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Addiction

Addiction, Guest Posts

Bottomless

June 5, 2017
drugs

By Sailor Holladay

One of the hardest things I’ve done is high school step aerobics on mushrooms. Where was the sweat coming from, my body, my mouth or somewhere else?

I didn’t know how to come to school not high. The piece of land I lived on, strewn with busses, trailers, and porto-o-potties, was a place for holding rock concerts and outdoor raves, not for supporting me or the other kids living there in succeeding at school. The Valley was full of children doing whippets inside of tents that had lost their poles and men around campfires peaking on LSD while wearing sleeping bags as pants. There was no homework help. Instead we mixed solids and liquids and tried to feel something.
As a kid I was afraid all of the time. Some of the time it was that fear that pulses inside your butt, but most of the time it was the fear of getting caught even if I wasn’t doing anything worth catching. Drugs numb that fear, but then give you a legitimate reason to worry about getting caught.

Going to school and caring about it made my life harder at home. Whenever I tried to tell my parents new found information like grass was green and the sky was blue, they looked at me through the pot smoke with a blank stare, “Everybody knows the grass is blue and the sky is green, Sailor.” The rage that filled me got me out of there, if only physically. Continue Reading…

Addiction, Guest Posts

Angel in the Addict

March 19, 2017
angel

By Jacqueline Evans

I met my first angel in rehab, and she appeared in the form of a heroin addict named Joanie.

She introduced herself to me while I was sitting on the back porch of a brand new women’s sober living facility, searching for my cigarettes in a tattered Jansport backpack filled with dirty clothes. At the time, it was the only possession to my name.

I was 21 and strung out on meth and alcohol and my parents had somehow managed to negotiate with me, the terrorist in their lives, and get me to agree to enter rehab. At 6 feet tall I weighed a little less than 100 pounds. My hair was stringy and falling out, my face was covered in acne, my eyes vacant and lifeless. Addiction appeared to have robbed me of everything, including the ability to love and be loved.

As I rifled through my backpack on that porch, my hand brushed against a familiar plastic baggie. My heart raced, and I looked around to see if anyone was watching as I pulled out an old and previously forgotten bag of weed from the zippered front pocket. I needed relief from the pounding in my head and the fear in my blood, and this was just what I was looking for. I felt the familiar excitement, mixed with something else. A little doubt? Maybe.

I quietly wrestled with my demons while turning the worn plastic baggie over and over in my fingers.

Then a voice came from a figure hunched over at the top of the steps. The sound was coarse and cool, yet still held the softness of a female tone.

“You need to get rid of it or its going to call to you, and you know you won’t be able to stop.”

I turned, startled and surprised that I hadn’t noticed anyone sitting there before. I quickly shoved the weed back into my bag, and casually lit my cigarette.

“Hey.” I said, trying to stay cool even though I was l convinced I had just been busted by a staff member.

I glanced in the direction of the voice, catching a brief sight of its owner. I guessed that she was probably in her mid-fifties, and her face wore the familiar pattern of the many sleepless nights harrowing stories and hardened truths so many of us from the streets can recognize in each other right away.

“Hey back.” She answered quickly. Then she looked me right in the eye.

“You need to get rid of that stuff. If you keep it, it’s going to call to you and then you are going to use it. If you want, we can have a funeral for it in the bathroom and flush it down the toilet. Lets go.”

These words, spoken out loud by an unknown woman and left hanging between us in the still afternoon air, were saturated with the most truth I had heard in a while. They hit me hard. They destroyed all my rationalizations and great ideas about how good it might feel to find quick relief in that plastic bag. I knew I was fucked if I gave in to the drugs one more time.

For reasons I have never been able to explain, I got up and followed this small woman with the hunched shoulders and long greying hair to the tiny bathroom on the first floor of a new house, and flushed the only thing that had ever kept me sane down the toilet. There was no eulogy or flowers, and the finality of it was brutal.

“There,” she said, matter-of-factly, “Its done. Want to go to a meeting with me?”

Before I even had time to mourn the loss of my weed, I again I found myself following my mysterious new roommate to a place I didn’t want to go, simply because with her it felt like there wasn’t any other option. She told me her name was Joanie.

It wasn’t long before Joanie and I went everywhere together, and I moved my belongings into her room in the house and slept in the extra bunk next to hers. I learned that she had been a hope-to-die heroin addict for many years, and like me her odds of survival had been pretty slim. I felt safe with her, and she had a calming effect on me that no one else seemed able to harness. In my unsure world, Joanie became my sanctuary.

I loved going on outings with her, and small everyday activities always seemed more important because of the way Joanie experienced life. If she saw something like fresh flowers displayed at a local farmer’s market, she would demand that we stop to look at and smell every bunch.

“Wooowww,” she would say,  barely above a whisper, as though she didn’t want to shatter the perfection of what she was experiencing with the full volume of her voice. Sometimes it would be followed with, “Aren’t we so lucky?” At the time I didn’t get it. Did I feel “lucky” to be staring at a bunch of flowers at a tiny Farmer’s market in Old Town Torrance? Not really. But watching the little things in life take her breath away was what made hanging out with Joanie so incredible. So I always went with it.

