Tag Archives: recovery

mindvideo

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I’m so distracted I lost a shirt and my cup of coffee between the kitchen and the living room. I started a home project and couldn’t focus on what I was doing. So I’m just going to write it out.

My mother is dying. Conversations with family members invariably turn to memories of her.

Mine seem to be different from everyone else’s.

Utter one of her several bynames, and mindvideo from my vast collection queues up, my mother’s face distorted in anger, spewing criticism and humiliation.

This morning I am trying to see if I can edit those old tapes. I’ve never done this before and I can only make a start. But I figure anything I try can only make things better. And I have to trust the process.

Someone posts a photo of Mom on Facebook, remembering her with tenderness.

I see a woman about to explode with rage.

I step into the photo. Mom holds it together until she and I are alone. Then I will witness a barrage of frustration and vitriol. Granted, it’s not all about me. Maybe none of it is about me. But it will wound and deplete me all the same.

I’m trolling my mind for times when she and I laughed together. Those are the easiest ones to find. And the one that shows up is 50 years old. As other loves entered my life and vied for my attention, the laughter began to die. But in 1969, I was her best friend.

My father was 6 feet tall. Mom was 5’4″. When Dad was happy he’d come into the kitchen, where she and I were preparing supper. He’d hug her and then lift her straight up off the floor. He’d bounce her in his arms and she’d complain that he was hurting her boobies. But they’d both be laughing and I would be, too.

Mom loved to laugh and laughed easily, as did my father, when they weren’t fighting, which was often. When the two of them were laughing together, I knew my brother and I could relax for a few hours and they would be sweet to us and to each other.

Today I will play this mindvideo over and over to see if I can find footage before and after it, to look for details, like the pan of potatoes I was peeling or the dishes she was washing in the sink of our tiny kitchen. I will remember that I went to pick okra from the garden, washing and slicing it, dredging it in cornmeal and frying it in a cast iron skillet.

My mother is happy because I am helping her and I am good company and we are going to have a fine meal very soon.

As I write this, I’m aware that my palms are sweating and my heart is racing. I really don’t want to dig this deep. My friend, pain, is a festering abscess and I’d rather run in the other direction. But the only way to heal is to open the wound. And I’d rather face pain than live with bad memories.

It was only in the last couple of years that this type of abuse had witnesses. By then it was dismissed as a symptom of her dementia. No one believed me when I complained because she was consistently charming and kind to others. By the time I was 8 I was convinced I was just not worth loving.

What I do know is that hurt people hurt people and my mom’s story is full of pain. And through our family’s generations we have changed that trajectory. My grandson is proof of that.

This is limbic memory and no amount of positive thinking is going to change it. So I’m just letting the truth emerge as it will. And when it shows up, it looks like confusion, pain, anger, distraction, depression.

So I write. If the gods are with me, the stories emerge. I’m trying not to judge them as they do. What’s new for me is it no longer matters if anyone believes them. I know what happened.

My goal here is to tell my truth as I know it and to encourage others to tell theirs. It serves me nothing to perpetuate the myths of my family. If I do, I will never heal. And maybe through my healing, others will as well.

In one of my last conversations with my mother, I lay all my cards on the table. I like to think that I made amends to her but the only thing I remember is her saying, “I hope you’ll forgive me.”

That’s what this is all about. I’m sure gonna try.

windows

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I dreamed that I was on the phone with a nurse, trying to complete the information necessary for Dad’s hospital stay.

I dreamed that my brother and I went to a group therapy session where Mom said that I was not actually born in January and that she had two other children that we did not know about.  We looked at each other while trying to decide if this was the truth or delusion.

I woke suddenly, my desperation and confusion as vivid as it was nearly a year ago, when it was real and daily for almost three weeks.

In the recovery community we are well aware of the emotional tides that an anniversary brings.  And while some brush it off as folklore, others of us invariably have a using dream around the time of our sobriety date.

When I was a young woman, a beau took me to his aunt’s beach house for a holiday.  The sea was rather rough on our first day out.

“If a big wave comes along,” he said, “just duck down and let it wash over you.  That way it won’t knock you down.”

That advice has been a metaphor for me throughout recovery, reminding me that humility and surrender are not evidence of weakness, but of courage.  They are also the biggest windows one can open to allow grace to enter one’s life.

