catch me i’m falling

I would like to offer my readership an apology. I “owe” a few tutorial posts (I am well-aware of this!), and I have not been writing as much as I’d like.

Some of this is circumstantial – just, getting out of balance. As of this week I have committed to two sewing projects – and a design sketch – that I haven’t yet started. My creative exploits have been put on the back burner as I meet commitments to family and community. I am trying to be very patient with my limitations, as it is end-of-school-year for my daughter and I have a little work to do there. Ralph has had a few professional and personal activities that have kept him from home a night or two – and that adds up.

But most relevant: I have not been feeling well. I am experiencing medical problems that are quite distracting and often disabling. It isn’t a complex illness to describe and it is one I am looking forward to sharing in the next few days; but I don’t feel like writing about it now. I am under a sewing deadline at the moment; when this is finished (tomorrow evening), I will take stock of what I said I would accomplish, and make a plan.

Paradoxically, it has been a commitment or two that keep me in relative good cheer. I have a few volunteer engagements I’ve been faithful to for almost three years. Today I sat in my standard Wednesday afternoon meeting, and served as the meeting’s chair. While I listened to others talking, I wondered if the individuals there knew how much it meant to me, to have a place to go, and a purpose, and to be asked to help, a group of “strangers”. No fame. No pay. No reputation. No one gives a shit. All of this makes it deeply meaningful (because I’m a Buddhist, and we are weird). Dizzy and nauseated, I breathe deep, close my eyes, and meditate on the gladness I am alive. There is something very special about caring for people I will never see again. About pouring my heart out, just emptying it out, with no regard to where things go. Because I know I’m doing something helpful but I don’t know what I’m doing, exactly.

Home and my children are themselves: energetic, lively, clever, loving, and vibrant. I am ill and sensitive to noise; on the drive home (Ralph in the driver’s seat) I put my hands on my face. “Mama, are you sick?” Nels immediately asks in alarm. “I am, little guy.” The sunset is beautiful and the car has a full tank of gas and I’ve got makings for tomorrow’s dinner in the fridge (fried chicken, corn on the cob, coleslaw and homemade biscuits) and surely I’ll survive the night.

The Lost Weekend

tossing the sandbags overboard: movies about drunks

The Lost Weekend

At three years’ sober today I’ve been to about a thousand meetings of recovered (or recovering, or trying-to-recover, or not-wanting-to-recover) alcoholics. If you average about fifteen people at each meeting sharing their stories that means I’ve heard roughly 15,000 personal accounts of the struggle with alcoholism.

That said I still don’t know much about alcoholism; however, I’ve had a lot of misconceptions dispelled and I’ve un-learned a bit of ignorance. And y’all know I’m a cinephile, right? So one thing I do know is the story of the recovered alcoholic isn’t often like the movies – parties, socially-embarrassing moments, increasingly crazy behavior, tears and fights and then one day – he finally pours the bottle down the sink as the family tearfully looks on and then all is Eden. Yeah, right! [ she laughs ].

Anyway here’s some stuff that’s on the Real. You ever want to talk to me about these movies or my history as a “functional” alcoholic you let me know.

And thanks for three wonderful years. May I receive many more!

***

Who can put a list like this together without The Lost Weekend (1945)? This critically-hailed film depicts an end-stage binge of writer Don Birnam (as played by the legendary and wonderful Ray Milland) and I enjoy it more and more upon each viewing. What I like best about this film is Milland’s performance itself (for which he won an Oscar and claims the shortest Oscar-acceptance speech on record), as he doesn’t play the typical caricature of a drunk. You want to know how a hopeless alcoholic looks and behaves? Cunning, charming, lovelorn and sweet – likable, intelligent, devious, hopeless. There ya go. The score (and theramin!), the costume design, everything about the film (except the oddly abrupt denouement) is wonderful.

Clean and Sober (1988) is simply perfection. It’s perfection. Stand-out performances by Michael Keaton, Kathy Bates, and M. Emmet Walsh. Whereas most films that deal in any way with alcoholism show the troubles leading up to the cessation of drinking (borrrring!), this film concerns itself roughly with the first thirty days of an individual’s sobriety. Particulars aside I can’t think of a film that better depicts that window of one’s life. I related personally to so many moments of the film – the man, for instance, who sits in his car drinking a beer so he can “trick” the treatment center into admitting him, and he can hide out for a while from legal and employment troubles. Someone very dear to me did the same. There’s also a scene where a sober alcoholic arrives on the porch of his friend and sponsor, busted down beyond measure, without the thought of a drink but without anything to offer anyone either. His sponsor says a few kind but harsh words to him. Now that moment – well I’ve lived that moment, and long after my last drink. Gives me chills. A great film.