One night we went to a sober dance at an old and run down Alano club and I swear it was the best night of Joanie’s life. She danced with everyone, all night long, with the hugest smile on her face. She appeared to be young again, and I had never seen her happier. When I asked her what was so great about it, she told me she had never gone to dances in high school because she was too busy getting high. This life was her second chance.

“Now I can really dance,” she proclaimed. “Now I am free!”

I began to notice how Joanie embraced everyone without judgement or fear. She would walk into any 12 step meeting in some of the worst areas of Los Angeles and be greeted with a warm hug by the toughest looking addicts in the room. Those that appeared the most menacing were immediately disarmed by her smile, and few were able to resist smiling right back at her. When I was angry at someone (living in a sober house with 14 other women made this almost impossible to avoid), she would always remind me to love them anyway because everyone deserved love, including me. Little by little the walls I had constructed against this idea, walls I didn’t even know existed, began to give way under the strength of Joanie’s love, compassion, and tolerance. Behind these walls is where my whole heart existed.

Joanie took me with her to a large 12 step convention, and at the end of the closing meeting, we stood up and held hands with about 1500 sober alcoholics and drug addicts to say the serenity prayer. The prayer began with its usual, “God, grant me the serenity…” and I felt something rise in my chest along with the sound of everyone’s voice saying the prayer in unison. I opened my eyes to look around the room, and the sight of everyone praying together like that made me shed the most genuine tears I had in a long time. I felt Joanie squeeze my hand, and I looked over to find her looking right at me. Her eyes were shining bright with the knowledge that we were feeling the same thing, and suddenly I got it. Every one of us in that room should have been wiped out by addiction at some point or another. Instead we had survived the impossible and we were really living for the first time ever.

That’s when Joanie’s infectious enthusiasm for life spread right through me and in that moment, all of her love and gratitude and lessons cracked my heart wide open. I finally realized why she had spoken up that day on the porch about the weed. She hadn’t wanted me to miss this. She had wanted me to live.

After 90 days in the program I left and moved in with my dad. Shortly after I moved in with him I began drinking again. I felt I was too young to be sober, and I was determined to drink like a “normal” person. I tried to put my rehab experience behind me, but I began drinking alcoholically almost immediately. Joanie and I spoke on the phone a few times and she expressed concern for my lifestyle, which I dismissed as her being overprotective. Eventually, we lost touch.

One year later I learned that Joanie was found dead in a bush from an overdose.

I was devastated, and that night I got piss drunk and screamed and cried about the unfairness of it all. While I slept the ghost of her beautiful voice played over and over again in my dreams, and even the next day I couldn’t forget it.

“Now I can dance, now I am free!”

I didn’t get many details of her death, but for addicts and an alcoholics like us the story was all too familiar; Somewhere along the road Joanie’s demons had called to her, and she had simply given up doing the work it takes to defeat the urge to answer them.

It was 5 years before I finally found recovery again. Today, at nearly 9 years sober, I have a better understanding of what it means to really live free from alcohol and drugs day by day, craving by craving, amongst massive amounts of temptation and fear. Because of Joanie I also know that it is imperative that I do something every day towards my recovery to quiet the voice of addiction that whispers in the background of my big, beautiful sober life.

I sometimes still get angry and sad about the loss of Joanie, and the way that she left this earth. It seems unfair to me that the beautiful soul who carried me through the darkness with her light had to die such an ugly death. I find a little peace in the idea that maybe some people come into our world for brief periods of time in order to give us the transformative lessons that shape the rest of our lives. I think that Joanie really was an angel, sent here to show those who knew her what life is really all about. There has not been one moment in my own life where I have not felt her with me.

I don’t know what purpose writing about Joanie will serve, aside from a selfish need to get the experience in print, to immortalize someone who I sometimes feel is slipping from my memory like even the most important things often do with the inevitable vaporization of time.

I guess the point is that I knew her in the first place. She gave me something that can’t easily be erased, a quality of life that I never forget to try to pass on to someone else. Because of her I often find myself filled with an overwhelming sense of gratitude for what can only be seen as my second chance at life.

She showed me how to stop and smell all the good things, and how to disarm the bad things with a beautiful smile. She showed me how to live sober. She taught me how to love everything. The point is that I wish you would have known her too.

Knowing her made me so lucky.

Jacqueline Evans is a writer, seeker, and sober observer of life living in Hermosa Beach, CA.

 

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Addiction, Guest Posts, No Bullshit Motherhood, Surviving

To The Girl Whose Mom Just Died From Drugs: It’s Not Your Fault

January 11, 2017
drugs

By Lisa Fogarty

Before you watched her unravel, bit by bit for all 17 years you’ve been on Earth; before she pulled the plugs on people and places until there was just an empty room and her in it; and long before she died from the complications of a debilitating drug addiction, your mother was a little girl with skinny legs and a laugh like a solar eclipse.

