Saturday, July 16, 2011

Healing the Broken Bits

(There was an article being passed around on Facebook recently, about how children should behave and how parents let their kids run wild. this was also the day of the Casey Anthony verdict: and I don't know exactly why, but it brought back a memory, maybe the idea of children being inconvenient. Don't read this if you're prone to getting triggered, 'cause it ain't pretty.)

I don't remember what she was mad about. I had done something I wasn't supposed to do, again, and I would pay the price. She was so calm when she delivered her punishments: my father would get crazy angry, but her stern steady verdicts were somehow more terrifying.

She told me to put out my hand, flat on the table, so I did. I didn't know what was coming, maybe the flyswatter again, or maybe a slap or two without my hands to involuntarily interfere. But she smashed down on my fingers, hard, with nothing but her closed fist, powered by muscle that had pushed a wheelchair for decades. I started screaming. I couldn't stop. The shock of the pain was breathtaking: nothing else existed right then. She told me to calm down but I couldn't. She finally looked, and her lips pressed together in annoyance. She came back with emery boards and tape, and splinted my two broken fingers. I was quiet by then, shaking and breathing erratically: but I could still hear just fine. She told me that we couldn't run to the doctor for every little foolish thing I did, and told me how I would explain my injuries this time. I absorbed my cover story and nodded numbly. I knew that somehow this was my fault: and the anger that should have been settled into a sick leaden lump in my stomach. I believed everything she told me back then: that I was everything that was wrong in our family, that I was fat and graceless, that it was my job to take care of everyone. I don't believe now, but I remember how it felt. I wanted to earn her love with my silent acceptance of her abuse, by taking her place in ways I never should have so that she would be off the hook, by absorbing all the abuse for myself to protect my brother and sister: but I failed utterly. I wanted to keep them safe. I could not. Of course I couldn't, I was a kid, but I still feel the indescribable weight of my failure. I loved them all so much: and my brother loved me back. Without him, I don't know if I could have survived any of it.

The worst part of those moments was never the physical pain: it was the belief that life was horror, and the knowledge that I was utterly powerless to save any of us. I left home at 16. It has taken me years of wandering through the land of addiction to finally come to the other side and put the horror to bed. It does not control my life anymore, because I have the power today that I didn't have then. I no longer expect bad things to happen. I have discover a sense of outrage that was lost to me for so many years.

...but the weight of my past, the sorrow, the fact that I couldn't protect them, and most of all the hunger to be loved - these things persist. Healing is a slow and painful process. With every tear I shed, I get a little more free. With every memory I share, I am less ashamed. And with every bit of love that comes my way, I am healed. It feels like having my heart pried open with a crowbar: but I am finally learning how to let people love me. And I am grateful for every kind word, every gesture of affection, every little bit. I know how to treasure it. That is my silver lining: I never take it for granted. Not any of it.

Friday, April 22, 2011

The Smell

I remember the day I came from from school and noticed, for the first time, the smell of the house we lived in. It wasn't the cigarette smoke that caught my attention, nor the smell of last night's dinner, or too many bodies in a space where no one was allowed to open windows: it was another smell, something that made me feel sick. I finally found it by the baseboards near the kitchen trash. Rotting food lined the floor, a gooey pile of ick that stretched over a foot along the wall and onto the floor. I wrestled my rising gorge back down and cleaned it up: and that small spot suddenly glowed bright against the other old, gray filth ground into the cracked linoleum. Thus I began to learn how to clean. And on the strength of my effort a small dent was slowly made in the indifferent filth we lived in: but it was never enough. I could not fix the screen door, or encourage my father to put his teeth in or his pants on: he sat in his ripped t-shirt and boxers, scratching himself and smoking into the night. I did not invite my friends over.

But life found me anyway, and life is not always a gentle teacher. It was the other children who noticed this smell, my smell, and laughed at me behind my back: I had no idea. How could I? Who the hell was going to teach me that I needed to bathe more than once every week or two? I must have been 11 or 12, just before puberty, and I finally heard what the girl said to her friend: her hair is so oily it looks like it's wet. I realized with sudden hot shame that they were talking about me.