Shame (2011) is a rough go, one of those tear-your-guts-out films you want to recommend to your friends – with a cautionary measure. The film depicts a few weeks in the life of a sex addict and drug addict named Brandon (Michael Fassbender) as his routines are interrupted by the sudden re-appearance of a family member. This film is quite explicit sexually, but it’s the explicitness of addiction behaviors that make it a stand-out. The film delivers breathtaking realism on two accounts: how incredibly sad active addiction is, and how those who are addicted often appear to be living a “normal” or even successful life (Brandon occupies a world of financial privilege that won’t last long if he keeps practicing his behaviors). The film depicts addiction in full-bloom in an incredibly well-rendered way and for that, I adore it.

Come Early Morning (2006), the directorial and writing debut of Joey Lauren Adams, is in my opinion a film with beautiful nuance, and I recommend it often – especially for any family touched by alcohol and drug use. We first meet central character Lucy (Ashley Judd) after a night of drinking, but I’m not sure if she’s an alcoholic; at any rate, she certainly isn’t the only one. Another character in the film most certainly is, and that other person and his relationship with Lucy – well it really tore at my heartstrings. Judd is on point in this film (when is she not?), but so is the supporting cast. The DVD cover of this movie looks like a softball romantic drama; it’s not. It’s a rock-solid story of the journey to Recovery and that means loss, and change – heartbreaking losses and scary changes.

Protagonist (2007). This documentary isn’t about alcoholism. This film is about… well as a Buddhist I’d say this film is about Illusion and where that Illusion leads you – and how that Illusion, given enough credence and investment, will kill you. As a Buddhist I’d say this film applies to every human being out there. As a drunk I’d say this film is about trying to manage your life (or your addiction) – and failing, utterly so. This film is about striving, and certainty, and knowing you’re right, and knowing you know what the problem is. But then… something happens. Ah hell, I can’t explain the movie. It is almost a heartsong for me and perhaps it represents my own experiences with alcoholism more than almost anything else. This film is about Waking Up, I suppose.

So there ya have it! Get to watching. And thank you, my dear friends, for helping me get along a little longer on this lovely little planet Earth.

May 27, 2014

“if you desire healing / let yourself fall ill / let yourself fall ill”

¿COMO ESTAN BEETCHES? to quote Anchorman.

So yeah. I gots a little tradition. I make y’all a mixtape on my sobriety birthday. This year, the playlist is a little blue. A little navalgaze-ish. That’s just how the last year went down I guess.

Thank you, everyone. It’s pointless for me to write how much gratitude I feel because even though I’m fairly articulate, the words just don’t flow right, and powerfully-enough.

May 27, 2014

Download for the mp3s and the CD case.*

Or, email me your address and I’ll mail you one! kelly AT hogaboom DOT org.

*early adopters – I usually have trouble with stuff like this so please let me know if the d/l doesn’t work!

unfriendly skies

I am almost four hundred dollars short on rent.

I am physically exhausted.

I am having a wee bit of emotional turmoil.

Yesterday I heard one of the women I came to know through the Treatment Center very recently, died of an overdose. I have a lot of thoughts and feelings about this one but in my small town it is impossible to share without the possibility of causing more pain to those living. It is very hard for me to wrap my mind around the reality this young woman was here just yesterday, and is gone today – although God Knows I have no cerebral reason to experience surprise.

That’s not all. I had a really difficult conversation that I had hoped wouldn’t have to happen. I had to stand up for myself to someone who I know to be retaliatory. My husband pointed out to me I shouldn’t be afraid because I learned to stand up to HIM back in the day and that I had a lot more to fear, then.

Well. He’s probably right. But fear keeps me company sometimes.

Life has been a creaky, uphill climb; a brief bit of comfort here and there. Then suddenly: stunning experiences of love. Today I looked out a door and saw an addict I know, sucking on one of those fake cigarettes, and I felt this surge of love. He probably doesn’t know I feel anything for him and he probably doesn’t give a shit about me. I felt this weird comfort about this. A gladness to be alive.