We were friends, but more like cousins. She’d sit on her twin bed cross-legged and stare into my eyes with feline expectation. She wasn’t another aloof victim of my generation’s casual contempt for everything. She was a mental vagabond who once got homesick after a weekend away, which should have been our first clue that this world would never give her what she needed. She was too thirsty to be happy, but had a fat laugh that stayed nourished throughout her life-long drought, a laugh independent of joy and one that made the entire room quake with the force of her freedom.

Before she saw too much, your mother was almost infuriatingly naive at times, hiding cigarette butts and cheap trinkets from boys in an Aldo’s shoebox beneath her bed. She stashed dollar bills in there, too, and no matter how desperate she was to split a $4 calzone from the pizzeria on Lefferts Boulevard, she’d let us both starve before touching the money she was saving to buy a Ferrari. On the weekends I slept over we watched Friday Night Videos and I made fun of her for shushing me when sappy songs came on. One Saturday afternoon in October we got caught in a rainstorm. She was 14 and failing math class. “Let’s stay out!” she shouted with a laugh that had grown threatening enough to challenge the sky. We roamed through the neighborhood like stray cats, sticking our heads under drainpipes. She had a way of making you feel like there was no better way to spend your last day on Earth than washing your hair in cold rain. Continue Reading…

Addiction, Guest Posts

Love From A Distance

February 14, 2016

By Gloria Harrison

Sierra comes over infrequently and only calls when she’s in need.

“Hey.”

That’s what her texts say – like they’re a Bat Symbol in the night sky and I’m supposed to fly to them in my cape, fancy grappling hooks at the ready. These are always pleas for help. They may follow up with, “What are you doing?” They may say, “The people I’m staying with need a pack of cigarettes, can you help?” Even when I reply, which I don’t always do, these texts are often sporadic, spaced out over many hours before they get to the point. And always, what they’re actually saying is: Save me.

Save me. Save me.

Sierra is a meth addict. She’s homeless. She has children she can’t take care of and fertility she won’t tend to either. She’s dynamic. She lights up a room – and she darkens one.

Sierra – my orange-haired, blue-eyed cataclysm. My bright and funny daughter.

I’ll admit it: when she’s out of sight, my mind is relieved to be void of her, the way it feels so good to have a splinter removed. I don’t mean just the relief of the actual removal of the splinter, but the way it feels to know there once used to be a searing, throbbing pain in a part of my body that just isn’t there anymore. The relief of emptiness.

Last spring, Sierra’s “hey” text was followed by, “Can my boyfriend and I come over and take a shower? We have been crashing at a friend’s house for the last few days and we don’t trust our stuff alone with them.”

Sure, I said, readying myself.

Sierra showed up before noon and was amped to full volume. She was animated and moved about the living room chattering at me, talking so fast I could barely understand her. “Are you using again?” I asked. She assured me, as usual, she wasn’t.

“I’m just so excited about this offer for a job I got this morning!” she told me. There was always a job offer, yet, curiously, never any jobs. An alarm bell went off.

I told Sierra she and her boyfriend could take a shower and eat if they did my dishes. She agreed and I left for a day of errands. I’d never left her in my house alone, but I figured if she stole from me, it would be the last time. Continue Reading…

Addiction, Alcoholism, Family, Guest Posts

Poker, Dice Games & Racehorses

December 4, 2015

By Amy Gesenhues

As of tomorrow, I will have known my husband exactly 20 years, 19 of which we’ve spent married.

I thought it was so romantic, the two of us barely old enough to file taxes, marrying exactly one-year from the day we met.

Now, I know the most romantic thing about us is that we’ve stayed married.  (So far.)

Last weekend, we found ourselves yelling at each at the edge of our backyard. I walked out to ask when he was going to be finished. The weed-eater he was holding was still running. He had on plastic, see-through goggles and the noise canceling earphones he wears when he mows were around his neck.

“When I’m done,” he yelled to me over the buzz of the weed-eater.

I gave him that look. My head slightly tilted, my hands on my hips, an eye-roll then a stare.

“You’ve been out here three hours.”

I wanted to play tennis later that day and was trying to determine if I needed to feed the kids before I left, or if he could take over dinner duty.

From there the conversation went from zero to 60 in about five seconds – 60 being his utter frustration over my lack of interest in the state of our landscape.

“I’ve been out here all day, and still need to weed the front, and you’re complaining because you want to go play tennis.”

Writing it all down now, I see he had a valid point.

My husband is most fulfilled with a job well-done. He’s a big proponent of prep work, and likes to start his day by listing all the things he plans on accomplishing.

I like to play. The last thing I want to hear first thing in the morning is a list of things I have to do. I have no regrets spending a day drinking coffee, reading, staying in my robe until noon. Continue Reading…

Addiction, Friendship, Guest Posts, Surviving

Black Light

December 3, 2015

Trigger Warning: This essay mentions rape. 

