suddenly

So good lord, for a couple days there I was having this fantasy of this big vegetarian platter I wanted to put together, thinking of all those bright colors and crisp textures. Once I get fixated sometimes… it sucks to not just be able to do it the same day, because we all need that impulsivity now and then.

Yeah so the veggies, something I knew my kids would be uninspired about but I couldn’t help it. I’d wash dishes you know like, the typical five times a day, and I’d try not to think about it, my stomach feeling empty but my mind knowing I have enough to eat, am doing fine. Then Ralph got an insurance adjustment check to the tune of a few small funds and I ran out to purchase the goods lickety-split. Half the cost of supplies was the jar of tahini! If you know of some good tahini recipes, hook me up.

When Ralph came home last night he took over from me and finished preparing our meal: homemade pita and homemade hummus, a pea and qunioa salad, shredded red cabbage and julienned carrots, sliced English cucumber, sliced avocado, roasted sweet potatoes, braised garbanzo beans, and bleu cheese dressing. Ralph just about killed himself laying out these beautiful vegetables on plates and serving them up to the family, and one guest. Then he collapsed on the bed for a few moments. Me? I was too tired to snap a picture.

Medical appointments. For Nels, for Phee. For the dog, and tomorrow? Our rabbit is scheduled to be neutered. Phoenix had her well-child checkup and came out perfectly healthy. She got her second injection in a week and, for the second time, was more relaxed than I’ve seen anyone take a needle. Her doctor, a good sort, talked directly to her about periods and about hormones. Then he told she was in the ninety-something percentile for height; the seventy-fifth for weight. I knew my kids were tall but, you know, they’re tall!

Nels had his braces removed yesterday and now has a wee rainbow-colored retainer. He has a sweet little lisp and gets to wear the device a few months. And I get to pay for the braces a few more installments.

The kids both had a brief but violent vomiting-illness of some sort (Phoenix on Sunday; Nels last night) and perhaps I’m fighting off that bug; I’ve been experiencing fatigue early in the day. I rest, drink fluids, take my honey and garlic, and try to be patient.

Resources are thin, but I’m very grateful for my health.

I am.

Today at my volunteer commitment a heroin addict sitting alongside me admitted he had to pick treatment or jail, so he’d picked treatment. Then he added that if he had any money he would have left treatment to go home. He said he’d given up his last $50 so had nothing to return to. I know a little about what he’s saying and what kind of choices (or rather, non-choices) he’s facing and I just felt this sadness. This moment where another human being feels unreachable to me, even if I tried to help. And I’m lost, I don’t know if there’s anything I can do, at all. I’ll probably never see this man again. Only hours later it occurs to me that maybe I was one of the only people he could tell the real truth to, without judgment, and I know that’s Something.

A few hours later in the drugstore, after driving through the dismal dark rain and as my daughter helps me pick up toothbrushes and lipstick and shampoo, I hear the entirely sickening and unmistakable sound of a skull hitting a hard concrete floor. I know immediately what has happened: a small child has fallen out of a cart. My heart lurches as I move out of my aisle and then: chaos. The child’s mother begins screaming and running about the store, cradling the toddler who is also screaming. The other customers begin to stir.

I pull out my phone and step without hesitation towards the mother, who is frantic and not holding still. Employees intercept; an ambulance is called. An employee runs for an ice pack. The mother calls a friend, convulsively crying. Her older children run to and fro.

Seeing the woman has assistance and none-too-few onlookers I return to my aisle, deeply disturbed. I keep my eyes on bright, irrelevant boxes of cosmetics but I can’t concentrate. & now: I hear the paramedics and I note how they’re talking to the mother. Something is not right with the woman, I can tell, but her child is in good hands now.

A few minutes later and I bring my purchase to another clerk, one who had not been in view of the incident. To me, this woman asks: “Did you see the mom? Did she have [lists a physical description]?…” I respond, “… I don’t know,” trying to remember, thinking of the child and the horrible screaming. The clerk smirks without humor: “I’m not surprised,” she says, without one ounce of compassion or understanding.

I’m not going to play in that playground with you.

