the real trouble is when

MCCALL MAGAZINE COVER, GIRL IN RAIN

 

Today I braved the rain out early and sat through a lunchtime meeting of recovered (and trying-to-recover, and forced-to-be-there-by-legal-authorities) alcoholics. As always I was reminded of how hard it is to get a respite from these compulsions, these addictions. Many of us never even try, in a serious way, to sober up. And of those who do, most drink again – to their astonishment. Then try to sober up, then drink again. Lather, rinse, repeat. Maybe die young. Or maybe just live a long son-of-a-bitching life of misery.

At going-on-four-years I’m a medical miracle and anomaly. It’s easy to forget it until I hang out with those who are trying to do something about the problem.

At the family party last week I was offered alcohol and drugs several times. One aunt had, at her hand, either a margarita blender or a bottle of champagne, offering liquid hospitality to all. A 90-year-old friend of the family drank bourbon in a glass, drink after drink, and shook his ice cubes when empty – prompting the women in my family to rush over to fill it.

I hope when I’m an Elder I’m not an ass. I really, really do hope.

But today I’m thinking not of my family so much but of another Elder, my friend D. He got sober (finally!) in the treatment center I volunteered at. He remembered me about half a year later- this was a few years ago – when we next crossed paths. He told me I’d helped him, and as is usual in these cases I wondered what it was I said, or how I’d acted, that invoked some hope.

D.’s story was unique in that shortly after he sobered up, he found himself ill with, incredibly, double lymphoma. He handled this setback, as far as I could tell, with courage and humor. I remember listening to him talk about his struggles and thinking that, well, sometimes we sober to some incredibly unpleasant realities. That’s Life, no? We drink, or drug, or chase something – money, reputation, material things, usually – all to blot out the pain of our own awareness. Cancer’s an extreme example but is one of those obvious, slap-in-the-face kinds of illness we are ready to recognize and discuss publicly.

And this cancer is what I presume that is what took his life six days ago. He’s in my heart, today. He was a courageous, beautiful man. The last time I saw him we greeted one another with a great deal of warmth. It’s funny, maybe spooky, how often I get that memory of the last goodbye. A blessing, really.

***

Tonight Nels hands me a picture he’s painstakingly constructed on a piece of paper – his “dream house”:

stained diamond glass
oak dock
mahogany wood interior
birtch door
thatch

(maybe someone’s interested in different kinds of wood all of a sudden?)

My daughter seeks my help, in the evening: social troubles between a group of close friends. Misunderstandings via text. Hurt feelings and harsh words.

My heart feels that pang because of course I re-live all my past painful episodes in this vein: all of mistakes, all the ways I was hurt or hurt others. It would be easy to let those experiences overwhelm me, and inform my response to my daughter in an unhelpful way. But those things happened then, and they aren’t all happening to her right this minute. I have a chance for my past to help make a better Right Now, a better future. I talk to my daughter. One of the girls in question privately texts me, in duress. I am grateful these young women are involving a grownup they trust. I am glad to be there and be a soft place, a kind place.

Home from California a few days, and we’re in for rains again – record-level rains if the predictions are correct. It is cold, and desolate, and foggy. Winter has not passed us by just yet.

It’s cold, and wet. But inside maybe it’s a little safe. Maybe things can be okay after all.

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.

Morning

pathos or profundity

Tonight at the treatment center, three of us serve on the panel. We are speaking about our past experiences as active alcoholics and addicts – and how we live clean and sober today. We each talk for fifteen to twenty-five minutes.

After we’re done, it’s time for questions. A man speaks up and asks us: “So even after all this time [clean and sober], you still think you need a [recovery] meeting every day?”

I have heard this more than once. As years of sobriety pile up, people are less likely to understand why Recovery would be so important. I remember this querulous old fella C.; at eightysomething he had about thirty years’ sobriety and he was as fiercely passionate as anyone I’ve heard on the subject. He said at the end of sharing in a meeting, “You know the longer you are sober, sometimes people ask. ‘You still gotta go to those meetings? You gotta hang out with those drunks?’ Well let me tell you. I have the perfect response to that. The perfect response. Want to hear it?”

He sets knotty fists on the table and juts his head out: “Maybe I like hanging out with those assholes more than you!”

I’m thinking of C. and smiling, while my two colleagues answer. One says, Yes, she knows she needs to go even after all these years sober. The other man, says he’s not willing to risk it. To risk forgetting and going back to drinking again.

It’s my turn. I lean forward and look right at the man who asked. He’s probably mid-twenties. Native. Lots of tattoos. He’s wearing some kind of restraint ankle bracelet on his leg. I don’t know him or where he’s come from – not yet, at least. I’ve met about five thousand addicts and alcoholics alone just through my treatment center work – not even counting recovery meetings in my community. But they are not throwaway lives to me, not ever.