By Joan Wilking

The job was supposed to take just a couple of days; we’d been there four. The inside of the club had already been painted flat black like a chalkboard. We added the dayglow lightning bolts, a moon face, and a rising sun with multi-color rays meant to mind-fuck the drugged and drunk hippies who would soon be whirling dervishes on the dance floor under pulsating black lights. It all looked pretty shabby during the day, but come nighttime – magic. We cleaned up our mess and asked to be paid.

“There’s still the billboard,” the owner said.

“That wasn’t part of the deal,” my roommate said.

She was small but tough. One of her eyes was a little off. More so when she was mad.

“Three hundred bucks,” she said. “That was the deal.”

“Three fifty if you do the billboard.”

“Four hundred,” she said.

“Three seventy-five, then.”

It was 1967. She was the one who got us the job. I didn’t know the guy. He was a friend of a friend who sold her some pot. He wore fitted black shirts and gold chains and had a voice that sounded like he ate nails for breakfast. He walked us outside. The club was in an industrial building on the New Jersey side of the Ben Franklin Bridge into Philadelphia, where we lived. The highway was a truck route. Semis and tractor-trailers flew by, spewing exhaust fumes. The billboard looked homemade, the supports were rickety. It was smaller than a real billboard, more of a big rectangular sign. It was July. So hot and humid I started and ended each day soaked in sweat.

The guy said, “I want black with a big fluorescent rainbow and a yellow arrow pointing at the club. No name.” He described the rainbow’s arc with a sweep of his hand and added, “The radio ads will pull the suckers in.”

“How are we supposed to get up there?” I said.

He left and returned with a couple of wooden ladders. We each took a side.

We were just out of college, young and thin with tight tits and asses, which, in our tank tops and short shorts, were much appreciated by passing truckers who catcalled and blasted their air horns throughout the blistering afternoon. By the time we climbed down we were sun burnt and verging on heatstroke. When we stood back to get a look at the billboard I reeled, dizzy from the heat. Continue Reading…

Addiction, death, Grief, Guest Posts, loss

Above The High: Coping With Addiction And Death

November 17, 2015

By Nancy Arroyo Ruffin

The first time I remember experiencing death I was three years old. My uncle Louie lay in a casket at the Ortiz Funeral Home wearing a light colored suit; it could’ve been white, beige maybe. His afro was neatly picked and in my three year old mind he appeared to be sleeping peacefully. That’s the thing about death, to the deceased it is peaceful, and to the ones left behind it’s anything but. To those left behind, the haze of losing a loved one, which feels like a searing mass of heat injected deep into the veins, seeps into everything making it difficult to focus on anything but the grief.

From my recollection, the funeral home was a dreary place, old and decrepit, like an old lady who had spent too many years outside of herself watching her life pass her by. The red carpet in the viewing room was ragged and dirty and the lighting, though warm, was not inviting. It was a place that bid farewell to too many lives taken before their time.  Exactly one year before on the same date, my maternal grandfather (his father) lay in a similar casket sleeping peacefully. He was in his 50s.

I can’t recall if I understood then that it would be the last time I’d see my uncle. I don’t remember if my parents explained to me the finality of death and what it meant when I heard family members say “at least he’s with his father now.” These are not things parents are prepared to talk about with their 3 yr. old. I think about my own 3 yr. old daughter and how I would explain death to her in a way that she would understand and I don’t think she would.

What I do recall about my uncle however are the times when he was vibrant and full of life. I remember how his eyes shone with happiness at the mere sight of me, or when he’d take me to the park and proudly tell everyone I was his daughter, even though he never had children of his own. He was young, handsome, and full of unrealized potential.

When someone dies we try our best to remember them, their great qualities, and how they made us feel. We try as best we can to remember the details about them like their scent or their energy as they enter a room. We try and recollect the curve of their mouth when they smile or the sound of their laughter, or the way their eyes say “I love you” when they look at you. We attempt to remember how their arms wrapped effortlessly around us or how their mere presence brought peace, happiness, and comfort. Continue Reading…

Addiction, Alcoholism, Binders, Guest Posts, Intimacy, Sex

Facts of Life

October 15, 2015

By Carol Weis

You discover your daughter has learned the facts of life. She is only seven when this profound experience occurs. Your husband has taken over this duty you thought would be yours. One your mother never shared with either you or your sister. You’d find out from your cousin when you were both nine. An image that would repulse you for a very long time. Your anger and grief about losing this right of passage with your daughter, your only child, becomes just another sticker in your already thorny side.

Sex is a thing that is hard to think about. It was your husband’s last straw, and one you have no interest in sharing with anyone but yourself. You occasionally flirt with guys at AA meetings, with no intention of going anywhere with it.

A habit that lingers from your drinking years.

And then the day comes in therapy, when it seems that your therapist might be at her wits end with both of you. She suggests you go on an overnight date, away for a night without your daughter, sleeping in the same bed without having her around.