It’s like… I have problems but I’m real glad at the problems I don’t have.

Grandpa, Wendy Jean

so i made this awesome pair of wool sweater pants, colorway=mustard

My mom, son and I are in the car and there’s some tension. Difficult subject matter. Not even something I’ve written about in this space. OTHER, difficult, stuff. My son and my mother are ganging up on me. I’ m not too upset. But, I gotta remember to take those deep breaths.

We’re bringing a plate of barbecue dinner to a friend. “How did you rate?” my mom asks my friend as we pull up to the coffeestand window to make the delivery. What my mom means is, What Did My Friend Do to deserve my homecooking.

My mom doesn’t like to cook and shop much any more. She likes to spend time with my kids, and putter about her house painting. She is like a little hobbit in there, although she ventures out to eat at the pub or go to the hardware store. We try to bring my mom a plate of dinner a few times a week. A few days ago: a delicious chili flavored with too much tabasco, deliciously piquant. To compensate for the heat: a cornbread sweet enough to be cake.

I’m thinking about my mom because she’s about to go through some rough stuff. Her father lies in a hospital, languishing. He’s probably going to go home for hospice care. It probably won’t be long. I know my mom can afford to get down there and I’m pretty sure she’ll go. I wish I could be there too. In fact it hurts not to be able to go. I like to be there for the big stuff, if people let me. I try not to think about the fact I won’t be there. It is too painful to think about.

My grandpa used to call me “Rotten Peach”. He brings it up whenever I see him.

Grandpa, Wendy Jean

Life goes on. Scrubbing pots and pans and making hot coffee. We let Bun-Bun the rabbit out most times we are home. He is a MANIAC, I am not even kidding that all he wants to do is eat treats. He has his regular food but he comes crashing into the kitchen and will straight-up jump directly into the garbage can to find delicious things. He is a monster and I am not joking. I hold him against my chest and put my face in his fur and feel like crying. He is so perfect and soft and smells so lovely and is such a peaceable thing.

Tomorrow we’ve a series of appointments – then Nels and I are heading out to Phoenix’s school to cook bread pudding with the kids at Phee’s school.

Life is a little sharp around the edges but I take a lot of comfort in participating in the human race.

feeling kinda rough

Tonight I’m in a bit of pain as I watch a young person’s life go down the tubes. I’m helpless to stop it. But I have the illusion I could. If I just said the right thing! If I just strategized the right way! If I just gave a little more! If I just withheld a little more!

And this latter, this futile attempt to control something more powerful than the human will, is where the suffering comes in.

If you read here much, you probably know: it means a great deal to me that I’m an alcoholic. It probably will mean something very dear to me, for as long as I draw breath.

And in recovery, I get to work with people. I can help people, which means more to me than I can express. I get the honor of watching people live heroically, with an incredibly powerful and destructive disease – I watch them live in a way that is uplifting and wonderful. Like my husband said tonight about the recovery community we call home: Those alcoholics live by principles that the whole world could take a lesson from.

But yeah, sometimes it goes the other way. I get to know a woman, I get to spend some time with her. We share our lives – we spend hours together in intimate conversation. Our bond grows fierce – deeper than your typical friendship, more poignant for the fragility we’ve come to know, the miracle of just another day sober and another day in gratitude. She knows me – she knows the hell I escaped – and I know her, I know a bit about where she’s been and how bad it was.

Then I watch her go back.

It just – hurts. In a way that is bottomless.

The decline doesn’t happen suddenly, either. It happens slowly. I see it happening. I speak up. I say something. It keeps happening. She asks for my advice again. I give it. She doesn’t take it. It keeps happening.

It keeps happening.

When I watched my father die of cancer I didn’t have the illusion I could stop it. I grieved, I mourned, at times I even felt sorry for myself or felt angry over his suffering. But I didn’t suffer under that illusion of power, of control.

Alcoholism and addiction – they are diseases. They resemble cancer a lot more than people think. But they also lend themselves to another disease: that of perception. We keep thinking we can control it. We can manage it. We can say the right thing. We can “make” someone stop – by kindness, by sternness, by yelling, by pleading, by the silent treatment. By taking something away. By giving something. By giving until we’re dry.