I went to the library and checked out books about personal hygiene. They were books for young children: no one wrote books for girls my age explaining how to bathe: it was assumed that someone would have taught me that. I read them and told my mother I wanted to take a shower every day. She laughed tersely and told me it would cost too much money for me to use all that extra hot water. I finally offered to pay her with my babysitting money, and we struck a deal. I was allowed to get clean, within limitations. And those girls at school stopped laughing at me, although I would clearly never be one of them. They couldn't see that I wasn't a freak, or disgusting, or societally retarded. They came from homes with clean sheets and bedtime snacks and a sure knowledge that someone would kiss their booboos. Just as their world was beyond my comprehension, so mine was beyond theirs: but theirs was a world I could see, whereas mine, mine was hidden. I kept the secrets. Who would have believed me, anyway?

My son complained about the requirement of daily showers when he was younger: he called me "anal". When his socks had holes, I threw them away and bought new.He never dressed out for gym class in old grayed hand-me-down underwear, and I didn't make him pay cash for the privilege of washing his sheets. I hope that he will never know what it is like, to be treated with such casual cruelty, such coldness. And I wonder if the pain of being so unloved will ever really go away.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Dream

I can date the memory by the house we were living in: I was 10. I woke up from a nightmare, a recurring theme of being kidnapped in view of my mother and of her turning her back, tight-lipped, not wanting to see. But when I awoke from this particular dream I just could not shake the horror. I surrounded myself with stuffed animals, listened to my sister breathing peacefully in the next bed, said my prayers like a good Catholic girl: but the fear kept pounding through me. I just didn't know what to do. I finally got up and went to my mother's room.

My father could sleep through a tornado, but my mother was a very light sleeper, so I stood in the doorway of their room and whispered, Mom. She instantly raised her head and said, what's wrong? I explained that I didn't know what to do to shake off the nightmare so I could go back to sleep, that I had tried and that it just wouldn't stop. She sat up and patted the bed in front of her, and said, come here.

My stomach sank. I knew she would slap me for waking her over something so trivial, and that she wanted me to get closer so that she didn't have to lunge for me: if her legs had not been paralyzed by polio, she probably would have stood, but she could not and so she relied on our obedience. There was nowhere to run that wouldn't make it worse anyway: better to just get it over with. I closed half the distance between us and stopped, hopefully, but she patted the bed again. Come HERE, she whispered loudly.

I sat down in the spot she had indicated, shoulders tensed and eyes down, waiting. Then she did something I have never forgotten: she put her arms around me, and held me.

She had not done that since before I could remember. I was overwhelmed. The only way she had touched me for years was to smack me. I still hugged my brother, who was young enough to hug me back: but no one had touched me like this for years. Everything in me relaxed. It was such a powerful magic.

She stopped after about 30 seconds, and asked if it was better. And it was. The fear that had shaken me for the better part of an hour was gone without a trace, and I felt the most lovely peace flowing all through my veins. I said yes, and thank you, and went back to bed: but I couldn't sleep for a while. The feeling of being held like that had been unbearably sweet, and I was drunk on it, unwilling to let it go until sleep finally took me anyway. 37 years later, I still remember what a miracle that moment was to me: and it breaks my heart that my childhood was so impoverished of even the simplest affection. I know she loved me as much as she could, that she just wasn't capable of more: but Mom, it was not enough! I am still so hungry after all these years: and the mark of it will always be with me, every day, every day.

(My son is 16. He casually puts his feet in my lap when we watch TV, and I rub them: I hug him often, and he still hugs back, even in front of his friends. He will never know this particular sorrow. He will never wonder if he was loved.)

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

RIP Mary

I want to write about a woman I met the first time I was in jail. I was inside twice, neither time for a lengthy sentence: but the experience was profound in ways you might not imagine. I could write about facing down the head Latina King there, Ray-Ray: about how she stepped to me, and how I stood up to her with a firm dignity that I didn't know I had in me: about how she attempted to avenge herself on me, and how it backfired on her: I get a chuckle out of that one still. Ray-Ray was a thug, and one of the women who belonged there. She is probably still there.

