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.

“Because I’m Good Enough, I’m Smart Enough, and Doggone It, People Like Me!”

Today we got up early, loaded a basket of food into my trunk, put a carafe of coffee up front, trundled two sleeping kids (one in underwear-only) into the almost-warmed-up car, and headed to Seattle.

I had a volunteer commitment for the day and I’m only just now getting home.

And just in the moment – I’m tired, overworked, overthinking, and irritable.

I was touched my family joined me, in an expression of support. I found it especially sweet they came along since none of them are super-keen on getting up and driving instead of sleeping in and screwing off at home.

There were compensations. Ralph took the kids to the aquarium while I was occupied. They got to see dwarf cuttlefish getting fed (unfair!).

Nels + Phee Ride Orcas

And apparently they found an extra child, but they didn’t bring him/her home or anything.

In other news, Ralph and I have made rather large change in our lives. I will now be the primary manager of our family’s financial woes operations. He’s been doing this job for about eight years. I’m sitting here with a stack of plastic next to my computer, and I’ll be making room for a stack of paper soon. I’m feeling pretty daunted. Not because of any other thing in that, I’ve not done this for a very long time, and back when I did it I was drinking, so that helped.

I’m also breathing deep because seriously it feels like a huge responsibility. What’s the worst that could happen? I could fuck it up ENTIRELY. So.

* breathes into a paper bag *

OK, then.

tell yourself it’s all you know / you should know me better than that

Tonight my work at the treatment center was less than stellar. Every now and then there is this tension and there are less-than-civil interactions… a hostility, specifically directed at me or at least what I’m saying. I find myself frustrated at times because addicts and alcoholics in early recovery (or even several years into recovery!) go from being desperate and willing to seek help – to being easily-offended, egocentric, selfish, myopic, and stubborn. (I am in no way claiming immunity to these emotional relapses!)

Oddly though even when I’ve spoken words that weren’t well received (which when I lead meetings is my prerogative to ensure everyone in the group gets a chance to speak, and is respected while speaking), the oddest thing has happened every time. When I return a couple days later, these same individuals who flashed in anger and sarcastic under-the-breath remarks see me and they simply light up. I don’t even mean a guarded smile, I mean they smile genuinely and instantly upon recognizing me. Any bad feeling that may have existed, seems to have vanished entirely.

The first time this happened I was taken aback, but it has happened enough times in the last couple years it is, so far, the absolute rule. I’ve thought a lot about this odd (seeming) turnabout, and concluded a few things. A., that they might think I’ve got some relevant experience to share, after all – since so many non-addicts do not understand, B. that my kindness and compassion comes through regardless of our verbal exchange, and C., most importantly:

that for any alcoholic or addict, no matter where they are at and if they’re going to die drunk and never get sober, there is this part of them gut-deep that recognizes sobriety and they respond to me like a flinted spark. I will tell you that the miracle of sobriety is so instantly-recognized that there isn’t even room for envy, and that is saying something! In that sense it doesn’t matter too much what I do or say, the important thing is they see me sober, see me coming back to help (if I can), and see me with a smile in my face and love in my heart. And so far, I too have that love in my heart when I return. Because no matter how rude someone has treated me I don’t hold a grudge. I have a love for people that recovers despite, well, despite all sorts of insults, big or small. And I have a willingness to live without a resentment, a willingness that has served me well.

It blows my mind, though. No matter how deep these addicts are and even when they’re absolutely detoxing they recognize the miracle of sobriety. This is incredible!

This hope, this reality, is something I’ve come to believe, at least at this stage in my life.

My irritation tonight is not so much perceived personal insults: it’s from spending some time in the resultant ugliness within the disease of addiction. It’s an ugly disease in a way that many diseases can’t compete with. Usually I feel pretty fine, but some days? I’m a little down.

***

Last night I ask my husband, “Do you know, I have a tendency to hold on to something, even if it is broken or worthless?”

“I’ve come to count on it!” he says, and gives an embarrassed laugh. I realize he’s talking about himself, or maybe the harder years of our marriage. And I laugh. Surprised even after this time he thinks of himself that way. He’s not broken or worthless, he’s my life’s companion and he’s a treasure to me.

