faithfulness the best relationship

Tonight a woman looked right at me and said, “I remember when – “. She’d tried to get sober, came in a couple weeks before I did. I remember her so well, as I’d jumped right on her real quick-like and bummed rides (and offered rides, when my car worked) and invested myself in this woman. Even with only a couple more weeks on me, back then I believed with all my heart she was tougher, and smarter. She had the secret. Because she had a few more days. It’s hard to explain unless you’ve given into an addiction, really felt it in your bones and got honest about it. The most slender bit of hope, if it seems real enough, looms huge.

She tells me how she used to try to race me through recovery. I remember this a little. And I remember soon after we met she drank again, then tried to get sober, then drank and I didn’t see her for all this time, except once in her car on a summer night. “And now you have five years,” she says. Her eyes are swimming with hot tears but they are gorgeous, huge and liquid brown, her most stunning feature really.

You can imagine how glad I am to see her back. It’s like we were in a shipwreck and separated off the lifeboats and here we are years later, and she’s still alive and our friendship is as real and keen as it was back when our lives were in that kind of peril.

I’m thinking about medicine, too. See three years ago yesterday was my last cigarette – I wrote it down, May 17th, because I somehow knew it might be the day. With that sort of thing I’m never sure, it’s like a growing excitement. I don’t remember that particular last cigarette and after the first year or so, the cravings passed and I rarely thought about smoking. Smoking’s not that big a deal maybe but nevertheless I am glad. I remember what it felt like to want a cigarette. It’s like fun for a while (years!) then one day you don’t want to want it because it’s starting to be a need, and at that point things have changed.

Of course human beings love to lie to themselves about dependency. The truth is, we have many. All of us. Some dependencies are healthy, some less so. I remember my first mentor telling me: “If you came up behind me and put your hand around my nose and mouth I could act hip, slick and cool for a bit.” She leans back in her chair, folding her arms and feigning nonchalance. “Maybe a whole couple minutes. Then if you keep cutting off my air supply I’m going to start to get uncomfortable. And then pretty soon I’m in a panic and I’ll do anything it takes to get that gasp of air!”

I never forgot this. I never forgot that I’m not so independent, not so very powerful after all. I’m lying to myself if I say I am.

The smoking is gone. The drinking, the drugs. All of these things have fallen away, all of these “bad habits”, these distractions, these little obsessions. The need to be esteemed in work or avocation. The need to gorge, the need to starve, the need to be liked by any particular person. The need for certain things not to go wrong for my kids. (That’s the biggest one of all, I think!) So it’s all falling away and sometimes I get this prescient sense it’s about to happen and that is like a tingling feeling. Who knows? One dares not to hope or to grasp. But maybe I’m changing from within!

I had a big change recently so right now, I’m just stepping along. I’m the little girl with her feet along the narrow curb, looking down to walk in that line. Taking a bit of focus but not taking it too seriously right now.

Because the sun’s out and it’s a beautiful day and I’ve got somewhere I’m stepping to.

defroster / defogger

“Hello _____,” I say quietly to the woman at the table next to me.

“Do I know you?” she asks. Her voice is jittery and nervous but doesn’t sound angry. At least. I am glad I said Hi to her even though her appearance frightens me. She is clearly using drugs again. She has lost about eighty pounds since I saw her last, and the effect is shocking.

She peers at me and says, “Oh, uh… I know you,” and gives a short barking laugh. It is very sad because of course, we have had many conversations together over the years. I have spent time with her and her child. I wonder where the child is. I wonder who is caring for him now.

I watch her for a while. Even if I weren’t an addict myself – celebrating my fifth consecutive clean and sober Christmas, praise baby Jeebus! – I know I could never again see those so afflicted the way the rest of the world does. Every person I see, I see them as a child. I see that they were once loved and treasured in a way past understanding. Where are their parents, their grandparents, their grammar school teachers now? Do they think of their loved ones, and wonder?

Today was hard at work. It can be like that sometimes. I remind myself as I get in the car: I’m not supposed to know how to do all this stuff perfectly. I’ve done a tremendous job balancing halftime work and supporting my family. I’m only supposed to do as best I can.

Home and the kids play video games; the cats are napping. Ralph is making up a dinner. Too tired – from being ill, from a hard day – even to inspect my latest fabric package.

Instead: time for bed. In hopes the morning brings a fairer perspective.

changes

Tonight, to ground myself, I head to a Recovery meeting. A break from packing: dismantling my home, my workspace – my refuge. Cleaning out cabinets. Finding new homes for posessions that need to move on. Potting.

The meeting has only a handful of people: about seven in all. Incredibly, I am the “old timer” in the group – with almost five years’ clean and sober, I have seen everyone here come. Some have gone back out, then returned.