But most of us didn't belong there. I picked up two misdemeanor charges at the age of 43. I had never been in trouble before outside of high school detention: I was new to the justice system, and believed that the guys in the white hats were mostly honest and fair. I was wrong. I was put on probation for my offenses, and was incarcerated both times for going to my probation officer in tears and admitting that I had used drugs again. Upon hearing my story, the other inmates assured me that I was criminally stupid, and they were right. I was told to ask for their help: instead I received their punishment. I was so, so naive. I watched these officers of the law blatantly lie in court, and I was stunned. I learned that justice and the law are not always related.

The first time I was in jail, I was terrified. I kept my mouth shut and my head up: I stayed to myself, nodded at people here and there, and took my time letting everyone size me up. It was hard to have no money when everyone brought out their commissary goods, candy and chips and coffee: I was starving, having gone days smoking rock instead of eating, and they don't feed you much there. But I knew better than to ask, because showing weakness is not a good plan. That much I knew. I knew not to admit that I had a suicide plan in place: their treatment would have been to put me in a straitjacket, diaper me, and put me in isolation. Think I'm joking? I saw it happen. I learned. I saw a woman have a series of mini-strokes: they put her in isolation, where we could not help her. When I left a month later, she had still not seen a doctor. Need to take a leak? Too bad. You can wait until the guard feels like getting up, and begging won't help. You are nothing in jail. You have no rights other than what they choose to give you.

There are so many other horrors I could delineate, but I want to talk about one of the women I met there. She was one of the women who taught me what it means to be a hero. Her name was Mary. She walked the pod like I did, round and round until it was time to lock down, or eat: killing time. She was in jail for taking her son to Burger King, with her ex's permission: he called the police and she was charged with kidnapping. She had a record of small drug offenses, so she was locked up with no bail. She was looking at spending the rest of her life in prison for nothing. NOTHING. She had spent her childhood being abused and gone on to make a series of remarkably bad choices in men. She had used drugs to alleviate the horror: she tried to get help, but there isn't much out there, and that's no excuse, that's the truth in the state of Massachusetts. As a crack addict, she was not eligible for detox: there are no rehabs available for less than an initial investment of $8000: and a mental hospital will not keep you for more than a week or so, even if you beg. So there she was, looking at life without: she had just been officially charged. It's fair to say that she was a little upset.

She and I were both walking our circles, as I said, and in time our circles synced up. And you know what she did with her fear and her pain, this woman? She asked me how I was doing. She was kind. She listened, and encouraged me to talk about me: she gave me some advice: but most of all, she just cared. I was amazed. In this descent into hell, I knew I was witnessing greatness. She gave me back my hope. And she showed me who I wanted to be when I grew up. She was my angel that day.

Mary died not long ago. She was 2 years older than me. This is when I start wondering, why me? Why not her? I have no answer. All I know is, she taught me something: I learned that love happens in the giving, not the taking. RIP Mary. You gave me the gift of hope when it seemed you had nothing to give, and I hold that hope to this day. I will never forget you.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Destiny's Cousin (or, how I learned to cry)

"It is such a secret place, the land of tears." - Antoine De Saint-Exupery

In my family, there was just no room for the children to have feelings: our tears were an unbearable accusation, and we were punished for causing pain. "Go to your room, no one wants to see you like that" was on a good day: mostly the punishment for crying was physical. I learned to cry without making any noise: and then I learned not to cry at all. It was a hard lesson to learn: the blows of his belt and his fists tattooed it into my bones. It became part of who I was. Life without tears was also life without joy: it was like living in a mausoleum. I didn't think about it, because I never imagined that it could be different.

I began to think about it after my son was born. When I was telling him that it was okay to cry, it dawned on me that he would learn more from my actions than my words: and I did not want to pass on this terrible lesson. I didn't know where to start, but I finally realized that if I didn't seek some kind of recovery from my past, then with all the best intentions in the world I would still pass on my damage. That horrified me. I became willing to wade back into the pain and seek healing. I started going to counseling.