It’s all bullshit because nothing but divine intervention can stop it.

So tonight, yeah, I got a little less peace than I did a few days ago. I’ll feel better soon, but for now? Just: BALLS.

there have been setbacks

I grab my son’s arm and drag him to the register. “You have my wallet, we’ve been waiting for you. You held up this nice lady,” I scold him.  The “nice lady” doesn’t hear me and/or can’t speak English but I smile at her anyway and say, Lo siento. She smiles back. Even though it’s busy as fuck in the store.

My son, having wandered off with my cash just before we got rung up. LE SIGH. These days though despite misbehavior (mine! I mean) I don’t feel murderous rage. I can stop right where I stopped, which was too far. Then I can apologize. And even these episodes are rare. And when they happen I don’t loathe myself. Mostly. I just dust off and try again.

The cashier is a young white man and he’s not quite right. He’s on something. He takes a long time ringing me up, then un-ringing me because they don’t have fancy registers that can do a postpone, then ringing me back up again. “Next time you should hang on to your wallet,” he tells me as a parting shot. Like seriously I am old enough to be his mother and he’s giving me a PRO TIP on family life.

I stop, my hands full of bags and kids and my afternoon just packed with errands on a payday (for everyone else) Friday. “Thank you for the suggestion,” I say clearly, but in a completely neutral tone. I am not going to mention my internal monologue.

It’s been rough these last couple days. I’ve been swallowed up by something. Tonight my son comes in where I’m in the sewing room, where I’m finishing something up. He’s packed with suitcase and all, in a fedora and a blazer and his long blonde hair and he’s off to stay the night somewhere besides with me. He and his sister are catching up to me in height and from where I sit he has to lean down. He puts his arms around me and I start to cry. Just so you know, I cry about twice a year. So Nels says, “I’m sorry, mama. I won’t stay the night anywhere for a month after this.” (he pronounces it, monff). “No Nels,” I tell him, “You gotta go and stay any time you want, it’s important. I’ll be okay.”

I don’t feel like I’m going to be okay. I haven’t felt well the last few days. Indescribable fatigue, like tired in my blood. My faithful readers know I’ve written about this before, over the years. And I’ve sought many kinds of medical help and even made some major life changes. But still it returns. My bloodwork always comes up perfect and my physicals do too. What is wrong? I don’t know. I get sleep. I eat. I don’t get it. I don’t know where it is or what it stems from but it when it surfaces it is quite debilitating.

I’m not as rugged as I have come to expect of myself. Things are getting to me. The news of the mother who lost her children on Staten Island, the details and the whole story, it’s been like a personal nightmare I can’t shake. I keep picturing what that would feel like, the moment they were swept away. Screaming for help and no one comes to aid, doors shut and lights off, spending the night alone and tortured. Then the agonizing wait for two days, fearing the worse. I am tortured by this. You know that cry twice a year thing? Well I get this twisted up over something about as often as that, too. Something’s up, I don’t know what.

In the meantime I can meditate, cook, clean, sew. Make my husband a pot of tea and listen to my children’s hopes and dreams. I can do all that. I won’t fall off the earth.

treatment

The young man has incredibly beautiful, large blue eyes. Leonine. Red-rimmed but striking. Today after I ask if he has anything to share, he finally breaks down and talks about the violence he committed while drunk, or on drugs – I’m not sure which (it doesn’t matter). He can barely speak and by the end he is crying as overwrought as I’ve seen anyone in real life. He’s choking and crying and in almost any other place you’d have people rescuing him or shushing him or uncomfortably squirming. This is a holy place though and that doesn’t happen, now.

Still. Since this is an early Recovery setting, there is a break in the sacrosanct listening you can usually expect when there are other “old timers” (like me! Ha!) present. See, addicts in treatment are like a box of baby chicks. Certain things disturb them and they start acting up in concert, popping out of the fog of their meds and talking. After even only fourteen months of regular experience, it’s still rather predictable. Depending on what they’re exposed to, sometimes they’re angry, edgy, and disrespectful. But today they’re offering the young man encouragement, because he’s in so much distress, and maybe they’ve not learned to let someone get through it, because there is no consoling the inconsolable. Or maybe they don’t realize this is a special moment, and our Presence is all that’s required. So anyway they tell him the person he abused will forgive him, the love of family is always there. They say parents are there for you no matter what. They say all the stuff they want to believe but don’t really, deep down, know to be true.