But I’m thinking: I will hang on to things, a half-glass of iced tea, rags, canning jars that might serve a use, things other people regard as trash. I have a bag full of squeezed lemon halves in my fridge! It isn’t just that I might find a use for the seemingly-defunct, but I hate to discard something entirely as it seems wasteful. Especially given that, in so many ways, I have relied on others’ cast-offs (my entire sewing room is furnished with equipment that has been gifted me – this last week for example, a seam roll and a sleeve board).

I am relatively thorough when it comes to moving something on. I have gone through lengths to get those scraps of fabric, or the older bed frame, or the half-consumed bag of flour we’re not using, or the compost from our composter when we move, to someone who can use it. This frugality and this desire for ethical consumption (which means weighing the entire life of the thing we bring into the home), is an asset – as long as I don’t take it too far – don’t grasp and cling, or get too worried about any of it.

Today Ralph and I performed music on the street. I sang, even, with a microphone and everything! It was only in front of a small group, and many of them were friends or at least known to me, but I had a few compliments on my singing – and one on my bravery. My friend M. says to me, “You’ve got balls. I could never sing unless I had a few drinks in me.” I smile and tell her, “I never sang until I got sober.”

I don’t have to be perfect, I just have to be Me. That’s a pretty do-able vocation these days.

an old machine that’s reeling

Shit is BROKEN.

My computer is broken. I can’t see colors on my screen. This has been like – a month now? At first I thought, OK well, at least I can still type. But the lack of colors is more debilitating than I thought. I haven’t been able to blog my (considerable amount of) sewing – and I haven’t been able to update my Etsy listings either.

Shit is BROKEN.

Our cars are broken. Ralph’s has something sort of serious – a loud clunking sound now and then – enough we’ve stuck it in the driveway until we can (afford to) fix it. So Ralph and I have both been biking a lot, yes he’s been biking to the college and all. My car – good Lord! – a broken window, busted all the way out driver’s-side. It’s been broken several days now but we are fortunately in a dry spell. That’s going to end any minute though at which point I will have to go with some plastic.

Shit is BROKEN.

My kidneys are broken. The doctor is probably going to recommend something icky as I have some part of the kidney possibly blocked off. It took about a year for me to begin to accept the pain. Now I’m trying to accept the fatigue and the nausea. The fact I’m trying to accept it means, maybe I will be there soon.

SHIT is broken.

Hutch is ill. We are hoping it is just random awfulness he (somehow!) got to sneak into his gullet. I am trying not to obsess it is something worse. He is weak and trembly and not eating food and if you know Hutch, that is weird AF.

SHIT IS BROKEN —

Most disastrous of all, our cat Hamilton is missing. Today has been one week since we saw her. Today is one week. I am sick over this. Just sick. We miss her so much.

Today despite all this I did my best to be kind, to treat my family and friends with consideration, and to attend my volunteer work.

What else can I do?

“with all associations broken, one forms new ones, as a broken bone thickens in healing”

I hear the tail end of the young woman’s sentence. She’s crying: “… it’s how you guys make me feel!” My friend M. speaks in to her in low tones, but is quickly interrupted: “It wasn’t even you,” the crying young woman says. “It was her.” I can feel her accusatory tone all the way down the hall, I swear I picture her finger stabbing at me.

Who wants to be her? Not me. I am aghast. I’ve been doing this work twice a week for almost two years and this is the first time I’m the sonovabitch, or more accurately, I can hear someone saying I’m the sonovabitch. And who wants to be the sonovabitch? Again: not me.

This is a time of transition for me. I am moving into a different set of responsibilities in some of my volunteer work; I am leaving behind other duties and letting other parties take them, just when (of course!) I was starting to feel comfortable, like I had half a clue, like I was halfway decent at this work. It makes a kind of Universal Sense I’d get this kind of jolt tonight, someone forming a grudge. It’s an apt, ignominious footnote a period of my life I’d come to treasure, and the finale of this episode. Because I’m going to miss going up to the treatment center, never missing Wednesdays, never missing Sundays unless I was in the hospital or out of town. I’m going to miss it a whole hell of a lot and I would write on and on here about it, if I didn’t think it would be breaking the trust of those I work with. So without saying more, let me just say I’m in mourning. I think there was this little bit of me who was clinging on to the thought of never letting go of it because it was becoming a part of me. But I think the right thing to do is grow a little more and try something new and put my ass on the line a little bit more.