Tonight in another setting I waited my turn to speak and I felt an irritation and anger that rattled my chest and soured my guts. I prayed for Love and Tolerance. A few minutes later and I had it, and I could speak with love and laughter.

Today my husband put his arms around me and I felt his human presence with gratitude. In June we will celebrate sixteen years together.

In one month exactly I will celebrate three years’ sober. I am not an inarticulate woman, but the gratitude I feel is nearly impossible to express. I am aghast.

Tonight I try to give myself the gift of compassion. Sometimes it seems the only true treasure one can grasp.

developmentally on cue

“I’m so thirsty,” my son says. “I could kill a cow for its BLOOD.”

You know. Not its milk or anything.

“A gallon would be fine,” he continues.

“Of blood?”

“Of water,” a suddenly docile young man amends.

Today is rough. Several responsibilities, and I’m feeling off, and tired, and anxious. You know a few years ago, for about fourteen months, I had this prescription for Klonopin and took it nightly. A small era in my life but sometimes I miss it. It’s hard to relax. Sometimes.

But I don’t get bored of “chores” (housework, errands, cooking, appointments) on days like this because these so-called menial tasks are bookended by some brief but really unsavory ones. Since I get to do shit I don’t want to do, and deal with shit I occasionally wish wasn’t happening, anything short of physical agony or emotional bankruptcy is still pretty cool.

My daughter burns some homework; symbolic of her Spring Break:

Later she emails me: “Google up ‘bigfin squid nope’. You won’t be disappointed. Or maybe ye will.”

Yeah, so. Days like today I cling to kindness: the kindness of friends, who support me in so many wonderful ways. I cling to humor: my kids have got it right, a lot of times when I simply don’t. I cling to the knowledge I tried to help others. Today I helped facilitate a meeting with about fifteen young addicts and alcoholics. Statistically, something like three of them will get and stay clean and sober. Today I tell them, “You’re the lucky ones. No one’s life is over yet! You know why you’re all young, right?”

And I wait to see if they get where I’m going with this.

changing pace

I often think I somehow had more energy when I was drinking. It seemed I could get up in the morning, take quantities of coffee, and put to use intense reserves of power – cleaning, cooking (a great deal of cooking, wonderful dishes), writing, sewing, active parenting, and constantly hatching up those plans and dreams – taking future trips into all the great things I’d do or become.

I haven’t had a drink in almost three years and in that time I’ve stepped on a path of spiritual practice.  I’m sober which is a rare way of life, at least in the country I’ve been raised in. For me, it’s a life more vibrant, more unexpected, and altogether more wonderful than I could have dreamed Life to be.

Still – now it seems I get less done, I have less to show for myself, my parenting is no longer “supermom” and is instead much more the role of a mentor, much more about unconditional love and steadfast faith. Admittedly the house is still relatively tidy and the meals are delicious but a great deal of that is courtesy of my partner – who has more strength and joyous energy than any person I know. You ever watch our big dog Hutch running, bounding with his big muscles and exuberant body language? That’s Ralph. He can run and run and run – figuratively, and literally.

I have changed, though. It is said alcohol numbs us somehow. I think that is true, and I’ve spent years now studying, and I try to observe rather than analyze. I see the end results of the drinking lifestyle in those who’ve come to see they have a problem, and want to recover – those like me. I see the desire for “numb” in the social media posts and the casual conversations of those who still drink – they drink to relax, to feel better, to “reward” themselves after a hard day, to believe they are enjoying themselves. I don’t know who’s really enjoying themselves and who has that deep pit of awful in their belly, and a head full of angry scribbles. It’s not my job to know, it’s their job. Here’s what I know: many never figure it out in this lifetime. All I can do is be here for those who want help, and love all people unconditionally. That job keeps me busy enough.

Leaving drinking behind changed my life – second only to having children. I would have told you the quantity and frequency of my alcohol consumption didn’t have a significant effect on me – but I would have been wrong. This is the great mystery of living in denial. We believe we are okay. We believe other people have the problems. We are blind to our own selfishness.

Now that I’m not taking alcohol or mind-altering substances, I sure get to experience more reality! This reality keeps unfolding before me and it’s amazing, exhilarating – and often, exhausting. My feelings are stronger than I knew; my body aches here and there and I seek to “fix” it but my doctor says it’s because I’m getting older. Even my kidney disorder, one I was born with – this mysteriously had a near-complete “remission” from symptoms from about age 17 to age 34 – which corresponds to when I was actively drinking.