When my son was 3, I got clean and sober for the first time. I had been addicted to prescription drugs. It took about 3 months before the shaking stopped enough that I could write my name legibly, and that's when I got my very first sober job. I had sober days here and there at other jobs, but not too many, so this was new territory. Hell, everything was new territory then, raw and terrifying and wondrous. It was like taking a hit of life every day: I never knew where it would take me, but I was beginning to believe that I would find my way.

I took a job as a cashier at a local grocery store, and to my amazement, I was good at it. I liked dealing with people: I had a facility for easing the temper of the worst customer. Even if all I could give was a smile and a moment of kindness, I was grateful to have anything to give back to life, anything at all. I was so wide open then. I had no defense any more against feelings: letting go of drugs initially left me with no walls at all. I surrounded myself with positive thoughts and positive people as a protection. But then it happened: life came calling.

There they were, the three of them: a girl of about 8, a defiantly shirtless man and an old woman with no teeth. The closer they got to the front of my line, the tenser I got: I could how they spoke to the girl, the casual cruelty, and I could not shut it out. It was finally their turn. All I could do was look at her and smile. I wanted her to know that I SAW her. She held out a plastic cup for me to ring up, and said, "It's for Destiny. She's my cousin."

The grandmother whacked the girl's arm and said, "She's nothing to you!" and immediately returned her attention to the young man as he scowled at the girl. Then they both turned their attention back to their private war with each other. I kept smiling at the girl. She stared at me, and it started: big tears rolling down her face, but no sound at all: she was crying without making any noise. I had no more power to save her than I had had to save myself, all those years ago. I remember that I started shaking: I rang them up as fast as I could, hurried through the rest of my customers, and left to go on break.

I went back to the employee bathroom and fell to my knees. I tried to pray but all I could say was, why? Why did You make me see this when I can't help her? I began to beat a slow rhythm on the wall with my closed fist, the bass line to an unbearable pain. Tears squeezed through the sides of my clenched eyes. It took a while to compose myself, but I had to go back to work, so I did. I felt sick and hollow. I could not find my way back to anything that felt like home inside of my own skin. I finished my shift quietly, and walked home.

I was halfway home when it dawned on me: she had given me back my tears. I had to stop and lean against a tree. I wept again, for joy: I knew then. I knew that she had been sent to me. And because she had taught me how to cry again, maybe my son wouldn't have to learn. There was hope of healing after all, even for me.

I have never forgotten her. I never will.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Learning His Language

(I remember once when my brother was 3, he wiped out on his Big Wheel at the end of our driveway, and ended up with gravel pushed deep into his gums. It was bad, bad enough to go to the doctor, which was only for emergencies: one of the many costs of poverty. Of course my brother started crying. And my father was furious with him for crying, spitting cussing scary-mad: he would have swung if I wasn't standing in front of him. I mention this so you can understand some of how we learned not to cry. The tears got beat and scared clean out of us: but they never go away until you can finally cry them. I know that now.)

I think my brother Charlie must have been 6 when this happened, which means I was 12. We were back in my room talking: it was after dinner, all our chores were done, and we were leaning peacefully against each other and wandering through ideas. Charlie suddenly stiffened up, and I felt him clamp down hard on his emotions, clamp down iron-hard and belly-tight. I said, what's wrong? He shook his head, still struggling to master himself. I felt a terrible fear rise in me: see, I KNEW what was happening, and I didn't want him to learn that. I don't know what I thought I could teach him, since I didn't know how to cry anymore either, but I could see the scars as they were being laid on his soul and I wanted to fight against it somehow. I tried to tell him that it was safe to cry in front of me and that no one would ever know: but he understood better than I did, that to give in at all was to risk losing control later, and losing control could lead to one of those beatings where you wondered if he would kill you, this time. I finally stopped trying to help and let him compose himself: but the mood was lost, and he went to bed then, alone with his darkness.