I’ve learned wisdom can come from just about anyplace, and I don’t give less credence to people based on their circumstances. But my thoughts: you can’t get clean or sober based on what your family thinks or whether they let you use them as a punching bag or whether they don’t return your calls. You can’t rehearse the remorse and guilt ad infinitim either without playing with the Relapse thing. And you can’t get clean and sober because you “owe” it to someone. Jack shit on that account. But I stay silent because even though I’m chairing this little get together, I’m not especially needed at the moment.

A few minutes later, incredibly, a young woman M. tells a story of triumph. She’s got it all figured out and she and her ex-husband are going to have a life together and fix everything between them since he’s been clean two years. Another woman asks if she’s afraid, saying, “My boyfriend and I only did heroin together the last four years.” “I’m not afraid,” M. says, lifting her head up. “What am I afraid of? Love? We’re going to be that cute old couple that drives around on casino tours in an RV with a little dog.” Of everyone tonight, she’s the spookiest to listen to. She’s not scared enough, I don’t think. I could be wrong though.

I’m thinking of how much suffering I’m exposed to. It’s quite phenomenal. The human capacity to suffer is incredible. We will take it to such extremes, until we are angry and pinched and flee only to the corners that cosign our bullshit, or the chemicals that give us release, but soon those things aren’t even enough.

Then there are those in limbo. I’m thinking of a woman who came into Recovery sad and frightened but now she’s angry. She’s angry she can’t drink but she’s angry about other shit too. I can see it as clear as I can see through a still pond. She sits in the group and won’t share and smiles but the look in her eyes is crazy-anger. She’s ballooned up in weight and her eyes bulge like someone squeezed her around the middle. But she won’t share. “I’m just here to listen.”

Last night another woman eight months sober broke down crying after many months of “not sharing”. She’s one of those women who’s incredibly beautiful, she did more drugs than I’ve seen and was hauled off to jail and evicted and she’s tough as nails and stunningly lovely. And I sat four inches away and let her cry, it was beautiful and I hope she comes back for more healing. It’s this kind of crying… I can’t describe it. It’s not that congested, angry crying. It’s like watching a river flow, watching a freshet. It’s sorrow, sure, but it’s also a very real moment because someone is breaking down and being themselves, and being broken, and doing this with another human being. It’s one of the most spiritual things I’ve seen and one of the most spiritual things I’ve experienced.

When I was scared I stayed scared until someone could help me, and I did as was suggested and I never got to the angry part. I’m not angry I can’t drink. Well, I can drink. For me, to drink alcohol would make as much sense as drinking Drano. There were many years I drank and thought it did me little harm, and maybe that it helped, and that it was my prerogative. But I was incorrect. It did harm me.

Back to treatment. It meant a lot to me tonight that this young man J. recognized me from last Wednesday, and his face lit up when he saw me. Wednesday I’d made a joke at the end of our meeting, as I’d noticed he had “DGAF” written on his knuckles. Just before we broke the group up I said, “J., I hope it’s not true that you DGAF. I hope you do GAF.” His face went from inanimate to a surprised smile and his eyes came alive. Anyway when he saw me tonight he was glad to see me. He’s one of those who cuts me right to the heart, because at 35 many of these I work with are children. I am often capable of seeing the child in any addict or alcoholic but the ones who are so young, it’s like I want to breastfeed them.

Oh and when I leave tonight a young man C. says, “I like your style.” That’s pretty cool.

I could write pages and pages more just on the last couple days alone. It could be overwhelming if I let it. It helps to write.

One of the most amazing things I’ve learned is I haven’t met the the addict or alcoholic who doesn’t hurt so bad for what he or she did to other people. Not the one and I’ve literally heard thousands of testimonies. It is incredible. It is a blessing. My faith in the beauty of humankind and of God is unshakable.