It’s not that you haven’t tried a version of this before. Since your separation, you’ve slept overnight at his apartment, with ground rules about sleeping in the same bed. If he makes advances when you feel you’re not ready, he has to respect what you say. You’re more like a brother and sister right now, laying next to each other in your parent’s double bed.

His attempts at intimacy are always turned down. Continue Reading…

Addiction, Awe & Wonder, Guest Posts, healing, Inspiration

Enough

October 7, 2015

By Holly Groome

I was four months pregnant and I just left my soon-to-be ex-husband’s house. He told me he wasn’t sure he wanted to reconcile from our separation. I couldn’t drink it away. I couldn’t cut it away. I couldn’t shove my fingers down my throat again. I couldn’t even think about suicide for the second time; not with this life my husband and I created squirming inside of me.

I drove through town, as if someone had injected a grey cloud into my brain. I stopped for a milkshake, simply because. Then I drove on auto-pilot to a tattoo shop. Yes, wretched of me to get a tattoo while pregnant. But the other options to handle my pain weren’t really options.

I sat in the car with a pen and a bank deposit slip, and started numbly scribbling single words to ink into my wrist. About three words in, I had it. ENOUGH.

Twenty minutes later, my 5’1” frame allowed me to softly dangle my feet on the tattoo chair, as I sipped my milkshake like a child, hiding my newly pregnant belly. I sat there as the sweet bliss of the needle dug into my skin. It wasn’t a sick kind of pleasure. It was a relief. These six letters etched into my flesh were telling me what I had to do.

Four years later, I still get asked what the tattoo means. My answer is never the same, for it speaks to me differently, at various shifts in my life.

I smile and say, ENOUGH of the Bullshit. ENOUGH to my bulimia. I am ENOUGH. Sometimes I say all three.

Most understand me. Some almost shudder at my honesty. And some seem completely confused as if I said it in Pig Latin.

I don’t mind the reactions. It’s mine. I own it. It saved my life; literally and more than once. Continue Reading…

Addiction, Fatherhood, Guest Posts

There’s A Bus Waiting

August 17, 2015

By David Lintvedt

We called him “Satellite Mike”, but I never knew his real name.  I heard that at one time he had a family, house and a good job, but all of that was taken away by alcohol and drugs.  For many years he’d struggled with his addictions, and had been in and out of AA, rehabs and detoxes.  By the time I met him the abuse had left him with brain damage, what we in ‘the rooms’ refer to as a wet brain, which is almost like a perpetual state of drunkenness.  This condition robbed him of his ability to think clearly and this left him unpredictable: it was a little scary, but could be interesting.

I would occasionally give Mike rides to and from meetings…and although this meant that we had to ride with the windows open (as personal hygiene was not high on his list)  I enjoyed talking with him, hearing stories of his drunken adventures, and the fantasies created by his sodden mind.  Yet these talks also left me feeling very sad, as I could see flashes of the man he once was…before the addictions took him away.

Satellite Mike had been trying to find long term sobriety for years, but every time he would get a few weeks or months of clean time together, he would feel better and decide that his problems were not that bad, and he would go on another bender.  Once he told me that he regretted not taking advantage of those opportunities to find sobriety early on, when he still had a chance; but when I knew him, he was so far gone it was hard to tell whether he was drunk or not.

We put up with Mike in the program, understanding that when he disrupted a meeting, or flipped over a table at the diner, it was because his brain was pumping out bad chemicals.  As a reward for accepting Mike, we learned a lot from him as Mike was a true power of example…a warning of what was waiting for us, if we became complacent, or let our guard down…if we ever came to believe we could handle (or even deserve) our next drink or drug.

When he was going to meetings and in treatment, Mike lived in transitional housing provided by a non-profit group called Project Hospitality, whose goal it was to help people who were struggling with addiction. When he was not sticking to his program Mike would just disappear; sometimes he’d be in a hospital, once he was locked up in jail for a short stretch, other times he was just off on a bender, perhaps sleeping in the Ferry Terminal or on the streets of Manhattan.  Eventually however, he would come back to the meetings, looking sheepish, asking for rides, food, cigarettes and forgiveness.  He came back because he knew that there was nowhere else for him to go.

Satellite Mike was living in one of these transitional housing units when he went on his final drunk.  I never learned how much of what happened was due to the amount of drugs and alcohol in his system, and how much was due to the damage already done to his brain…and in the end it really did not matter, the damage was done.

One cool and damp spring night, after being kicked out of a bar, Mike began roaming the streets of Staten Island, yelling at cars, and accosting passersby.  Finally, he got it into his head to play “bull fighter” with city buses, out on Victory Boulevard; he waved his coat like a cape, and was heard yelling “Toro, Toro!”  Several buses missed him, but as he leaped out of the way of one bus, he landed in the path of another bus, going the other way, and he was gone!

In the years since he died, I have often wondered if Mike meant to get hit by the bus that night, if that was the only way he saw to end the misery caused by his damaged brain, and the horror of not being able to drink without pain, while not being able to get sober either.