My father was in his bedroom, and I marched in, quivering with fury. I tried to explain, what it was doing to this brother I loved, to be poisoned by his unshed tears. My father thought about it, and he started telling me a story.

When my father was young, he was very smart, and he was moved up a few grades. Teachers loved him, which did not endear him to his fellow classmates, who were much larger than him. There he was, this smart skinny kid with the ears that stuck out,: a fierce sharp boy who knew the sting of every lash you can imagine, and who had the crazy quiet defiance that enabled him to survive his own schizophrenic father. In Texas, football is compulsory: even the girls play it. So my father's classmates took their revenge on the football field. There was a move called the nutcracker, which is what it sounds like, y'all: standing at the front of the line, facing your opponent, when that whistle blows you raise your locked hands together and smash the testicles of the boy in front of you.

How was he going to fight back against that? Tell the teacher - not fucking likely. Physically he was more than outmatched. So he came up with a plan. He learned to look them right in the eye while he was waiting for that whistle, and when they swung, he smiled. HE SMILED. I cannot imagine the effort of will that took, but it was the only way he had left to hang onto his dignity. And it worked. As  matter of fact, he scared the crap out of them, and they left him alone after the first few times. He learned that swallowing his pain, never showing any weakness, was what allowed you to retain your place in life, maybe even your soul.

When he told me that last part, he had a strange gleam in his eye, a look I had never seen. He was still lost in that horrible past, recalling a moment of victory: he was smiling to himself. He had forgotten that I was there. I finally understood that he had been trying to save us somehow, teaching us the only lessons that he knew. My stomach twisted in pity and sorrow for this man with the big ears whose only defense against pain was to fight. I knew he would never escape his past: it would haunt him every day of his life, and he would never know it. But I also knew then that he loved us, no matter how twisted it was: and that knowledge opened a new world to me. It had never once occurred to me that he loved us. It was tragic, yes, but love is beautiful for all that. I cherish that memory: I have so few clues left, to know that I was loved.

But it matters. I am glad to have these clues. Love is love. And he loved me.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

The Beginning

***I have already posted this elsewhere, but it belongs here, so here goes,***

My father’s mother was suspected of poisoning two of her seven husbands. I never met any of them: my grandfather, her first husband, died before I was born. Most of them did. My last grandfather was still alive when I was young, but we were not allowed to meet him because he was a convicted child molester. In the brief times that my grandmother lived with us, she would get collect calls from him: he was in jail at the time.

My grandmother was one of the most twisted people I ever knew. She mainly lived with my uncle and his family. He had married a Japanese woman, and my grandmother openly taunted their children for being “half-breeds”. My aunt came from a culture that bound her to an absolute respect for her mother-in-law, even at the expense of her children. My mother was, as my grandmother said, a crippled Catholic Yankee, and as such she had no such compunction. She was as polite as she had to be, and no more: but her nicest words were still spoken through thinned lips.

My grandmother hated me because I was named after her replacement, my step-grandma. I didn’t care that she hated me, and her comments about my lack of looks or grace or charm all missed their mark. I hated her, too, for making fun of my mother and the cousins I loved so much…but most of all, I hated her for what she did to my father. He changed so much when she was around. In real life, he was loud, charismatic, sarcastic, and you never knew what would send him over the edge to crazy angry: crazy angry was when you didn’t really know if the beating would end with your death, this time. I cannot describe the belly-deep fear of those moments. But when she was around, he was so small, so contained, so quiet: tightly polite, coiled and careful. And even though his temper remained in abeyance in her presence, it was like watching him die. I loved my father. I was too young to know or even guess the history behind his changed demeanor, but I knew deep in my stomach that she had done him a great evil. I was glad when she left and my crazy father came back. I understood even then that his demons were beyond his control, and that he was in tremendous pain. What is there to say? My heart ached with compassion and sorrow. I loved my father.

And the love is what made it all so hard.