So this morning I am letting the waves of grief wash over me.  I am giving myself time for my heart to slow down and my panic to subside, reminding myself that it’s over.  I got through it.  And I am OK.

I am remembering I have more than a dozen friends who’ve lost a parent, a sibling, a child, a grandparent, even an ex-spouse in the past three years.  From time to time they reach out to me, surprised by the intensity of their sadness.

This is for them.  I love you.  You will get through it.  And you are OK.

triage

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when Faith is a well-chewed pencil point breaking mid-page,

on the periphery, Hope quietly burps and squints through a frazzled curl.

The skyline returns to its place in the distance
while Love finds a spot not far from the marker,

merrily beaming and resolute as the greening wood.

~ for Rachel

slamming doors

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When my neighbor goes out, I hear him.  This building has heavy doors that have to be slammed shut.  So last night around 8 pm I felt the familiar vibrations in my room.

Good, I thought.  I hope he’s going someplace fun.  Earlier I had heard him singing downstairs.  His car has been in its spot a lot lately, and I was afraid maybe he was ill.  So I was glad to know he was getting out.

He wasn’t gone long.  Maybe dinner out and a movie in.

I heard him leave again around 10. Time for the bands to start.  I imagined him laughing and dancing in a club downtown.

But he returned in less than an hour.

And then left again.

And came back.

And left again.

During the times I was trying to go back to sleep, I made up a story about this charming and lovely young man.  He simply went to the store for cookies.  Got home, decided he needed milk. Forgot his wallet and had to make another round trip.

I remember someone telling me about buying 8 balls all night long, one at a time, until the money ran out.  I don’t remember the figure, just that it was several months’ rent.

I don’t know if the money ran out for my neighbor.  The last time I heard the door slam it was followed by a loud thud, just the sound a large chair makes when it’s knocked over.  Or just the sound a healthy male body makes when it hits the floor.

I got up this morning and put in my half-day at work. I made lunch, loaded the dishwasher.  I sat by the open window to write.

The rain has begun.  It is the only sound on the street.  There has been no singing downstairs.

Mentally I review Chapter 5 of the Big Book.  I am glad my neighbor is single, that he has no children at home.

I ask God to help him, and me, and all the homes with slamming doors.

coolness

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It is a rainy, chilly Monday morning. I have to drive downtown to see my dentist. I’m killing time before I leave, playing 8 Ball Pool on Facebook.

My opponent is DarkFeelings, and his avatar looks slightly like a Smurf. I’m guessing DarkFeelings is a male, because this game is the realm of mostly young or youngish men, rock star or gangsta wannabes.

I wonder what they think about my avatar: a meme of Gromit with a caption that says, “Knitting: It makes everything better.”

Nevertheless, I sympathize with DarkFeelings. I have some Dark Feelings of my own.

See, I was left off a Cool Girls List.

In times past I have been a Cool Girl, times when I immersed myself in a culture (or subculture) which eventually consumed me.

Right now, I am not a Cool Girl. In fact, I’m practically invisible. Since my dad’s death four months ago, I have been rebuilding social stamina. I’m not there yet.

But being left off this latest list felt a lot like adolescence, when I was always too something. Too outspoken. Too nonconformist. Too alpha female (whatever that is).

The truth is, I like those things about myself. It’s when I’m ashamed of them that there’s a problem.

DarkFeelings scratches the cue ball and I run out the game, leaving him with five on the table. I offer to play again but the Smurfy avatar vanishes.

My next opponent has a name I cannot decipher, because it is in Russian. It could be Kevin but it could also be Katie. (There are a few women on here.) This player’s avatar is a photo of two young boys holding hands. It’s possible I’m playing one of the boys’ parents.

But on Facebook one just never knows.

Between shots I ponder the old, familiar feeling of shame, a straitjacket from my throat to my ribs. While Kevin/Katie lines up the next shot, I Google “cool girl.” One result takes me to an article, which I passive-aggressively publish to my Facebook page. It theorizes that coolness is borne of practice, a kind of covert conformity to a very subtle standard.

I do not try to guess the identity of the next 8 Ball player. Drawing conclusions from the wispiest knowledge set me up to step off Monday’s curb into a funk. Making assumptions about what I am and ought to be is just no way to get rid of Dark Feelings.