And then there are those that left, that I will never see again. There are these little patches of paint, little wall tributes in the hall I’m sitting in. As I rest, my eyes wander over names… five names. Four of them, friends who died in this last year. This sinks in – again. Just sitting there for a bit and not being needed – phone off, family on errands, as the words of the meeting chair wash over me – my heart hurts. It’s incredible I can lose so many dear friends and still be okay. I miss them so. I’m not the same without them.

The sun is washing the newly-painted walls in a beatific light. The woman chairing the meeting seems down, disgruntled. I feel at peace. Moving isn’t easy, and even with my practice of patience, my Buddhism, I am weary of this latest journey. I want a substantial meal. I want a hot bath. I want a day to myself.

It’s enough, today, to know I need these things. They will come. A little longer, meanwhile feeling a great deal of gratitude for the change we’re able to make.

Post-Blood Donation

only a little

Today I spent some time in an in-depth mentoring session, then gave blood, then ran my mom over across town for errands, then got my ass to yoga, then went to a meeting. On top of the kidcare and housecare and petcare. I’m beat.

Post-Blood Donation

It’s been a very busy summer. But a beautiful one.

Walking Buddy
Moral Support
WHO'S A GOOD BOY
I have these ethereal beings in my life and I don’t want to spend one moment of the day forgetting this.

The monsters of the deep are made;

Dead Sea

A decade ago I voluntarily sought out counseling for emotional and mental difficulties, after an upheaval unlike any other I’d experienced; an upheaval seemingly impossible to overcome. I remember my counselor, a very gentle woman with grey, careworn curls and a soft voice, giving me a questionnaire on my life experiences. I answered as honestly as I could. She reviewed my answers on paper and informed me I qualified for “mild to moderate depression”, before lightly setting the paper aside to interview me further.

Upon her pronouncement – well, honestly, I felt as if I’d passed a test. On one hand I was mildly discouraged to discover something unwholesome had taken me over despite my best efforts. On the other, it felt a bit validating to know I had a reason to seek out this kind of help. I wasn’t just making it up, for fun. (for fun!)

This latest episode of depression has differed quite a bit from my experiences in the past. Unlike ten years ago, I am more consciously aware of my innermost difficulties. Perhaps a good analogy is that of receiving dental work with, or without, anesthesia. The same procedure, the same pain, the same violation of the body occurs in both cases. But with an analgesic the mind is in a sense less aware of what it is going through. Many consider painkillers to be a mercy – even a necessity for all of life’s discomforts. There is some doubt about the wisdom of such an approach, as medical and spiritual traditions continue to inform us.

As I cope with this latest bout of depression – without the use of intoxicants or medications, or my previous habits of smoking, over-spending, over-activity, and over-eating – I am acutely aware of my discomfort. Without the anesthesizing effects of Valium or alcohol, without looking to my partner to “make me feel better”, I confess I go through some very scary spells indeed. Today I felt a paralyzing coldness creeping over me, dragging me to the depths, a more powerful experience than I’d ever had. It felt like drowning, but in a muffled darkness, not a liquid element. My husband, asking after my pneumonia, says, “Does your chest hurt? Is it your head?” Depression like this is a bodily experience, a bloom like influenza, down to my bones.

I am sad my partner and children do not live with a woman who is entirely well. I think I could somewhat cheerfully step through my own pain, but my sense of responsibility to them is a tripping-stone on the path, an obstacle I struggle with. A hangnail I worry at, not allowing patience, and healing. I know I am not seeing clearly, because to require I do not suffer illness for their sake is to spit their unconditional love back in their faces.

I know I owe them not perfection or Wellness precisely – but honesty, gratitude, self-love and self-care, humor, gentleness, and my presence. And for me – because I practice while things are good – I know it is entirely possible to be present while in so much pain. It really is one breath at a time, an exercise in mindfulness, breathing, awareness, lovingkindness, and acceptance. It is no different than when things are easier, and perhaps that is the biggest mystery of all, one I find a great deal of joy in discovering, over and over again.

Tonight while my children attend a community hockey practice I wash my son’s coverlet; I light candles, file papers, and dress for yoga. A headstand will help! Time with friends, sweating on a mat, enjoying my body – will help. My gratitude practice – through wellness and illness – will help.

I am glad for you who read here, and who can accompany me in some way on my path. The rocks are sharp underfoot; a foreboding stoniness of the cliffs loom around me, and a bitter wind slaps through my jacket. But the thought of you keeps me alight, the little flame in my chest, that shan’t be extinguished as long as I draw breath. I make my way to your campfire with a gladness in my heart that may not be happiness, but it is joy.

This Baby Was Grouchy

an extra baby just for a minute

This Baby Was Grouchy

omg baby looks sad here but she really was OK – promise!