I saw my mother cry one time. One time. She did other things: I would find her bent over, holding her stomach, eyes closed and rocking: but her eyes were dry and hard as old bone. She just couldn’t, wouldn’t, let go. She’s dead now, and I’ll never know why: maybe she couldn’t have told me anyway. Why is it so hard for me to cry? Maybe she learned it, just like me.
My sister and I were outside, playing in the snow. I was 4 or 5: I can date the memory because I remember the house. We lived there until I was 5. It was the longest we ever stayed in one place. It was also the only house we ever owned, although that didn’t matter until much later. I remember the cold of the hardwood floors on my feet in the morning, and how they looked with sunshine on them, the jeweled tones of red oak. My mother was in a wheelchair from the time she was 16, and the ramp hadn’t been shoveled, so she couldn’t go out with us: but she sent us out to play, to get some air, every day. We were good girls, obedient girls, and we lived in a rural area, so we were safe. We had a lot of space to run and scamper and wear ourselves out.

I don’t remember what we were doing: but the noise, I remember the noise. My mother howled. It stood the hair up on the back of my neck. I ran for the house, terrified, my little sister close on my heels. My mother was wheeling at top speed towards the front door: and just as I got there, she slammed it shut and locked it. I saw her face for just a moment, twisted and red and teary. I stood there listening to her animal howls of misery through the door and I could do nothing. I was in shock for a minute or so, and then I began hammering at the door, begging her to let us in. I wanted to stroke her head, to comfort her, to know that she was okay, and I didn’t know what to make of being shut out that way. She opened the door maybe 5 minutes later, tightly composed as always: she wore her habitual mask of anger over the sorrow. She would not tell me what was wrong or what had happened. We were to go on with our day and erase the moment from our memory, as she apparently had. But I could not. I still can’t. I loved her and my whole body ached to be with her in her moment of grief, but she had literally slammed the door in my face: and I stood in the fading winter light of late afternoon, and listened, stricken with my helplessness. I had never seen her cry before. And I never saw her cry again.

I asked her about that day much later, when I was grown and with a child of my own. What she said is that she didn’t want to frighten us by her lack of control. It was the first time the police had called her, to ask whether my father should be brought home or kept in jail overnight. She had been overwhelmed with fear and anger, a crippled woman with two small girls, alone in the farm country of Ohio, with only a drunk to help her and hold her up in the eyes of her family. That day, she told them to bring him home. And she began to toy with the idea of suicide.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

You Always Hit The One You Love

 Being the oldest child of an alcoholic father and a suicidal, wheelchair-bound mother left me feeling responsible for things that were well beyond my years. Most of all, I felt that I was responsible for protecting all of us from my father. No one else was going to step in, and somebody needed to, so I did what I could. I failed more than I succeeded, and I struggled for years with the guilt. The guilt is gone, but I still go batshit crazy when someone I love is being wronged. If the wrong is being done to an animal or a child, I don't have to know them to stick my nose in. Maybe I should mind my own business more: but the times that people stuck up for me are etched indelibly in my heart.

I remember the first time I swung at my dad. I know it was evening because my brother Charlie was in his pajamas. Charlie was 3 then, so I was probably 10. I don't remember exactly what Charlie said, something silly that made me laugh: it wasn't obscene or disrespectful or anything like that, but my father misheard it and it pissed him right the fuck off. Dad came out of his chair and went for Charlie as though he was a full-grown man. I sat rooted to my seat, so choked with terror that it felt like I couldn't breathe. And then, as my father drew his fist back, my brother screamed my name. MY name. In a split second my fear had vanished, to be replaced by a cold hard rage. My father punched Charlie as I grabbed a lamp off the table. I hit him with it as hard as I could, which must have been hard enough because the lamp broke. THAT got his attention. Time slowed down as my father turned towards me, and the fear returned, but it didn't paralyze me. I yelled at my brother to go to bed, and then I faced off with the old man. I can't quote what I said but among other things I told him to grow up in a hard-driven avalanche of words. When I stopped he halfheartedly growled something at me and he left. I followed him into the hall, to make sure he wasn't going to my brother's room, but to my amazement he went to bed. I stood quivering in the hall until I could catch my breath, and then I cleaned up the shards of broken lamp. I knew that I would pay for my actions soon enough, but in that moment I wasn't afraid. Lack of fear was a profound thing: in his presence I was always afraid. But not then.

