Browsing Tag

recovery

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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Guest Posts, healing

Fast Forward, Pause, Rewind

November 12, 2016
exhale

By Lauren Jonik

My body curls next to the large speakers on the floor of my parents’ living room. The texture of the green rug rubs my bare leg as I am unable to resist movement. Music floods from the turn table on the stereo. I want to climb inside and spin around. The heat of the summer of 1986 envelopes the room, but the fire coming from within is stronger. I am ten years old, filled with joy, impatience and a holy yearning.

The days are long—torturously, deliciously long. Word, melodies and imagery are everywhere, overwhelming my senses. I feel the world intensely, but the earth grounds me. I need the gravity of the grass and dirt under my bare feet to pull me down into the space where I can endure daily life. I ride my bike on an empty street, around and around in circles pretending I’m going somewhere. I already know that we all are. Only the methods of transportation vary. I examine the petals of dandelions and small purple wildflowers I never learn the name of. Continue Reading…

Alcoholism, courage, Guest Posts

I Have To Leave You Now

August 22, 2016
alcohol

By Natha Perkins

The truth about my relationship with alcohol is something I’ve managed to avoid for years, I’ve basically refused to look at it. I don’t even really want to examine it right now, but it’s been up. It’s been calling me to hold it in my hands, turn it over and really look at it. It wants me to examine the texture and the flavor and the way it feels settled in my body. It wants to be seen.

Like everything else in my life wants to be seen. Like I want to be seen. And so, rather than pretend that I don’t hear the call, or avoid the request and just have a glass of wine instead, I will delve in.

I’m ready to face some uncomfortable truths. I’ve self medicated with recreational drugs and alcohol for years. The drugs lost their appeal to me in my late twenties though, and for that I’m grateful. Once I had children, the drugs were no longer logical to me and the truth is that they never made me feel as good as they seemed to make other people feel. But alcohol, that was sustainable. Socially acceptable. Everyone was doing it.

I was never a heavy drinker. Just a few glasses of wine at night. I wasn’t the girl at the party who was passed out, or even slurring for that matter. Thanks to a few dismaying experiences in high school that triggered a lifetime of shame and embarrassment (stories for another time), I learned  that binge drinking was not my thing; being completely out of control was unacceptable. But a little buzz, yes. Something to take the edge of an exhausting day off, yes. Something to help me numb the pain and help express the incinerator I had burning inside of me, yes. Continue Reading…

Anxiety, Guest Posts

F*ck Bravery

January 10, 2016

Trigger Warning: This essay mentions rape. 

By Lynn K Hall

I wasn’t afraid, but I should have been. I was at the start line of an ultra-marathon, and before me lay 65 miles of Colorado’s Never Summer Mountains. I’d have 24 hours to cover them, to summit multiple peaks, to traverse long stretches of alpine ridges high above trees. If we were lucky, we wouldn’t hit thunderstorms. There wouldn’t be cheering crowds like found alongside a road marathon, but instead moose, elk, bears, or mountain lions. The race director warned us to pay attention to the pink flags marking the course which may or may not follow obvious trails. A missed turn could result in being lost miles from a nearest road without cell reception, maybe in the dark and frigid night.

I squished in a gaggle of runners as the skyline above the far mountains lightened to navy blue. Some breathed warmth into their curled fingers. Others re-organized their gear and food in their running vests. I crossed my arms across my chest and squeezed my biceps. I was numb. Apathetic. I smiled and chatted with my friends but the excitement was an act. I didn’t care about the race. I didn’t have room in my psyche to worry about mountain lions, lightning, or hypothermia.

***

Ultra-marathons are Rorschach tests. Tribulations in the mountains’ extreme environments – the exhaustion and vulnerability – elicit a depth of feelings not typically dwelled upon by your consciousness. The emptiness of miles upon miles becomes the canvas on which you project your deepest state of mind.

Nobody signs up for a 65-mile race because they want it to be easy.

***

I had woken up at two a.m. that morning, thoughts unstoppable. I wasn’t dwelling on the race. I was perseverating on my book, a memoir, a hypothetical, pie-in-the-sky dream I’d been chasing for the better part of a decade. It was a story of having been sexually abused as a teenager and raped again while a cadet at the Air Force Academy. The story contained many heroes, but most notably, it was a testimony brimming with accusations. Against multiple perpetrators. Against the institutions which protected them. Against the doctor who failed me. Against the squadron that ostracized me and told me they’d let me die in combat. Against the family members who didn’t believe me.

My memoir was an admission of my weaknesses. My failures to protect myself, to help myself, to be strong.

After years of writing and re-writing, I had a draft I was proud of. I had landed a New York literary agent who told me my memoir was wonderful. I was one publisher’s “yes” away from a book deal.

Years ago I had lost my dream of becoming an Air Force pilot, but now I had a new dream, a better dream, and one “yes” would transform that dream into a reality. Continue Reading…

Eating Disorders/Healing, Eating/Food, Guest Posts, healing

Tales of a Food Restrictor

December 10, 2015

By Anne Falkowski

At 45, I made the decision to face my disordered eating. It was a dark creepy crawly which followed me around for more than half my life. (It’s not unusual for women in their 40s or older to have untreated eating disorders for twenty, thirty or even forty years.

I decided it was time to let go.

I could do this. But I needed help.

I called the experts and landed in an office the color of fog and ocean. The colors of healing. This was a place for anorexics, bulimics and eating disorders not otherwise specified (like myself).