Instead I discuss it with my Higher Power. And I recall that Jesus Christ was a Cool Girl — until He wasn’t; that is, when He was too outspoken, too nonconformist, too alpha male (whatever that is).

I recall also that He was always hanging out with people who would never have made the Cool Girls List.

Then I pick up my knitting.

angry

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I’m angry, OK?
It’s the second stage of loss and grief in the Kubler-Ross model. I get that.
Thank God for that woman. She gave me a flow chart for feeling like a maniac.

In fact, I’m so angry that I just Googled it: “I’m so angry.”

I got some hits (ha, about a gazillion. There are lots of other angry people on the World Wide Web.)

Actually, my first Google search was “Help me to forgive.”
I’ve been seeing this meme on Facebook that says, if I want to be a big girl, I have to forgive.  Or something like that.

So that search took me to tinybuddha.com and “How to Forgive Someone When It’s Hard.”
When you land on the page, the subtitle reads “30 Tips to Let Go of Anger.”

By the time I read the first two screens I was more pissed off than ever.
Hence the second search.

And that took me back to tinybuddha.com: “20 Things to Do When You’re Feeling Angry with Someone.”

Part one of the lesson here, Grasshopper, is that you need to be all the way angry before you can forgive.
Part two of the lesson is what I call shaking hands with the Devil and introducing yourself.  It’s sort of taking the emotion out of the emotion, if you like.
Part three involves working with the other party.  This is about navigating relationships.  It gets really tricky here if the person you feel angry about is not open to honest communication.
It concludes in part four, which is the learning part.  It’s here where, if there’s a relationship stalemate, you choose to end it.

So this is really a pretty helpful deconstruction of the second stage of grief by tinybuddha.com.

But it’s still grief and, as such, needs to be recognized.

Anger is a God-given emotion.  It serves a useful purpose.
A workshop I attended once showed me it’s a consequence of pain, part of our fight/flight response, the thing that has helped us evolve as a species.

I have to remember that I won’t always be angry.  Next I get to bargain.  And I’m good at that.
Then depression: I’m really, really good at that.
But at the end is acceptance.  And that’s where I was headed to begin with.

I just need to remember that I’m not there yet.  Right now I’m just where I am.  I’m angry. And it’s OK.

witness

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heartfull_choose_love_-5587Sometimes you have a day in which you feel everything is falling into place.

You didn’t do anything; you’ve just been putting one foot in front of the other, trying to do a little better with your diet and exercise, maybe taking five minutes to meditate, reaching out to a friend who’s struggling and telling her that she matters.

Maybe it’s because your doctor tweaked your meds a little. Maybe it’s because the rain cleared the air and it’s easier to breathe. And maybe it’s simply grace.

Whatever the reason, those days have been few and far between over the last several years, and I am grateful for this one. And I want to tell you: don’t give up. You can have one, too. It’s my belief that God wants us to have an abundant life and that our struggles ennoble us. And with a little gratitude, I can see that my life is already abundant, that I have more than everything I need.

That’s all. I love you and I know that you love me. We can’t help it. It’s how we’re made.

lol

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I was watching an episode of “Grey’s Anatomy” last night and I laughed out loud. I really did. All by myself with no one to hear me. It kind of surprised me, not only because that hasn’t happened in a long time but because I hadn’t realized that until just then.

It means I’m healing. My prayers mean something. Faith pays off. And I can trust my process.

Letting go has been so, so hard.  Trying to understand the importance of self-nurture and what that looks like has been a struggle.  And I don’t mean splurging on frozen custard or a spa day, but true self-nurture:  resting when I’m tired, cooking the food that I love in the way that I love it, saving up for and purchasing things that I really need instead of running up my credit card buying things just to satisfy an urge.

Then there were the trickier parts of this: turning off my phone at night so I get the sleep I need. Taking a whole day off to be a goddess of the hearth. Tackling small projects a little at a time instead of planning grandiose outcomes that will exhaust me.

This all seems like really simple stuff, but I know folks in recovery can take a long time to figure it out and some just give up.  So I want to say to those folks:  don’t give up.  Even when it hurts.  Even when you feel stupid.  Even when you act like an ass.  Just keep going.  And someday, all by yourself, you really will laugh out loud.

loveliness

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Rarely if ever have I remembered my time before recovery with wistfulness. Today was an exception.