***

I remember the first time I heard it, really heard it, when a very wise friend of mine said, “What other people think of me is none of my business.” I had this instant sense of revulsion and fear upon hearing this because at the time, I knew what other people thought of me mattered so very, very, very much and I hated that it mattered like it did. I tried hard, so hard, to be a good person (wife mother sister daughter friend citizen) but how hard could I really have been trying, when what I never wanted to hear was someone’s disapproval. It drove me absolutely crazy, and I could absolutely fixate on myself and my mistakes (fancied or real); even worse, I could fixate on their character faults (fancied or real). That kind of thin-skin or self-absorption or whatever, well the practice of self-improvement is seriously compromised when you’re living that way.  Other people’s irritation was a bit scary, probably scary like the Normal Amount most people feel when someone is irritated with them – but outright hatred? My only guess is I was more affected by the abuse I’d survived than I realized; I still carry the memories within my body, not just my mind. Still carry that fear of other people; not so much the people as the Hate itself. Hate still frightens me so, but usually only when it’s directed at me or I perceive it is. If you knew my whole gory history (and some of you know a bit of it), you’d probably understand. It’s no excuse; it’s just where I’m at some of the time.

Driving home tonight I feel pangs. On reflection, I wouldn’t have done or said anything different than I did, even though it apparently did not please this one individual. & yet, I know that the pain this woman is feeling has almost nothing to with me; rather it’s a lot of horrid shit that’s gone down in her life, and her own self-pity. I know because I’ve been there and I try to treat people the way I wanted to be treated then, and want to be treated today. With kindness and directness. You know, both those things aren’t as easy as they sound, especially when like me you’ve got a goddamned brain disease. Yeah and again. I’m not trying to make excuses, just saying there are days it’s rough up in this bitch.

Yeah. Good days versus “growth days”. “Growth days” is a nice euphemism for, “here’s a wee cockpunch!”

“the fun doesn’t happen until way later”

I bust into the bathroom to pee and then wash my hands. The sink is full of puke. Someone’s not feeling well, I think mildly. And then there’s no toilet paper. I make do with one of those sterile paper seat covers, which will always remind me of a joke Sharpie’d in a stall some time back: “Free Cowboy Hats!”

And BAM it hits me. I feel more at home in the places I go to help drug addicts and alcoholics, than I do almost anywhere else besides my own actual residence. Even in the latter, sometimes I feel oddly disconnected from my domestic exploits, like my life is a series of sensible activities to take care of my body and the bodies of the ones beloved to me (husband, children, dog, cats, gecko even, friends, family…) – even my artistic exploits, as much as I love them, can feel more soothing to mind and body than anything else. But where my heart and soul find resonance, are these places where pain twisted us to shit in a crucible, where we were finally defeated and broke in half and we learned the profound and utterly brilliant experience of complete demoralization. If you haven’t experienced enlightenment through this means, it probably sounds unpleasant. Or maybe bogus. I used to want to explain it over and over because it’s so incredible. But today, I don’t try to convince anyone much. I have a brain disease and not only that, it got bad enough the symptoms made themselves noticeable in a big way and then I had to fight myself out of a pit like nothing I could have conceived and today I’m standing on the edge still grinning down. If you haven’t been there, you don’t get it.

I sit down and the clients walk in, or shuffle in, and I greet them and smile. I couldn’t be more in my element. Except I’m hot from hustling my ass up the hill on my big heavy bike. And instead of the room being the typical preternatural cold (I think to keep people from falling asleep; many are on medications that keep them drowsy) it’s warm and so I’m not cooling off. I fan myself and I say hi. Every week, dozens more. Some people I already know from before, back out, back in. I’m glad to see they’re alive. A pretty young woman says to her friends, “There’s my sponsor!” and comes and sits by me and tells me she’s out Monday. Some look all sleepy and are in full-on naptime a few minutes into me talking. I’m thinking of one woman I saw a few weeks back, she introduced herself by name and said she didn’t know how much time she had sober… She slowly said, “I don’t know how I got here.” Anyway the sleepy ones, I’ll see them again in a few days probably, and they’ll meet me for their first time.