To this young man I say, now, “I want to be here. I have a life today. I have a husband at home cooking a wonderful dinner. I have a tailoring project I’m working on that I am loving. I have two wonderful children waiting for me. We just got two new kittens [pause for effect because – HOW AWESOME!]. I have a life today. I have a marriage, and a home, and a family. But I want to be here. I want to be here with you.” I look right at him because I see him and it’s just me and him.

I want to be there/here. I have seen the scrap of life inside every human being, the god-consciousness that makes each person unique and holy and beautiful. Seeing this, being able to touch it, it’s a gift beyond measure and one money can’t buy – but one that, for reasons mysterious to me, many fake. I asked one of my mentors tonight, why, why do I get this thing when so many don’t. He says, “I think you’ve very blessed, my dear.”

Nights like tonight I feel very alive… very somber. Laughter and gravitas at the same time. Somehow.

It is, on balance, a wonderful, truly amazing, life.

Morning

 

the untrained mind

Tonight I wrote, by hand, a letter to the men responsible for my child’s sexual assaults.

I wrote by hand until my hand cramped. I wrote as articulately as I could. Even as I wrote I knew I had a bit of spiritual wisdom; wisdom I did not used to have. Even as I wrote I knew that these men had destroyed my sleep, my peace of mind. They had taken things from my child, things that can never be fully restored. Doubtless they had taken things from other children. They had removed my security regarding the person I love most.

But they had not taken my compassion, and they had not taken my faith.

Folded-up sheets of yellow paper sit at my elbow. I will read my letter to one of my spiritual mentors, the woman who told me to write this letter. She is a Catholic and I am a Buddhist but she is the only human being who has given me lasting comfort because she is not afraid to tell me the truth. Of all those I have had the dubious honor to deal with during this time – the advocates, the professionals, the social workers, the counselors, law enforcement – many who have added to my confusion, one who has misled us intentionally, some who have caused my child more harm than good – this woman alone has been able to help me because she has been where I have been and she knows the thing, the Bravest thing, the truth about faith that so many are afraid to surrender to.

I will likely never meet the men responsible for what happened to my child. I wrote the letter anyway because my friend told me to, and I trust her.

People think a sexual assault is just the assault. But when the law gets involved, it is much worse. We have had agencies, strangers, crawling up in our family business. My child has had interviews in a police room, suffered many night terrors and panic attacks (for many months we were entirely ignorant as to why), been submitted to a rape exam, and had many freedoms curtailed. My child has endured mistakes by the adults, professional and familial, who are supposed to protect. My child has endured the inept, clumsy, and stupid mistakes Ralph and I have made – because no parent is prepared to deal with this well, no parent.

This has been the hardest thing I’ve gone through, no matter how carefully I’ve tried to do the right thing. Since late September my world has changed and it has been relentless. My anger, my confusion, my grief has exhausted me. It has kept me depressed and anxious so that even while I function “properly” and do the things I’m supposed to, I am never without this pressing fear, a fear few intuit or even think of. Prayer and meditation have helped; helping others has helped immensely. “Restraint of pen and tongue” has been a godsend. Doing the next thing I’m supposed to – doing the housework, returning texts and calls, helping friends – has kept me sane.

Tonight I needed there to be a point to all of it. To what has happened. Because I know there is. So even though she was dead-tired I grabbed my friend and mentor. I talked with her and she told me some things. I cried – but less than you might think. Because I am ready to understand a little more than I’ve thus been able to understand.

Before we parted she told me, “It’s like that tree across the way. The leaves will fall soon and they’ll pretend to be dead. But you and I know they’re not dead. They are fertilizer for other things to grow.

“This experience is going to be food for you, it is going to make you stronger;

“But first you have to fall.”

Strugglez

like a muddy puddle and lately everyone’s been stomping in it

home sweet home

I received a blog donation yesterday. What a boon! Some went to tonight’s dinner – a lemon roasted cauliflower, and a goulash which is baking while I type. Some ($8) went into Ralph’s gas tank. And a little went into two hot sandwiches for a young man and young woman out in a parking lot, with cardboard signs. My son delivered the sandwiches and the individuals tore right into them. Nels watched them from our car as we pulled out. The look on his face as he saw the effects of helping another – it was wonderful. I have been feeling so down about myself lately and so isolated and so icky. These little gifts help a great deal.

Driving off Nels is suddenly struck – “Mama, what about you? What are you going to eat?” My daughter puts her hands on my shoulders and lovingly squeezes. “How are your kidneys?” she asks. “It’s good to ask about your Mama,” Ralph tells them. I’m thinking, as the sun hits us in my husband’s too-loud car and I know that even though I am hungry I will be fed soon enough, Yeah, it is a good thing, it’s a wonderful thing, raising kids who feel cared for and who believe the adults in their lives are caring people. Because then our children are free to grow into the souls they are.