 

Continue Reading…

Addiction, Binders, Family, Grief, Guest Posts

Consequence

April 22, 2015

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black1-300x88By Chris J. Rice

 

Small bodies stared out a car window, helpless, listening to the drone of a voice, pitiless, and naïve, a horrible combination. Houses never furnished. Refrigerators full of liquor and doggie bags, steak slices, and baked Alaska, toddlers hidden behind beige drapes peeing on white carpet. Babies crying. Shit stains and Martini olives. Poodle yelps. Flash of ocean daylight. And remorse.

My Moody Sister died in a drug-induced coma. Dark hair matted with vomit. Fell asleep on a double bed in a Tulsa motel room beside her abusive boyfriend, and never woke up.

I jumped out of sleep to answer the phone.

“I’m calling to let you know,” my paternal aunt said. “Didn’t want you to hear it from none of them.”

Receiver to chest, I crouched down. Balanced on my heels, and rocked.

“Cancer,” my aunt said. “Had to have been. Just look at her obituary picture. Looks like it to me, like she died of cancer.”

I knew that wasn’t true. Got off the phone quick as I could and searched online for my sister’s obituary, head full of unanswerable questions. When did the drugs and drinking start? Was it because we had no real home? Why did she stay in Mama’s dark orbit so long past youth? Was it the only life she knew, or the only life she could imagine? Frantic and doubting, I searched until there she was in glowing bits, my Moody Sister.

Pixilated otherworldly eyes smiled above a brief paragraph.

She left behind three children, at least eight half siblings and survived by both her parents, was buried in an Ozark cemetery facing old Route 66. Her three children went to live with her last husband. Their names in her obituary were long jingly strings of karmic payback and wishful thinking: combinations of our Mama’s real first name alongside my sister’s absent father’s surname.

She didn’t meet her biological father until she was a grown woman.

Come from a childhood with no fixed address.

Identity, a combination of what you’ve done, what’s been done to you, flawed mosaic of who you are, and who others think you are. Not who you are inherently, but also who and where you came from, and what you were able to make of yourself.

Outcomes.

Origins.

Consequence.

She was Mama’s favorite child and most constant companion, always riding beside her in the front seat of the car as we traveled from town to town. Disregarding its isolation, she accepted the position of best loved, her dark head barely visible to the other kids crammed together in the backseat. When left behind with the rest of us she became inconsolable, running after the car, plopping herself on the sidewalk as Mama sped off. Sat there, cross-legged, head thrown back, mouth wide open and skyward, wailing with all her need, outdoors and out loud, for her Mama to come back home. My peaceful respite, lolling alone on the motel carpet unobserved with a new Nancy Drew, was her full-bodied pain.

The daughter in the front seat never learned to be alone; disconnection terrified her.

I ran away from all my family, especially my Moody Sister, putting real distance between us, and seldom looking back. Her unhappiness was of another order altogether from mine: unquenchable, indulgent, and seductively unhealthy, like too much syrup on an already too sweet dessert.

The last time I saw her, I drew her portrait. Pencils sharpened, I layered colored lines on a flat green page, porous and textured. Watched her bow her head slightly to the left, as she had done so often in our earliest days together, and recorded what I saw and what I knew to be true. Made art of our brutal detachment.

Long black bangs curled across a forehead into downcast blue eyes.

A heart-shaped face held sharp lips painted red.

Absence charged by a presence, deceptive and confounding. Continue Reading…

Addiction, Binders, Guest Posts, Marriage

The Proposal

March 28, 2015

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black1-300x88By Andrea Jarrell

Brad and I met making get-out-the-vote calls for an aspiring California State Assemblyman. In the beginning, our love for each other and for the city of angels was entwined. I’d moved back to L.A. after my breakup and was happy to be home again claiming my city. Brad lived in a neighborhood I’d never known existed – a barrio recently discovered by a few hipsters from nearby Hollywood. Rival gangs tagged the apartments along his street. There was a guy we thought might be homeless who sat on a nearby wall drinking tallboys, his belly hanging over his pants. We good-morninged him and the rest of the neighbors in the determined but naïve belief that being neighborly was all it would take to get past the recent Rodney King riots.

The first time we went out was a Friday night dinner, which turned into breakfast the next morning. Saturday biking in the Santa Monica mountains turned into slow dancing in his living room that led to Sunday brunch that led to the late show of Blade Runner at the Rialto – on a school night, no less. Sunday night led us to Monday morning carpooling to work. We moved in shortly thereafter. From the start everything was easy with Brad. Even that first weekend when I’d waited for an inevitable awkwardness – when surely we would realize we needed our own space – but that moment never came.

The night he proposed, we were having dinner at one of our favorite restaurants, a kitschy Italian place on Vermont where the waiters served thin-crust pizza on tall table stands and sang opera. We were sitting in a red leather booth when he turned to me and said the very words: “Will you marry me?”