I tell them a little bit about why I’m there and start talking about what I’ve experienced. When I’m talking a lot of people are relating, nodding, or laughing with that kind of relief, I’m not the only one. There’s a few sleeping and there’s probably a few who find me annoying as fuck. One of the ones who is listening, a dark young man across from me, nods in recognition when I talk about being a “high bottom” and what kind of mess that gets you, and then when I talk about how it hurts to watch someone you love still in active practice. Later, reluctantly, he shares – after the group asks him to. He says he spent all this time locked up in a few forms of treatment facilities and immersed himself in Recovery culture and said he walked and talked Recovery and kept a smile on his face, always. And he collected a bit of time that way. But he says he never dealt with the pain, and he relapsed. He doesn’t say this but it seems like he’s dealing with it now. He says slowly, and to no one in particular, looking at the floor and the words are like a birth: “if you’re having fun right now, you probably don’t get it. The fun doesn’t happen until way later.” To me he reads like he’s in deep, profound pain. The truth of his words pulls from my own gut, and I know what he’s talking about. And I think to myself what a blessing, what a manifestation. I recently read in a book: “human consciousness is light perceiving light.”

The joy I experience in this work is deep and unshakeable. And it’s not hyper or even blissful, it’s just joy. It’s impossible to describe and what’s the point? You have to experience it. Get a little and you can start to recognize it in others, and you definitely recognize its absence in others.

An hour and a half later I’m leaving and a big man says to me, “I really respect you for what you’ve shared.” And I’m like, “I respect you – you said you didn’t want to talk then you get started and you’re dropping all this wisdom.” Wisdom is found everywhere in those I work with. It’s actually other places, almost every other place, you find people sleepwalking through life, going through the motions. It’s like this secret no one wants to own up to. Nothing to be ashamed of, we all sleepwalk at some time or another. We can all wake up, but we can all fall back again too.

This work keeps me awake while I’m doing it.

the best kind of supernatural

I’ve been volunteering at a local drug and alcohol treatment center twice a week for quite some time. So twice a week, unless I’m in the hospital or out of town unavoidably, I’m there no matter what. Tonight the group I addressed was very large and I did not have any of my helpers so I did a lot of talking. It’s a very odd feeling telling a group of people your very goriest stories. I wouldn’t do it at all except there are very, very good reasons for doing it (and no, not to be the center of attention, by the way).

I’m always struck by how circumspect the addicts and alcoholics in the rooms are. I think years ago I would have guessed a treatment center meeting would be rowdy and scary. Or lots of drool or lots of cussing. After logging hundreds of hours I can say every time I leave I am incredibly impressed with the people I meet. They are kind, considerate, intelligent. Weighing heavily in their psyche and their spirit are some of the events that got them there, and some of the behaviors they’ve participated in that still bring them shame. Many carry wounds and wrongs committed against them that are very grievous indeed.

I talk about forgiveness a great deal. There can be no fully-lived life without forgiveness. Unforgiveness is an anchor and a sickness, a terribly destructive force that eats at us like cancer, whether our anger is directed at supposed big or small events, whether against people we live with or those we hardly know or those who’ve died, whether regarding incidents peripheral or central to our lives.

I like to talk about nonforgiveness but then I usually assure people I am not there to lecture them about how or who to forgive. Not my business. I’m there to tell people that if they know they can’t forgive (including themselves), “Don’t Panic!” I’ve been there. And I can talk about what it was like, and what it’s like today. I laughed pretty hard tonight talking about a terrible thing my husband did to me once, a terrible thing that I used to think I would take to my grave. I laughed so hard I almost couldn’t tell the story for a minute. What some people will understand, and some won’t, is my laughter is a joy that I no longer live the way I used to, and my laughter is delight at the nature of forgiveness. Because I test it and find it intact every time. Like a flower you examine it from every angle and it remains pure and beautiful and perfect.