I remember the last time my dad swung at me. I was 14, and quite drunk: I had discovered liquor at 13, and I used that fabulous anesthetic as often as I possibly could. I was tanked that night, I remember that much. I don't remember what started it, but he said, you may be too old to be spanked, but you aren't to old to be hit. I stood up and challenged him with drunken bravado. We went out into the attached garage. He swung. He connected. He was stronger than I realized: I hit the concrete floor and tried to remember how to get back up. I was pretty dazed. While I was struggling to stand, he walked back into the house and shut the door: and he turned off the light. I laid back down on the concrete and stared at the ceiling. No one was going to check on me. No one was going to save me. There was no mercy for me. It was after that night that I began to write the number of days I had left before I could legally leave at the age of 17, wrote that number on my hand every day for years. I will never forgot how alone I felt that night: but I survived long enough to get the hell out. I was 16 when I moved out, but in some ways I am still there, locked in sorrow and regret that I struggle to get free of daily. It is all still with me, and I wish I knew how to let go.

I remember the last time I laid hands on my father. He was in a bed in a hospice facility, dying of cancer, and he had entered the terminal agitation phase. He kept trying to get out of bed, not realizing he would collapse: his brain was telling him that he needed to go somewhere, but the journey in front of him was not physical. He was just trying to find his way out. I kept having to gently push him back down into bed. He grew more and more determined: I had to push harder and harder. I finally called the nurses, because I could not stand to push against his shrunken chest and tell him "no" when he could not understand what I was doing. He was so small in that bed, but still strong and most of all hard-headed: I could not fight this sad dying old man anymore. I called the nurses over and over to help me, and they were so kind. When he was rational, I talked to him, and I rode out the rest of it: I wanted to finally be a good daughter to him. And in the end, I was. I helped to care for him for the last month and a half of his life, and I was there sitting next to him when he died. I had never dreamed that forgiveness was possible: but the hate started to destroy me, and I wanted to get free. I no longer hate, but I'm still so sad, so sad for all of us. My life now has much love in it, and for all my mistakes, my son has never had to wonder if he was loved. The fact that I can walk in love at all, is the greatest triumph of my life. I have a long way to go, but I am on the good red road. And I thank you for sharing my journey.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

An Evening To Remember

The first time I smoked crack was December 30, 2004. I had struggled with alcoholism and addiction to prescription pain pills from the time I was 13, but these addictions were relatively genteel in comparison. No doctor was going to take my money, stab me, and run. All of the values that I had been taught, and that I believed in spite of my behavior, were actually a handicap in the world of hard drugs. Lying. cheating and stealing were only judged by their success: if you succeeded in getting over on someone, by any means, you earned respect for that. I was so ill-fitted for that world...a codependent crackhead, what a combo. I shared with people. I gave my dealer a birthday card. I was an anomaly in that world, and although the years I spent there eroded my scruples greatly, I clung to every scrap of honor that I could.

I will never forget that first time. For my first year and a half of sobriety, what was happening in front of me was a pale imitation of my memories of smoking rock: it's as though crack wrote on my memory in darker ink than anything else ever had. Coke itself didn't do that, but crack did. At this point in my life, what's happening in front of me is more real than anything: I am able to live fully in the moment, but it took a long time to relearn that. But that first time, I can't even describe. It was like life itself became this amazing comic book, everything was awesome, and I was a hero with boundless power and possibilities. It was more than that but I don't have the words. I smoked out for 3 days and it scared the crap out of me. I didn't touch it again for 8 months. But when I touched it again, it got me. It got me.

