Tonight I carefully slice into a red bell pepper, then a green one, and finally a cheerful purple onion. I cut a quarter wedge from each of these and slice as thinly as my patience will allow. I am exhausted, and I am trying to prepare a new dish. So I move slowly; but I do move. I heat up two types of tortillas (microwave under a damp cloth napkin) and wrap them in heavy foil packets into the warmed oven. Having pickled a jalapeño (while the others roast in oil and salt), I dice it finely and add to the marinade hosting thick tempeh slices. I halve cherry tomatoes into a bowl and gently combine them with a little oil, salt, sugar: set aside. I fry up the seitan chick’n strips – having pre-baked them dry and chewy in the oven – and add the peppers and onions and more pickled jalapeño. The kitchen warms brilliantly with the fragrance of peppers and onions and the family cheers a little. Finally: I slice avocado, bring out the lime cashew cream, and the purple slaw, my husband prepared earlier. We don’t set the table as my work is spilled across it, but join one another convivially on the couch to watch a quaint baking show before we go our separate ways again for the evening.
The atmosphere at the club is chaotic; there’s a Halloween potluck and dance assembling. Friends flit in and out and talk, smoking or vaping outside and loudly laughing; the energy is high. Flirtations – eyes casting about at one another. Parcels of hot food unwrapped and placed on the tables. It’s cold and crisp outside and warm and convivial indoors. I love seeing people in costume – some of them rag-tag or incomprehensible, others quite developed. You discover a little more about your friends when you see them in their glad rags.
Two years ago today I had my ureter stent removed, after nine days of the worst kidney ordeal I’d yet faced. The device was placed on the twelfth after a brutal procedure, and that evening we had to make a call to paramedics; a couple days later I was in the ER. The entire experience was a nightmare. Removing the stent was scary and hardly pain-free; I remember simply letting my husband be with me for the ordeal because I didn’t have the ability to say yes or no, and because I knew he wanted to be there.
Today I felt an odd bit of kidney pain, only a little, a ghostly reminder. I have mastered the ability not to worry much, to predict it will get worse. Several years of pain, taught me some discipline. But the truth is I’ve had no major events since moving to a vegan diet; an entirely surprising yet welcome side effect. Every day, week, and month that passes without medical intervention and minor surgical procedures, I am grateful. We are still paying off the procedures from years ago.
So this time of year, yes I am grateful, grateful for my health.
I have planned an August sabbatical from client work; I have also cut down on social media significantly. Over the last few months I kept having friends ask me how I’m doing, and – since I am honest when people ask me this question – I had to confess I was a bit overscheduled. And confess it again, and again. Having disclosed this repeatedly, I realized I was responsible to do something about it.
Overscheduling is the kind of problem that creeps up, and it isn’t always a quick job to extricate oneself from these circumstances. So – carefully, with as much sensitivity for others as possible – I’ve been restructuring my life to a more sustainable pace. And this week, I’m starting to feel better, and more mindful; my yoga sessions are more refreshing and focused. My performances as mother and partner, are improving. Time is slowing – if only a little.
Tomorrow is my volunteer day; the day I devote the most time to others in my community. I am consistent with my volunteer work but I am also thinking about cutting back, or at least re-organizing. Today I know I don’t have to make any rash decisions on that count. I can wait, and meditate, and consult friends.
And live to fight another day!
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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!
A lovely morning with the kids. Sewing. A lunch date with my family, and my mother. Some volunteer work. A visit from a friend. Holding my husband’s hand. About to get into bed with him, now. It’s been a long day!
This morning my mom came over and told me she was giving me the most beautiful thing she owned – some columbine she’d waited three years to bloom:
From Ralph and the kids: a coconut cream cake and a pop-out weasel card – both homemade! #wins
While I was out doing my volunteer thing, Ralph made a video. I love that he uses only: his voice, his uke, his car keys, and his wedding ring.
I’d love to write some awesome verbiage but today was a big day for me and I’m beat-ass tired.
G’night, my lovelies!
I have like, ten minutes to myself. Ten minutes since Ralph and the kids went off somewhere, before I have to hop in my own car and head to a meeting.
Second day in a row swimming a mile (or near-mile) and the swimming doesn’t make me tired, at least not while I’m doing it, which is kind of thrilling. I just keep going. And going and going. An endurance feat for me – not a sprint. My breathing is now intuitive and I do not gasp for breath. This is fast improvement since about ten days ago when I (re-)started swimming.
Hot shower; body oil, clean clothes. Feeling wonderful.
Back in the car; hot coffee in the thermos. It’s sunny out and I’m cheerful. My son and I head to my volunteer shift, music loud. Coming up on three years of this volunteer work. A good day today, like it usually is. Leaving a week bit early to take the kids to the dentist. Flowers for a very dear friend, today. Home to bake banh mi for dinner, wash dishes, put away laundry. Back in the car. Taking a homemade cake along to a meeting.
I like giving gifts on my birthday.
Body tired, mind at ease. Works well.
But something is on my mind. Some little thing… anxiety. But regarding what? Financial problems? I don’t think so. My children? Possibly. Just: how much work Life is, in general? Yeah, probably.
The anxiety… I wait for it to pass. Sometimes I find the root of these things – often, I don’t. I merely keep breathing, and keep my mind focussed. Today: on the nose of a blue kickboard. This evening: on the next bit of housework, or cooking, or bill-paying, or correspondence.
Whatever is next.