It’s all happening, I thought. Those words I’d anticipated all my life. “Yes, yes,” I said. “Of course. I love you. Yes.” Afterward, we went to the Dresden Room – a lounge next door – to toast our future over Manhattans.

But five months later, while talking with friends about our impending nuptials, he denied he’d been the one to say the words. I tried not to cry when he said it was I who’d asked him. Our friends tried to change the subject. Like a needle scratching across a record, the evening came to an abrupt halt.

Perhaps because we were so in sync about everything else, it didn’t seem to matter in the grand scheme. The proposal became like a spill of red wine on new carpet, gasp-worthy in the moment, then a fading stain you winced at only when you made yourself notice.

We planned to go to Paris for our honeymoon. We chose rings, a cake, and a wedding meal to serve to family and friends. Along with nine other couples, we went to a Making Marriage Work class that was like a version of The Newlywed Game. At one point, we were asked to switch partners and converse with the opposite-sex member of another couple. “Notice your increased heart rate with a stranger,” our teacher instructed us. “Your quickening pulse, the flirtation, the intrigue, the pressure to seduce. That’s how it was when you first met your partner, right? Remember that. Keep it alive.”

Listening to the other couples in class, we counted ourselves lucky that we didn’t have the kind of meddling parents they described. Our parents, divorced and married more than once, cast a sober eye on the whole endeavor and gave us money – an equal share from each – to do with what we wanted. By then, my mother had married and left my father for the second time. I wasn’t even telling my father about the wedding for fear he’d show up drunk.

Our class teacher, who was a marriage therapist, told us that sex, money, and not agreeing on big issues (such as having children) before the wedding were always the underlying causes of broken marriages. We wondered who would be dumb enough not to agree about the kid question before getting married? Wanting kids was something we’d talked about early. As for money, we’d already opened a joint bank account and pooled our resources. And when the teacher read (anonymously) everyone’s answers to the question of how many times we wanted sex each week, I just knew that we were the two who’d given the highest numbers. We took satisfaction in the fact that, if we’d been playing The Newlywed Game for real, we’d be winning.

On a sunny September morning, we married. Making our entrance at the same time, we descended opposite marble staircases in an historic building in the heart of downtown. I wore a dress made of vintage French lace. The candidate we’d volunteered for when we met officiated at the ceremony. We had a wedding lunch on the deck of a low-key, but trendy restaurant off Vine Street in Hollywood. Instead of rice, our friends tossed environmentally-friendly birdseed. They gave us a pair of new mountain bikes festooned with bows. And when the Chateau Marmont where we’d planned to stay for our first night of marriage – another L.A. icon – felt more like a grandmother’s dowdy guest room than the elegant suite we’d envisioned, we made our first important decision as a married couple.

The bellhop had just left. Champagne was on its way. We turned to each other and said, “Let’s leave,” in unison. We practically skipped out of the lobby, checking into the Bel Age on Sunset instead. In plushy bathrobes the next morning, enjoying breakfast on the balcony overlooking the city, we congratulated ourselves for not settling. We were elated that we each knew the other’s heart and mind so well.

* * *

Five days short of our first wedding anniversary, I’d gone to bed early. I had a big day at work the next morning – alarm clock set, my suit, shoes, and jewelry laid out. I’d left my husband in the living room watching television after bending down to kiss him goodnight.

Hours later, I remember waking with the moon shining gray-blue through the curtains. He was beside me, then over me, his randy mood obvious. He didn’t know that, in that moment, he’d reminded me of my ex—and the salty guilt I’d sometimes felt in my previous relationship when I would wake to find that other man taking off my clothes and I would go along with him just to keep the peace. Sometimes submitting timidly, victimized. Sometimes responding fiercely as if I could get back at him through sex. My husband also didn’t know how relieved I was that, in the dark of our room, I didn’t feel fear as I had with my ex. That I knew I could tell him I needed to sleep, and he would still love me.

The next morning, we were standing in the kitchen dressed and ready to go our separate ways, when I said, “I didn’t know who you were last night.”

In his starched white shirt and navy tie with the little green squares that I liked, he looked at me, startled. He’d been about to take a sip of coffee but stopped. “Why, what do you mean?”

“You know,” I said. “It was just kind of weird. You knew I had to get up early to get ready for my meeting.”

Through gold-rimmed glasses that always struck me as a Clark Kent disguise, his blue eyes searched me. He didn’t tell me then – coffee cup in hand, me on my way out the door – but he had no idea what I was talking about.

* * *

It wasn’t until after work that evening, sitting in our living room, that he told me his version of what had happened the night before. He had no recollection of coming to our room. He didn’t remember waking me. He didn’t remember me pushing him away or telling him no. I learned that morning had been like many other mornings we’d shared: him asking me questions, gathering intel, trying to piece together the previous night’s blackout. Only this time, I’d said something that scared him: I didn’t know who you were.

