imagine it being better than today.

My dad called me this morning to wish me a happy anniversary – and a happy new year.  I couldn’t believe he remembered.  But like my friend Joe said, “How could he forget?”

 

Gratitude List – In the Aftermath of Sandy Hook

I know that through the years when I have complained about everyday things, people from the program have told me there is always someone who wishes they had my “problems.”  For every day I wanted to lose weight, there is someone who wishes they were as “fat” as me.   For every bad day on the job, there is someone who really wishes they had a job.  For every day my son annoyed me, there was someone who wished they could be with their son ……. and  so forth.

I reposted a blog the other night, “What Six Looks Like.”  It was eloquent and if you get a chance, please read it.  What an amazing writer.

I can’t possibly touch that.  But have a lot on my mind about it.

That fateful Friday I heard about it at work.  Another school shooting.  A coworker stuck his head in my office door and asked if I had heard.  I shook my head and listened attentively.  He shook his head, ” An elementary school, ” he muttered.  There were no numbers.  No ages.  Another school shooting.

When I got out of work, I turned on the news.  Six-year-old’s.  At that point, they were not sure of the numbers.  They showed parents crying and still shots of kindergartners being led out of the school by police.  One line showed the kids single file, their hands on each others’ shoulders.  It looked like a field trip or a fire drill, just that ordinary.  But that one girl in the middle with the horrified look on her face, the one with her mouth wide open like she was screaming ……..

Then there was a story about a teacher hiding her students in a bathroom and huddling with them.  The teacher said some of them cried and said they just wanted it to be Christmas.  They just wanted to be home.  That tore through me.

I went and picked my son up from school.  It looked so normal.  My heart burst with gratitude.  My heart burst with gratitude that I picked him up uneventfully at the end of the day and it never occurred to me that day to wonder if he was safe or okay or ……alive.   I wanted to kiss my nine-year-old boy, but he would have hissed, “MOM.  You’re EMBARRASSING me.”  Showing restraint, I smiled adoringly at him and smoothed his hair before walking him home.

The news reports continued.  Parents were gathered to be reunited with their children.  The news stated that some lingered half an hour after the last pupils left and finally someone told them, “If you have not been reunited with your child by now it’s already over.”  I cannot imagine hearing those words.

Years ago, I signed the papers to have my beloved cat euthanized.  He became ill very suddenly, very unexpectedly.  He was my cat for more than 10 years.  I signed those dreadful papers and ran out without the cat-carrier.  I heard a lady yell, “Miss?”  I walked faster.  Eyes locked on the door, I hightailed it through the lobby fighting tears. I couldn’t – could NOT – carry that  empty carrier.  THAT was heartbreaking.

But?

It can’t possibly hold a candle to leaving some place without your child.  It can’t possibly hold a candle to hearing that news – and that news delivered so callously!   It can’t possibly compare with hearing the news that my son’s school is being shot up, breaking the sound barrier driving across town, expecting to see him  or her rattled, expecting to give him or her a HUGE hug and take them home and give them a bubble bath and their favorite toy and a hot dinner and ……… How do you go home so abjectly empty-handed?      So horribly empty-hearted?

My son got the biggest hug that night.  The biggest kiss, too.    Many times over.

I was glad there was balled-up, dirty socks on the floor.  I was happy to swipe a sponge over ketchup streaks on the counter.  I was delighted to tell him to pick up his damp towel off the bathroom floor – in a flat and even tone……not the usual frustrated burst of aggravation that comes with saying it a kazillion times.  I was overwhelmed with gratitude looking at his Christmas presents  stashed in my closet and knowing he would be here to open them on Christmas morning.   My anxious glances at my bank statements this month seem so foolish now.

I cuddled him and he tolerated it.

I cried.  I don’t usually cry.

My son said, “But mom?  You cry once a year.”

And here I was crying for the children whose lives came to a screeching halt, crying for the teachers who huddled with children and protected them – the way we hope they will as strongly as we hope they never have to, crying for the parents who have to go home without their child, crying for the town that has to grieve together, crying for the children who made it out and who will never be the same, crying for the adults that died protecting those kids, crying for the gunman and either his severe untreated illness or his blackened soul, crying for the gunman’s family – the family who watched this boy grow up and had more idealistic dreams for him than this,  crying for the parents who had more idealistic dreams for their 6-year-old’s, crying for the parents who wished they had been there to protect them, crying for the grandparents and aunts and uncles and siblings……….. just crying.  I couldn’t stop.

My son asked what was wrong – he didn’t know yet.  I paused, wondering if I ought to tell him.  My snap decision was to tell him the truth, to emphasize how unusual it is, to underscore how safe I believe his school to be ……… and silently remembered how safe everyone thought Sandy Hook to be.  I repeated how safe I believed his school to be.  I was reassuring, sad, but not hysterical.

So my gratitude list for that day and the subsequent days is very long.  I’m grateful for cooking my son dinner even when I don’t feel like it. I’m grateful for balled up dirty socks on the floor, streaks of ketchup on the counter, empty soda cans that I had not given permission to be emptied, damp towels on the bathroom floor …….. and all of the joy I get in exchange for these small irritations.  There are multitudes of people out there that would love to have my aggravations.  Only they’re not aggravations today.  They’re very dear to me.  Very dear indeed.

God Bless you, Newton, CT.  God Bless you.