Spotify may be the best investment I’ve made in many moons. A few keystrokes and “Layla” is streaming through my headphones.

Something about the late sun striping the bedspread in the tender angst of Friday afternoon takes me back some decades ago, when I knelt before my cheap little speakers, strained to cracking with Derek and the Dominoes.

The ache of all my hearts, the one in my mind and the one in my soul, the ones past and present, poured out as I howled away some murky loss, too deep for my own understanding. Today I marvel at how I was able to release the deep cold keening from my guts to the accompaniment of Duane Allman’s wobbly blues guitar.

I loved being that drunk. I loved the ability the wine gave me to smash through the restraints of society and discipline and shame and just wallow in my pain. I never felt more alive than when I was intimately in touch with the thing that hurt me, that walked every step with me, that never seemed to abate without the blessedness of alcohol roaring in my ears, drowning out my thoughts.

This is how I know that I am an alcoholic and that I will always be one. This is how people who are like me immediately identify with what I’ve written. Booze gives us a religious experience like no other. It puts us in touch with the God within us in no other way because it provides a visceral awareness of our own blood and the mayhem of our lives.

As a recovering alcoholic, I am mindful of the power of these thoughts. I try to refrain from glamorizing that time when I am in AA meetings, because I well remember sitting on a hard metal chair, teeth chattering from anxiety, wishing I could do it any other way.

But nothing else worked, and until I could touch the God within me through grace and mercy, I would recite the words and say the prayers and hope like hell no one talked about how glorious it was to be potted like a plant by means of some chemical.

I go tonight to be with those like me. Many of us are artists, writers, chefs, creators of lovely things, and we are giving of our loveliness to raise money for people who are also trying to do it our way, finding God within themselves. There will be alcohol there. That’s a big puzzle for some.

The truth is, we find that the harder we try to obliterate the fact of alcohol, the more likely we are to drink. I personally have found that shaking hands with my demons and calling them by name is more likely to keep us in a civilized partnership.

And interestingly, in spite of my nostalgia for the past, I have no desire to drink today. The price is simply too high, and the extremes of emotion as consequence of it are exhausting. Most of that deep cold keening has faded and crumbled, and in its place is the quiet knowledge that I know where I’m going, even when I don’t.

trinity

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Sometimes the time just seems magic.

It has been a time of reconnection for me, of quiet conversation over food with this friend and that one, some spent alone in the quiet, clearing away the clutter in my environment and in my head.

I recognized some years ago that my recovery requires three things: prayer, writing and sharing thoughts with another person. This trinity makes itself evident most when I am seeking or providing help in our most practical and pervasive challenge: that of understanding the people around us.

My daughter is on a beautiful beach somewhere in the southern U.S., navigating a romance. One friend is walking her Path with family passed and present. Another friend is sifting through the lingering messages of addiction recovery.

Mulling over the conversations of three days in a row, what stands out is that life is a lovely wilderness with exciting obstacle courses that test our acquired skills and teach us new ones.

For those new to the Path, it is like Marine boot camp. The instructor is harsh and the tasks required of us are strenuous and unfamiliar. What I have learned is that the instructor has one goal in mind: teach us how to survive. The insults and bullying are not personal; they are edifying. The pain sustained will pass if we do not resent it.

For those of us who are challenging the negative inner voice, it is like boarding school. The voices strike at our soft underbelly, the tenderest parts of us. Here we learn to thicken our skin, to run the gantlet that sometimes brutally attempts to distract us from our goal, that of freedom.

For those who are trying to live outside ourselves and our comfort zones, it is marshaling our allies and agreeing to a battle plan: we must march in the same direction. We cannot always be on the front line, and it is important to have comrades who will allow us to fall back and even retreat when we are weary.

This requires trust, a gift from God, I am certain, because mine is in short supply at times. Yet it refills itself from some divine Source that I cannot comprehend.

The lesson I have learned is that I must not punish myself for my mistakes.

In “The Four Agreements,” Don Miguel Ruiz says, “…it is important for you to master your own dream.”

This is the basis for my role as sponsor, medium, channel, friend and partner. Easy to say, hard to do. As always, I depend on grace as my ultimate rescue when I am stuck. But I find I can access grace more abundantly if I pray, write and share.