This morning I put together a cake for friends; I cuddle my at-home child when he wakes, briefly, from a distressing dream. I’m folding up tattered towels and washing dishes in soapy hot water. I am writing emails to a few dear friends who are struggling. In a few moments we are going for a swim, and then taking lunch. I am traveling out to Wishkah to cook alphabet soup with a classroom of sixth grade children. I’m letting my dog in the car although my daughter groans and rolls her eyes when she has to share a seat with him. I am meeting up with a friend in the evening; I am holding space for her. Tonight I hope to put my arms around my husband, and pet the cat who jumps on my lap the moment I sit down.

My life changed because over time I began to Want What I Have. Even now my feelings and my aches and pains, I get a little friendlier every day, a little more peace, a little more clarity.

It took a long time getting here and I hope I can stay here a bit longer.

being a Helper

Shrine

Every pay cycle I purchase flowers, for my shrine, from a local florist. I can only set aside a small amount, but as time passed the parcels quickly bloomed into larger, and lusher, arrangements. The experience has become a spiritual lesson, for me. Because: spirituality doesn’t make sense. It isn’t logical. I “can’t” afford flowers and the florist surely “can’t” afford frothing arrangements worth at least twice what I pay.

And yet. Week in, week out. A subtle, fluid heartbeat in my life, no matter the season.

***

I know the man involved in the ongoing police standoff, here, in South Aberdeen. As “police”/military presence continues to escalate, and as mounting pressure is put on this man – who just lost a loved one before the incident – I experience fear for his life.

About a year ago he and I spent a few months volunteering assistance in recovery meetings, at the Treatment Center. We went on at least one roadtrip to Seattle in this capacity; I remember that day we saw a double rainbow, and that he helped out tremendously when my car ran out of gas on the drive back. He was particularly close with another friend of mine – they became fast friends in the first months of her sobriety. My heart is with her today, too.

Last night in the first few hours of the standoff, I mentioned it to Ralph. He remembered ___ and said, “I was impressed by his intelligence”. As more and more guns and uniforms and heavy artillery surround his house, I feel less and less certain he will be allowed to live.

And if he lives, what then? Surely he will be locked up. If he lives, will I be able to see him, I wonder? If he lives, is there any way he can return to his community? If he lives, who will be helping him grieve his loved one – and heal from this scary experience?

***

The day before yesterday we took in the refugee kitty Peppy – one of the residents displaced from Emerson Manor. I knew the kitty’s owner also – again, from my volunteer work in the community. But when we picked up her kitty, I don’t think she recognized me. Many of the residents in the Manor, all low income, live with mental, physical, and emotional disabilities. Peppy’s owner was near beside herself at having to be separated from her feline companion. The rescue liaison, my friend Deb, told her I knew what I was doing. That felt a good to hear.

The wee kitty Peppy is on day two of hiding out. She’s under the bed while my son has a lie-in. Hutch sleeps only a few feet over; he is a perfect foster-brother dog as he is so wonderful and gentle and loving. Peppy’s care isn’t like that of No-No’s; Peppy is old enough to be quite frightened, and she isn’t feeling that up to cuddling. Yet.

So family life is busy, as per usual. My car is still locked up in a shop and I fear the repair cost, which I will be hearing within the hour.

It’s funny how people say nothing happens in small town life.

No. You just don’t know how to see.

like a firefly without the light

This morning: I arrive home after swim class to an empty house – Ralph and the kids heading up to Olympia. A day to myself – truly, a gift, and a rarity. I am recovering from a sore throat and head cold which just hit yesterday. With patience, rest, and raw garlic and honey I hope to be restored to full health soon.

Swimming. I only started two weeks ago and already I am respectably pulling laps. Hard to be patient and rest – swim less than I want – when I’m just becoming exhilarated with the acquisition of new skills. Yet I know if I don’t rest, I will get sick in earnest. I am determined to take care of my body – and thus avoid unnecessary stress.

Tonight. My son. Tall, and blonde, and full of Plans. “Mom? Here are the foods I want you to pack for my trip tomorrow. A couple hardboiled eggs, and some pancakes – and a food of your choice. Like maybe a sandwich.”

No one says “sandwich” better than my children. Also: no one is more grateful for the simple gift of food. Tonight: rolling meatballs and cooking them up so we can cool them down and reheat for tomorrow’s dinner. Slicing pear, ripened on the windowsill. Hot black tea with cream and sugar.