I’ve also learned to be entirely at home with other human beings.

A woman who helped me so much, and continues to, told me soon I’d feel my heart break because so much compassion would flow in. I remain grateful and humbled by my experiences. There are too many to pray for each evening. Too many to remember in my consciousness. My god-consciousness will have to do, as much or as little as I may have.

six eggs and almost a cup of butter later

Today as I loaded up the washer I realized I am very fortunate. I can genuinely say I enjoy every day of the week. I am not impatiently looking forward to – nor dreading – any particular date or commitment. I enjoy the day I have. It’s really quite astonishing as this wasn’t how I used to live my life. I was always revving up or digging in my heels, one way or the other – sometimes both! Very rare, these days.

Today at the Treatment Center an older woman told us, haltingly, it was her first time in any such program. She’d been diagnosed with terminal cancer some time back. She’d ended up in treatment by unknown means (to me), but she said she “liked her beer”, and it was the only joy she had left. Why quit, as she was dying anyway.

Another friend, only sober a handful of days after a relapse. He struggled to talk and then fell silent, a bloom creeping up on his cheeks. Just before we left he put his arms out for a hug and I gave him one, thinking of the love I feel today.

I was thinking, I know a lot of really heroic and amazing people. I was thinking, I have friends I can look up to who have principles I admire tremendously. I haven’t always had this much support, and I haven’t always been that teachable.

At home I made up Nels’ birthday present, as well as tasked myself with the beginnings of cake construction for his little party on Saturday. No baker I, but I can learn a new trick now and then.

Dinnertime. Ralph was out, and I fed the kids (roast pork loin, broccoli, mashed potatoes, homemade pretzel knots) and sat with them and we talked about our day.

Dinner

Today my son had chocolate on his face after licking the cake batter beater, and a cowlick, and he’s missing four teeth. As Norman-Rockwellian as you can possibly imagine.

shaken, not stirred

Today I plunged myself into Sucktown as I had two sewing projects, in a row, go poorly. Actually, kinda, three. A week ago two wee infant dresses I had a vision for ended up not quite working out to my satisfaction. Then the Western-style shirt I finished today gave me fits from start to end. The end result, I admit (pictures tomorrow) is adorable – but my ass is haunted by how difficult the project was. I was even seething with, well not rage, but high-degree irritation at points. And today, Sewing Assery #3? I took a series of shortcuts on some pants for Nels figuring it wouldn’t be a big deal but, you know what, the project really suffered from me doing so. Enough I know, as I sit here, I’m going to totally tear out seams and fix the mess even though damn I so do not want to re-sew on pants.

I’m not sure how many people who read can relate to how much I can struggle when my sewing goes poorly. When it comes to this craft I am used to things going my way, and when they don’t, I have a hard time making a learning experience out of the business. I end up believing I’m wasting my time while I could be benefiting others in some way. It’s a horrid mind-suck. Oddly I am less exacting when it comes to my writing – more likely, in that case, to give my best, whatever I have, and let it lie.

This last week or two I’ve also been struggling with some Old Business that very rarely rears his head any more: the (unrecognized) work of the domestic. Today I got up, fed cats, cleaned the bathroom, washed, dried, and put away clothes, washed and dried dishes, made up home-cookin’ for the family, fed the cats, cleaned up after the cats, sent off emails. I do stuff like this every day. I am really fortunate I have my head and heart in the work and I experience gratification from performing the basics with mindfulness. But sometimes this little doubt creeps in, You Do Shit Work And You Don’t Matter. I remember what it was like to have more status’d work and the praises I used to get. Yeah, it was false pride, and yeah, it was a life built on (my concepts of) other people’s esteem, and I freely admit I like my life a lot better today. It’s just that sly voice and I don’t always have a defense against it. Ugh.e

Writing this out I realize the mind has just found another way to criticize my personhood. I relate this quite hand-in-hand with life as a so-called recovered alcoholic. The self-criticism is a hell of a thing for most people, and I have some familiarity with the various methods people use (not all of them chemical) to drown that narrative out.  Today I cope with feelings and with reality without self-medicating through the rituals and chemicals of drug and alcohol use. And the cliche is true, my worse day sober is well and away better than my best day using. Life sober might be painful here and there but the suffering is vastly reduced. Today I have the courage to publicly admit what’s going on (I will note I had this courage, here and there, before sobriety) and today I have a degree of bravery and serenity that I didn’t used to. I am glad to live my life sober even at its hardest, truly glad to live this way, despite occasional difficult circumstances originating from between my ears.