I wanted to write about one evening of those 2 years in hell, because that night sums it all up pretty well. I thought I could take the edge off of the hunger by smoking just a little weed. Two hits, that's it. And something happened: I ignited the phenomenon of craving, and I was utterly powerless to fight the craving. I have been physically and mentally addicted to everything but meth in my 30 years of getting loaded, but crack was different. The anxiety that went with the craving was like getting stabbed in the gut with a dull knife. It would double me over. There were times I would ride the craving out: I would just cry and cry because it was so fucking awful. But I usually didn't win the fight. That evening, I went out and made my purchase. Once I started, there was no stopping until I was out of options, and that took a while because I was pretty creative. At any rate, I kept going back, getting another $100 and going back, wanting it to be the last time every time - but when my supply started running low, the panic and the craving would hit and there I would go. Again.

This run happened a little before midnight. Candy's house was a rough place, but it was the only game in town at that moment, so I went there. While I was waiting for the negotiations to be completed, someone came in with a gun. Their beef was with her, not me, but I was there, wrong place, wrong time...I don't remember what I said, probably that I'd be leaving now, and he pointed the gun at me and told me to sit down and shut up. And I did, but not for the reason you're thinking. I had no fear of him. I went into dangerous situations with violent people on a regular basis, and I was never afraid of being hurt. The truth was that I didn't give a rat's ass if he shot me. I remember how empty I felt when he pointed that gun at me: there was nothing left inside of me except the hunger. Nothing. The only thing I was afraid of was that I wouldn't get my shit. THAT was horror. Nothing else mattered.

He left shortly afterwards. I got my shit. And an hour or two later, when I needed again, I went back to her place with no hesitation, no second thought. A man threatening me with a gun was simply a complication and an annoying delay, nothing more.

It is hard for me to imagine this now: my life is as peaceful as I can make it, and I learn more every day about how to live a more serene, spiritual and centered life. There is a song of me now: there was no song then. I was locked inside of a room that was barren except for the horror of knowing what I had become. Nothing could free me. And now, my world is full of color and light, love and other confusing emotions, and a hunger to find and fulfill my destiny, whatever that may be.

Hunger. I have been returned to the land of hunger. I was so thin back then: I am a size 12 now. I have learned to want for myself. I have found the courage to have dreams, and I am beginning to believe that if I work for them, they can come true. I hunger to share my heart with those who are still wandering: I am now one of the women who helps to bring the light. And I am writing this because I am no longer afraid of being known. I want to share who I am. Some people will not like me. The people I am supposed to have with me will still be with me, consoling and laughing as we stumble merrily along.

I am not always grateful, to have been returned to this land of hunger. I have big love, big anger, big hurt, and a lack of perspective when it comes to this life shit. I am learning. I am learning to forgive my own humanity, and in doing so I am learning to see the divine spark in you, too. You are all teaching me every day, and my gratitude is boundless. Again, thank you for listening: thank you for sharing this path with me.

January 30, 2011

    Getting sober was like being returned to the land of hunger in so many ways: I began to want things for myself, and I felt so utterly incompetent at life. 3 years later, what has changed? The man I lived with for 2 years dumped me because he doesn't like my son, and I have moved twice in the last two months. Both moves were bad ideas. I am currently homeless, although I have a place to stay and all that: and next week I will be moving in to the top floor of a friend's house until I can again save up enough money to get my own place. My life has been shaken up financially, romantically, physically and emotionally.

I also struggle with chronic physical illness which is unlikely to ever improve, but which is somewhat manageable: I live with a lot of chronic pain, and due to the fact that I'm a recovering addict, I am restricted  in what medications I can safely take. The good drugs are pretty much out of the question for me, other than for surgeries and such.

It seems I should be a lot further along than this. I don't look good on paper, that's for sure. But it's funny: I am more at peace in the middle of this uncertainty than I have been for a long, long time. I KNOW that everything will be fine. I don't believe that God brought me this far to dump me on my head now. I have also become the person I am today as a result of the circumstances I have lived through. Life has transformed me into this woman I am today, and I mostly like her.

I believe that we are here to listen to each other, and to be changed by listening to each other. What I want most in this world is to hear other people's stories. I want to moved by you. I want to hear your truth. And maybe after all this time, I want to speak my own truth. Maybe I have something to say that will move you, that will open your mind or your heart...I want to tell my stories somewhere, and I guess it starts here. Thank you for listening.