So a year ago last night, I helped my friend through a dark time in the ER. I thought a lot that night about how wonderful a gift sobriety is. Tonight things haven’t changed on that account:

When I got sober, I worried about some things… I worried there wouldn’t be joy in my life, that my life would be like this dry diet (or at least, what I imagine a diet is like) of “good habits”. I truly worried that I’d be bored, or boring. And I definitely thought I’d miss drinking.

 

Of the one hundred and one amazing and incredible and unexpected things that have happened to me the years I’ve been sober, not one of those worries has come to fruition. My life isn’t very boring. It doesn’t go according to my plans either.

 

I didn’t think tonight I’d find myself spending my set-aside rent money on the food and alcohol she needs to live. Two cases of skunky beer. Coors Light! I enjoy carrying the cases though. They feel substantial. Medicine they are!

 

Cans of tinned soup, packets of Chinese pork, fresh fruit, corn chips.

Today was a good day. I was home with my children, and I cared for a handful of other people. I let my husband hold me. I made a delicious dinner.

I got to be me, and like me.

So, that’s a pretty good gig.

Cracker Bros.

Cracker Bros.

Cracker Bros.

Phee + Pocket 

less blood on the pavement than you see this moment in my glass

Today right as I stepped out the morning’s shower I thought, My writing is in the rubbish bin. Easy to think about giving up, now that the spark is gone, a flame so long dormant one fears stoking at cold ash. I don’t write as much as I did and when I do, it’s different than it used to be.

Perhaps it’s that I hold too many confidences. To write in any detail would be insensitive, or even reckless. A friend flees a fight; her man has laid hands on her. She stands in my arms and shakes while I squeeze her tight. Another friend teeters on suicide; her text sounds “off” so I call her, and we talk. She lives another day, because something inside her wants to prevail. Another friend calls; she is angry. She dissolves into tears. I am not frightened of her pain and anger, because I know these are the paths we stumble on as we find a deeper truth. I’m honored to be asked to share a few steps along the way.

Another friend, sober for about five years who’d started “controlled” drinking this summer, has found a new meaning of ruin. Shortly after last Monday’s flood, he is detained for a hit-and-run, and a DUI. He stays in jail; his friends escort him to the local Detoxification And Stabilization facility. He can barely walk.

So: almost 9 PM and I wave to him tonight, as he and the rest of the treatment center clients have a smoke outside in the cold streetlamps. He stares back at me, dazed, a ragged bloom rooted to the earth, perhaps forgotten by almost every person on the planet this moment

Except

at least

One.

That’s all – you know, just in the last couple days.

My son is growing, a half inch a month, at least; I can tell when it’s happening. He devours food indiscriminately; he sleeps twelve hours at a stretch if allowed. His features are less boy-like and not quite a man: a sprite, a changeling. His feet are beautiful and strong and he rests them on my legs and gives me a massage. He’s been attending yoga with me; his young body simply folding in half when required, and wondering at all these grownups who have to work at it.

Our weather, after the flood, changed for the better: cold crisp days and sunlight, an air fine like pine needles. A friend tells me: she say something about Spring, and I realize, Spring will happen again!

And now: the house moves to settle. My daughter runs the last of the hot water to wash her face. My husband and his fine well-built body, in our bed, a candle and low light. I am thinking to myself that when it comes to my writing, it is important I am patient, it is important I persevere. It is important that upon each point I try to tell you exactly how it is. Not much else really matters. I learned long ago that my words can make a difference, and can bring hope to others even when I merely record minutiae, when I try to tell you what it’s like – hot water in a stainless steel basin, and the sound of the washing machine, and the cats settled in and the dog’s feet skittering in his sleep as he rests at his feet, on an old blanket.

May you find that peace, and comfort. May you deeply know the joy of still being here; of still feeling the earth by hand or foot, by the cheek against the pillow. Gravity holds you there and won’t let you go.

when it comes, comes incidentally

Tonight at the treatment center I speak for about twenty-five minutes; two of my friends follow. At the end of the meeting we have five minutes remaining for questions.

A man turns to me and says, “I have a question – for you.” He’s older – kind blue eyes, a beard, a sports cap, and a roughened, red face.

He then says, “When you detoxed -” and then goes on to describe some of his recent experience. He’s seven days sober today. He tells me how he used to wake in the middle of the night. And when he says, “when you detoxed” though, a spontaneous memory comes to me, my memory of that first week sober. And how I felt. And just how hard it was. My eyes fill with tears. The room notices. See, because I’ve been sober a while sometimes people think I’m not human, it wasn’t hard.

I listen to his question. I speak words to him maybe no one can understand unless they’re ready. To give up the chase. The chase (drugs booze money status sex friends job reputation prestige power vanity), the chase that so many keep occupied with until the day they die.

I am struck humble for the moment. I am touched at what he’s asking. I’m thinking that if he’s willing to ask me something, to ask my advice – I’m half his age, and yet he wants to hear from me. Me, a stranger! How often do we open ourselves up like this?