Tonight at the treatment center our little panel of clean-and-sober individuals were queried by the clients interred – especially one man Z., a self-labeled “skeptic” who kept trying to poke holes in a life of sobriety. He asked a few very direct questions, including asking me how I balanced my life with young kids, with that of helping others who wanted to stay sober. He asked a man on the panel named L. – a man with twenty-five years’ sobriety – how that man could still call himself an addict when he hadn’t had a drink or drug for a quarter-century. “I’ll be an addict until the day I die,” the elder responded, “- and so will you.” I thought, Hardcore. I don’t say that to others although I think it sometimes. I have a lot of things I don’t say aloud because I can’t be sure they’re okay to say aloud.

The young man Z. kept asking us about our methods of living without drinking and drugging. He was not convinced. I thought: So you don’t believe anything anyone says. If I tell you I do this work to keep my family and to get my good health, you don’t believe me. If L. tells you he’s still an addict, you don’t believe him. You don’t believe it’s possible to live without drugs and alcohol – and be happy. You don’t believe us even though we’re proof, and even though part of you wants to believe us more than anything because you are starting to be real tired of having the same problems over and over.

In the treatment center his intellectual violence is all in theory and unpleasant enough. In the real world it will be unimaginably harder.

I’m pretty sure Z.’s attitude is not properly labeled “skepticism”. It’s something else. It’s some kind of Perversity and a lot of people are imbued with it. All the same, I am disturbed by Z. because I know what it’s like to have that kind of mind. Pessimistic isn’t even the word although it’s an element within. What I realized after a year or so of ruminating on this kind of mind – the mind I have – was that it comes down to a kind of arrogance. I know more than anyone else, even about their experience – although I am careful not to say this aloud. If you tell me God saved your ass I am “skeptical”. If you tell me you did it on your own without help – I’m “skeptical”. I don’t believe anyone, or anything. Until Proof. What the fuck is Proof? Anything I can have Proof of is like sand shifting under my feet. One moment lulled into comfort; the next, terrifyingly off balance. I am never comforted. Never satisfied.

It’s a horrible mind, but at least it’s a searching one. I came to the Buddha, and the dharma, and the sangha through the exhaustion of this kind of mind. I exhausted this Mind and it exhausted me.

Tonight I’m torn up; I’m troubled. Yesterday as I prayed and meditated I asked, “Let me not be overwhelmed by the troubles of others.”

Strugglez

living on the water 5ever

On Phee’s last day, of her first year, of school:

Such a wonderful girl. I have more to say about that, at a later date. But with this photo we also mark the fact I DID NOT EVER EVER MISS THE BUS, PICKING HER UP! I am so beyond impressed with myself on this one. So impressed. I drove 8.4 miles per day to get her from the bus stop. It worked out every time. I am a goddamned champion because lots of times I can’t do anything right.

At the Chehalis today:

Aberdeen, Washington. I love where I live, down in my bones. I may live and die here; I may travel and park myself somewhere else for a while. Who knows? It is beautiful here, so beautiful.

The Little Ones. They spent their first summer break day today being very tender to one another. Nels missed her very much this last year. I think the hard work of school made her cranky, too. He had a lot of angry tears this last year. We shall see!

A random apple, floating in the river. It was in perfect shape, and just bobbing away. A bright hard ball of lovely red in a sea-bleak riverscape.

By Ralph, whilst chaperoning the end-of-year fieldtrip with our children and Phoenix’s class. Cloud-cover and sunburns:

 

I welcomed a sunny, peaceful day today. Yesterday I was hit with the worst kidney stone I’ve had in a little under a year. I was sitting in a meeting when it came up. I gently rubbed my thumbs over one another and I felt myself sweating and shaking. A friend kept leaning over and offering me “help” but I was in my own little pain-world. It was bad enough I considered the ER; I gave it time, and after an hour and a half it abated. It took a lot out of me, though. Today the pain was so much less that I felt incredibly grateful.

Another day; another few steps on this spaceship Earth. Did I make the most of it? Was I loving – was I kind?

I meditated in the morning and asked for help, and inspiration, and tact. I met with a friend to help her, and served her pie and coffee. I called two other friends to check in on them. I manned my Wednesday volunteer shift. I took time out of the day for my children, and my husband, and my mother. I performed a bit of housework, I cared for our pets and plants, and I put a B-movie on while I did some sewing work (yay!). I thanked my husband for the wonderful dinner he made. And now: a hot shower, candles lit, a bit of journaling, and to bed with my lovies.

There’s nothing else for it!