Tonight: fatigue. Braved the rainstorm to get to a Recovery commitment, “only” a few souls there to help, but it matters. The beat goes on, day in and day out, doing what I’m supposed to do, one foot in front of the other whether I feel much like it or not. Most days I like it a great deal, indeed.

A homemade Valentine; my children heap more than one card upon us. Their demonstrative nature is an immensely cheering force in what otherwise might be a drab, wet, hopeless-feeling day.

a story you can’t see

Today – at least – I snapped a picture of the jacket gifted to a wee gentleman at his 2-year birthday party.

Birthday Coat For J.

Double-sided fleece, self-drafted pattern. Super-pointy hood and seven hand-made pom poms. Trippin on pom pom-makin, biatches

***

Yesterday morning I wake –

after only a few hours sleep –

to the most oppressive sense of fear.

Slaps me awake and lasts at least half the day. I’m up and I try to do a few things then rest, but I can’t. My mind keeps trying to find a way out of the fear. I can’t think of anything else for long, before jolting back. Might as well make the coffee. Hot shower. Time to get up and go. Got responsibilities.

My mind like to drive me mad. Thinking, thinking, over-thinking. Trying to set it aside but it rises up again through my body. Fear racing through my chest and my kids talk to me, my husband asks after me, and I answer as best I can when I can pull my mind off the fixation. Can they tell? I don’t know. I don’t think so. They’d ask if they knew something was wrong.

Days like today I remember smoking. Pulling on a cigarette, getting that edge. Somehow it always seemed to help, keep me in that space of what I thought was alertness, but in reality: agitation.

And anyway: I quit smoking a while back. And now I’m over the bridge and into breaking sunlight when I know the only thing that will help me, since I’ve done prayer on my knees and lit a candle and eaten food and tried to breathe and tried to quit thinking, is to Help Others. Help Without Regard For Return. It’s not even like I think I get some reward if I help. It’s that the state of Helping takes me somewhere different, and things shift, and clarity comes.

My daughter wraps her arms around me. “Love me,” she says. I hold her and kiss the top of her head, her dry straw-scented hair; Heaven. Later. Running bath water. Kitchen light low. Hot water and a tablespoon of molasses. A heater ticks in the dark. My arm: aching. The laughter of my son in another room.

Cold to the bone, a darkness stretching out. Only a small candle but it’s enough.

 

 

 

 

chronic, progressive, fatal

I spent a few hours in the ER today with a friend who is suffering late-stage alcoholism. If she stops drinking she will suffer a seizure and is at a very real risk of dying.

The last time she detoxed she had a seizure despite their best medical interventions to prevent it. I remember because I remember how frightened she was afterward.

Where she is today, is about where she was last summer when we first met. In August I had the privilege of getting to know her, and to work with her for a few wonderful months. Then: nothing, no contact, and I feared for her life. Today she called again. Life had gotten worse; in some ways, violently so. After a brief conversation this afternoon I met her at the ER to provide what help I could.

Haven’t held someone so tight in a minute.

The ER staff was kind and professional. But still: incredible. I’d heard many tales many times before but it is pretty stunning to hear a medical doctor, speaking in front of an audience of three other medical personnel who are scribbling notes, telling a patient to go home and keep drinking.

“Pick a number. Your best guess. Sounds like about eighteen [high-alcohol content beers]. Try to drink that number around the clock. Try to drink maybe half of one less per day, until you can get to [a medical] detox [facility].”

He goes on.

To hear the doctor tell her that her needed medical help isn’t currently available because she doesn’t have the right insurance. That her best plan is to go home and try to maintenance drink. Go home with her addict boyfriend and try to drink enough to live and not drink so much as to die. Incredibly, tell someone to do this, when the very definition of an alcoholic involves the unpredictable inability to control drinking once drinking starts. And of course there’s no “start”, because you can’t stop when you’re at this stage.

This is real and I’m not making it up.

And what this doctor said. That is medical science’s BEST PLAN.

They stick her with an IV and she holds my hand so tight.

Upon her discharge I turn to her, as we head out to get (her) a cigarette, and as she’s starting to get the shakes: “If they’re going to prescribe beer they should call it into the pharmacy and we can pick it up in a classy white bag.”

I love her so much but that won’t save her.

I’ve never seen someone suffer the way I saw her suffer today.

When I got sober…

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.