Then he confessed that he’d thought it would be different with me. That from that first weekend we’d stayed together, I’d become the talisman he held up to an addiction he’d been hiding since he was fifteen. He told me that after I’d gone to bed, he’d finished the wine we’d opened at dinner and then he’d finished another bottle. And then he wasn’t himself. And for the first time, I’d seen him that way.

As we sat on our Sven couch from Ikea, I looked at our wedding picture on a nearby shelf. I stared at my stupid smiling face and bouquet of gardenias. I’d been duped. I didn’t really know my husband at all. How had the child of an alcoholic, gambling, pill-popping family ignored the clues? Why hadn’t I noticed these morning interrogations as he tried to reconstruct our activities together?

Or had I? Continue Reading…

Addiction, Binders, Guest Posts, Marriage

Seventy-Seven Reasons Why I Can’t Marry You, Sean.

February 8, 2015

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black1-300x88

By Sally Howe.

Callie finally shipped you your things in July. When we opened the boxes we saw she’d written fuck you on almost everything.

You believed that it was your mom’s fault that your sisters were not speaking to you.

On my twentieth birthday, I locked myself in the bathroom and read Emotional Vampires: Dealing with People Who Drain You Dry. You tried to coax me out, first conciliatory, then sharp, then with your fists on the door. I sat silently on the bathmat with the book tucked into my lap, nodding to myself, pretending that someone sympathetic was watching.

You kissed me on a beach at night. I took off my shoes to walk with you and the wind filled them with sand.

The year before we met I bought a tiny cactus for my dorm room. I thought, here is something I can’t possibly kill. But I did; it turned brown and tipped over and I had to throw it away. I saved the story, though, carrying it around with me like an ID: here I am, destroyer of all things.

This is a story you told me about the time you lived with Callie, then your fiancé. You were in your car, with a hooker in the passenger’s seat, driving through wintery Minneapolis at two or three in the morning. Callie heard the beep of your seatbelt being unbuckled over the phone line and asked you where you were. You shot a frozen glance at Destiny or Chastity or whatever, and into your phone, you swore that it was the microwave and that you were on your way to bed.

We met in rehab. You should have known better.

I should have known better, too. I had finally, recently, truly become one with my self-loathing. You smiled at me and it was as if no one had ever been kind to me before.

You need someone on your arm. You like having a sidekick.

Jen Pastiloff is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Join her in Tuscany for her annual Manifestation Retreat. Click the Tuscan hills above. No yoga experience required. Only requirement: Just be a human being.

Jen Pastiloff is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Join her in Tuscany for her annual Manifestation Retreat. Click the Tuscan hills above. No yoga experience required. Only requirement: Just be a human being.

Continue Reading…

Addiction, Dear Life., depression, Guest Posts

Dear Life: I Self-Medicate! What Should I Do?

January 26, 2015

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black1-300x88

Welcome to Dear Life: An Unconventional Advice Column.

Your questions get sent to various authors from around the world to answer (and please keep sending because I have like 567 writers that want to answer your burning questions. Click here to submit a letter or email dearlife@jenniferpastiloff.com.) Different writers offer their input when it comes to navigating through life’s messiness. We are “making messy okay.” Today’s letter is answered by Shannon Brugh, whose previous essay on the site did phenomenally! 

Send us your questions because there loads of crazy authors waiting to answer ‘em. Just kidding, they aren’t crazy.

Well okay, maybe a little.

Aren’t we all? xo, Jen Pastiloff, Crazy Beauty Hunter. 

Jen Pastiloff is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Join her in Tuscany for her annual Manifestation Retreat. Click the Tuscan hills above. No yoga experience required. Only requirement: Just be a human being.

Jen Pastiloff is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Join her in Tuscany for her 2nd 2015 Manifestation Retreat. Click the Tuscan hills above. No yoga experience required. Only requirement: Just be a human being. Sep 26-Oct 3, 2015

Dear Life,

I have gone through hell and back since I was born. I will save you the gory details and tell you that I am about to be 27 and have finally arrived at the most peaceful place, spiritually speaking, that I have ever been. But as I am finding peace in my work, family and friendships, a new career opportunity suddenly presented itself. I have been a bartender for the past eight years and, after graduating from college, am trying to move on to a more secure career that is conducive to raising a family. Two days ago I received an email for a lead on a job as a liquor rep in center city Philadelphia. I live about an hour from there currently but lived there for three years during my undergrad. I am perfect for this job. 100%.  But one requirement is that I must submit to a drug test prior to being hired. I have suffered from severe anxiety, depression, OCD and PMDD for at least the past ten years and smoking pot has significantly relieved my symptoms. I am nervous that if I get a call for an interview in the next couple weeks, I would definitely not pass the test. What do I do?? I am a good hearted, intelligent and motivated young woman. I have spent time in Rwanda. I want to save the world. I know I would be an asset to any company in the world, but I smoke pot to relax. I don’t know what to do. Please help me.

thank you, J

Ps… That was a complete free flow of thought. I apologize if it was long-winded.

Continue Reading…