I talk a bit. And I end on this: “It takes time. Months. Years. But it gets better. Don’t give up!” I put my hand on his arm. Right now it’s just he and I in the whole universe. My body is flush with empathy. I have that jolt. I am alive.

I drive home; the air is cold, and the cold is in my bones. I drive home to a warm, full house, and food and good cheer. I drive home to myself, where I’d left it a while back. But I’ve returned now, and I remember why it’s all so important.

Fall Projects

that will probably become clear later, like the French Revolution

Fall Projects

The summer weather turned so fast I’m still reeling. We are amidst autumn traditions now: baking pumpkin bread, knitting, sewing up wool garments. I’m keeping busy in Halloween sewing (ONE more day. Well, one-and-a-half), rehearsals for Jesus Christ Superstar (I got my apostle name today! #w00t), and of course – raising my kids, caring for the home and five pets, and putting the time into my Recovery life. Kidney stones got the better of me a few days ago for a couple days but I hung in there. I’m still watching and reviewing vampire films like a menace. What can I say? Life carries on.

JCS, Keeping WarmKeeping warm in a chilly theatre.
Sequin Removal

This was my life before I knew anything different than the removal of sequins. Don’t worry, I got a lot faster at taking them out. I have removed one hundred billion sequins. The results are going to be amazing, but mostly the results are going to mean I am no longer cutting sequins, which is something I keep thinking I’m doing, because it’s the only thing I’ve been doing, ab aeterno.

Punkin

A little punkin’ & a big punkin’. Which is which?

My little ones had their school counseling sessions today with their father. I couldn’t be more proud of them. They are performing well, and better than that, they love school. I still miss them terribly during the day but the satisfaction I get knowing they are where they want to be (for now) is worth my occasional restlessness.

Nights I find myself having trouble falling asleep. But I have a warm bed, and loved ones, and (for now) some health. Life is very special. It is a miracle!

four more blocks, plus the one in my brain

To my right, a woman takes her seat. She is small, and has a slender neck balancing a very round head, like a pumpkin. Her hair is blonde and molds to her fine, delicate skull, before slipping midway down her back. She is probably fifty years old, but holds herself child-like. She is very quiet – likely still very fresh from detox. The other clients are very, very kind to her, and call her by name. As I help chair our meeting, I can feel her presence beside me. I am tenderhearted and sad tonight, but I still breathe in sync with the addicts and alcoholics here, those I am supposed to be helping.

I am a very special sort of tired; it isn’t just physical, but in mind and spirit as well. I realize as I talk – and listen, tonight – I am doing my best but my best is pretty rough. I am bored, bored of talking about what life was like before I got sober. Because understand: I’ve told my story hundreds of times. It isn’t the same every time I tell it, but my mind plunks stones in lakes best left undisturbed.

Kindness. Kindness is the heartbeat I can feel. I don’t have to be perfect. I do have to hold a kind heart. With that thought, my mind sets on a silver shore. I can do it. One hour at a time.

After my volunteer partner and I have spoken for some time, the floor is open to questions. I call a woman by name (I try to remember names; names are important); she sits across from me. And now she says, slowly, “I know exactly how you feel.” I wait. She nods. Her grief is huge. I sit with her, even though she is across the room, and others are watching. I finally ask, “What part?” She says – “All of it.”

At the meeting’s cessation I cross the room – speaking to a few others there, first – and sit with her. Up close her eyes are a beautiful, rich green, a violent depth. I ask when she goes home. She tells me. I ask where home is. She tells me. Then she tells me a little about the hell that awaits her there. She tells me, I am scared. I put my hand on her knee. “You are safe here,” I tell her. Her eyes well with tears. I tell her, to find women in Recovery, to get their phone numbers. “People wouldn’t write their names on a phone list if they didn’t want you to call.” She says, “I’m fifty years old. I have no children.” I tell her, “There are women in Recovery who can help you. They will take care of you.” I tell her these things because I know she can make it. But if she tries it on her own, she has no chance.

The elevator ride back downstairs I am tired; I feel sad. I am cheered a bit talking to my friend R., who helped with the meeting. He and I are becoming friends. I drive him back to his place. He says a few kind words, calls me “young lady”. He is not a demonstrative fellow, but he says kind words. A penny from his pocket, are like riches from another.

I get home. I check my phone. A text message: “I know you are coming back from —–, but when you get in can you call me? I need to ask you about —–.” A friend who needs help.

I am near tears with gratitude, to feel useful, to do something for someone else. My friend answers the phone and her voice is muffled, frightened. An hour later before we ring off we are laughing. Laughing together.

Some days it seems all I can really cling to, is helping others. It gives me that space I need to heal from whatever hurts.