I used to believe there were things so terrible one couldn’t forgive them, but today I know forgiveness is possible and it’s one of the most wonderful things I’ve ever found. I share about it in case there is anyone else out there who knows how much their nonforgiveness hurts them, and is starting to want things to be different.

“You may have to declare your forgiveness a hundred times the first day and the second day, but the third day will be less and each day after, until one day you will realize that you have forgiven completely. And then one day you will pray for his wholeness…” ― W. Paul Young, The Shack

Nels' meme, tonight

a niche in the eaves

[ my son makes memes. like no one’s business. ]

Nels' meme, tonight

 

Fall seems to be an incredibly creative time of year for me, and others in my life notice. I get a lot of compliments on my purple hair. In fact in Grays Harbor I’ve heard nothing but compliments. Children are the most openly admiring.  But not a day goes by grownups don’t say a few nice things as well. Women tend to compliment; men say something flirty and sometimes even touch me without permission (boo).

But in the car on our way to deliver a pie, my daughter tells me I look gorgeous. It’s pretty wonderful to be loved the way they love me. I know I’m one of my children’s heroes. I know they think I am beautiful and amazing. It’s quite humbling. It makes me feel less self-conscious and it sets a place for me in the world.

Just before I leave for my volunteer concierge shift at the Gallery I hear the stomping of feet and sense that kind of bundled-up energy children bring in the new rains. Wrapping myself in my scarf I step into the kitchen and I shit thee not, seven “extra” kids in my house, all boys. All rowdy, but completely obliging to my eldest child’s commands (wash hands, set the table, et cetera). All of them there for a fête Nels has planned: the celebration of Harris’ birthday. My son has made tea and set out cups and made cards. The children all sing the cat “Happy Birthday”. Phoenix kicks them out after I leave; we have a whitelist of children allowed inside while Ralph and I are gone.

Today in the kitchen: steakhouse bread (sort of like pumpernickel but without caraway, and made up WITH eggs and coffee), two layered chocolate and roasted coconut cream pies with Mexican vanilla. Then a soup the kids cook up while Ralph’s in Olympia: ham, chickpeas, spinach noodles, and fresh peas. Cherry tomatoes on the side and a big glass of milk for each kiddo. They eat sitting with me in my sewing room while I hum through one hundred and sixty-five half-square triangles on my old Singer.

Quilting and gallery sitting, and a few minutes talking with friends. It rained today but I thought ahead and I have proper raingear for the season – boots and coat anyway – and I’ve got proper raingear for the kids too. Food security, and clothing security, and shelter. A fortunate family.

Home now and it’s late; four cats slumber in four chairs. The house is full of the smell of baked bread and the flickering of candles.

 

 

 

the seal of melancholy on me from the beginning

Swimming, Lake Aberdeen:

Defiance

Defiance.

Phee

Weasel-belly

Giggles

Freckle-hiding

This evening: off on the bike to the Treatment Center. It was beautiful out and it felt wonderful to bike. I had the most oppressive and dramatic soundtrack in my earbuds. Perfect.

#bike #positiveday

East Campus

Tonight: friends let us borrow a telescope, I’m pretty sure because they knew how much my son is into planets, the solar system, the universe. Exhausted after biking, working, and yoga, I’m inside reading while Ralph fools outside with the scope. Nels finds Mars and with the help of an app they locate Saturn. Ralph tells me you can see the rings on Saturn. The rings? What the fuck. I wrap myself up against the cold and out to the backyard where the telescope is set up. And I look. And I am stunned.

My son even more so. “Mama… it’s my dream. My dream came true. Please no one wake me. The best dream of my life!” My son is in tears.

I look again. I can’t believe it. It is so small yet precise, so incredibly beautiful, clear and crisp. You know we had an eclipse a while back and I knew it was up there and somehow I never looked up once, not all night. I don’t know what was wrong with me then. But tonight I’m crushed flat and I’m amazed and I won’t take things for granted as much as I did before.