I will add I had a lovely time, before the sewing debacle, with the children. I packed up this morning (oh right, another handful of “chores” I forgot to mention) and we hit the YMCA for swimming this afternoon. Swimming with my kids is really amazing because, of course, it feels good and life without school is like a holiday, always – but also, because their energy and resiliency is just astounding. Even the days I’m not quite right, they seem to be. The children inspire me in a deep and satisfying fashion and it’s funny… I didn’t plan it that way, it just ended up happening. My children and my family life have been the most unexpected twist, and series of adventures, in my whole life. The life I’ve had is not something I thought I’d have in store for me ten years ago, that’s for sure.

In my wildest imaginings I wouldn’t think I’d have it so good. I hope my kids are a legacy for that kind of life, well-lived and worn-in, joyous and free. It really is at least part-accident I’ve done so well by them, or maybe that I didn’t do so well but they thrived anyway, considering what a mess I’ve been here and there.

“May these beings be free from animosity, free from oppression, free from trouble, and may they look after themselves with ease!”

Goodnight!

make sure it’s worth watching

My son just about stifles my heart. He’s tall, just like his sister, and extraordinarily competent in anything he sets his mind to. It doesn’t help last night I got to meet and hold a brand-new baby, a hungry baby whose mom wasn’t ready to nurse, and the baby kept spitting out her soother and rooting up against my breast in my fancy coat after an evening soirée. I placated the baby with a pinkie (old trick I’d forgotten about for years) and she fell asleep again for a while. And the nurse came in and we got that baby on the tit. And I hope it works out.

So my son, yeah this morning I sliced the kids apples and made them pancakes with warm syrup then after the kids cleaned up breakfast Nels get got dressed to the nines (“Where’s my tuxedo?” he asks about his favorite coat I made him) and after we went through and thoroughly cleaned the kiddo’s room and separated those things we wanted to donate, Nels packed a satchel with two books and a cell phone and arranged a date with the bookstore and his grandmother. When he returned he’d used the books for store credit to get his sister a book on leopards. He is a wonderful, wonderful citizen, son, and brother.

Today was suppressed and sad for me, at times. I was at home for medical reasons (I snuck out once with Phoenix, for tacos and coffee) but it wasn’t just that. Last night my husband and I had an unfun argument, starting with me bringing up my desire to raise another child, but sadly the bitter words did not confine themselves to that subject. A nasty argument, something that doesn’t happen too often these days but always takes the mickey out of me and him too.

This child thing. I really really can accept I might not get my way, or get what (I think I) want. I probably couldn’t handle it anyway. I’m probably being an asshole. Impulsive and stupid. What tortures me is the question, is this something I want SO MUCH that I need to take some kind of new action, or is this something that will in time fade and I will accept I won’t have it?  For years now I’ve done what seems like the right thing, defer to my husband’s strong preference that we not take on or support another child. I am as lost as anything on this though and I don’t know right from wrong or down from up. If I’m not to have what I want I wish I could accept this or that the desire would disappear.

I’ve gotta admit this is a painful entry to pen, but I’m committed to being honest and I don’t think I’ve brought this up directly in this space, even though it’s been in my heart and on my mind for a few years. Today I decided to change that. I guess that’s why I’m writing about it, because Secrets don’t work for me.

Sometimes I’ve resented how honest and how much I’ve written about myself and my life here. I have of course tried to maintain scrupulous considerations for other individuals on many subjects, and I have not shared my Every Thought or emotion by any means. Sometimes I worry that when I write that other people will use this information against me, or use it carelessly. This is certainly a reality and I have experienced betrayal before,

but the cost of not sharing what troubles me isn’t one I want to continue to pay.