There was a large rubber plate of fake food next to the tissue box. On this fake plate was a mound of beans, a thick slice of bread, a pile of broccoli and an unidentified piece of meat. I liked to run my fingers over the beans and feel their lumpiness.

It was in this ocean room, while I fingered the beans, when Mark, the therapist, told me I was a food restrictor.

“Are you sure? Wouldn’t I be thin if I did that?”

As always, I was hyperaware of my body which refused to be the size I wanted it.

“Well, not necessarily.”

His hand reached up to touch his tie. Mark always wore a shirt and tie. He was twenty years younger than me. At first his youth threw me. How could a clean cut baby-faced twenty something counsel me, a middle aged woman, who had been dealing or not dealing with disordered eating probably as long as he had been alive?

He told me that we cannot pick the bodies we want.

I wanted to be slim, slender, thin, and bony.

“It doesn’t work that way. We don’t get to choose our bodies.” He held my gaze. 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…

Guest Posts, healing, Illness, Letting Go, Vulnerability

Beneath The Glass

November 12, 2015

By Lauren Randall

I spend most of my time dreaming.  The most gratifying vision I have is of life on pause.  I dream of the world completely stopping for everyone other than me.  What will I do in this static world?

Sleep.  I will sleep.  Nothing more.  Nothing less.

I dream that this sleep will take away everything: the fatigue, pain, neurological damage and every ‘red herring’ that cannot be quantified by the medical community.

I will wake to my ‘old body,’ my teenage body, the one I so shamelessly took for granted.  The body I binged and purged from out of hate, the body surreptitiously stuck on the other side of the glass.

I didn’t think much about chronically ill people back then.  I never wondered about their nostalgia for health, that intense pining their imagination could make so palpable.

For them, life could be this immensely beautiful view through a cracked and clouded windshield; every day spent futilely trying to clean it off from the inside.  Despite the irrefutable knowledge that all that shit is just out of reach, the thought of doing nothing from the other side of the glass likely felt even more deceptively tragic.

I do that a lot.  I refer to ‘them’ without including myself.  I try to clean the glass from the inside knowing it will never fully penetrate the brown decrepit haze.  I am enlightened enough to know that real acceptance –seeing beauty within the cracks and dirt– is where true healing and happiness will lie for me.  But I cannot escape the fight, the quest to see the entire scene.  Sometimes that makes me feel beautifully hopeful, sometimes that makes me feel like I am wasting what is left. Continue Reading…

Fear, Grief, Guest Posts, healing

Everyday Mythologies Between the Living and the Dead

October 19, 2015

By Lillian Ann Slugocki

It is September 23rd, the day his granddaughter is born, but we are not there.

We are in the flower garden on the south side of our hometown.  We are sitting on the stone bench under the gazebo with our grandmother, and her crooked index finger because time has collapsed.  We are sitting on the stone bench with our mother as she smokes a Benson and Hedges Ultra Light. The smoke curls around her blonde hair and red lips. We are sitting on the stone bench for a wedding photo, and he is dressed like Don Johnson from Miami Vice. We are sitting on the stone bench with our father on Sunday morning after we’d walked along the shore of the lagoon. And in this moment, we are also sitting on the stone bench for the last time as brother and sister. I continue to get texts that his granddaughter struggles to be born.  We sit adjacent to two fifty foot tall willows. We are trying to say good bye:

Maybe the year is 1968, and he flies like an idiot on his green Stingray around the curvy block and out along the railroad tracks.  Or maybe it’s 1970, and we are smoking a bong in the back of the garage, and playing basketball in the driveway. He perfects a jump shot he calls the squiz-ma-roo. Or we are insisting our younger brother take a shit in a shot glass, which he does.  We preserved it, our memento mori, hidden beneath the tool shed for decades. Even when it was gone, it was still there. Or it’s dusk, late September, and our mother hollers from the front porch– Boys!!  Or it’s 7:00 a.m. and the temp is minus 15 degrees, a frozen morning, and the snow has drifted up to the eaves. We do not want to go to school.  It’s too cold to walk! She says: Five kids at home with her all day, no.  She won’t hear of it, almost pushes us out the door. And each story closes the door a little bit more, a little bit more, until we both stand on the threshold. and we understand that this is where we will part ways.  He will go forward like Eurydice, and I will turn back. Continue Reading…

eating disorder, Eating Disorders/Healing, Guest Posts

Losing My Soul Sister To An Eating Disorder

April 6, 2015

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black1-300x88By Jessica Lucas.

Some of this content may be triggering to anyone who has struggled with an eating disorder.

It was the day of the Leeza talk show taping. The topic: eating disorders. I walked into the Hollywood studio prepared to talk about the one thing that tormented and tortured me every day, anorexia, and I had never felt so overwhelmed, frightened, and ALONE – even as I was surrounded by hundreds of studio audience members.

“No one understands. No one gets it. No one can relate. No one will care. I’ll sound crazy. I’m not sick enough. I’m not smart enough. I’m not articulate enough. I’m not thin enough. I won’t make any sense. I am all alone.” The all too familiar harsh criticisms and relentless fears ran through my mind more quickly than I could slow them down or resist them.

As I began to feel like a deer in the spotlights – visibly shaking, paralyzed with fear, drained of all color, wondering what I’d gotten myself into and ready to turn and run away – the studio wrangler led me to my seat near the stage.

Immediately, I was drawn to the woman with the comforting smile, Bo Derek-like braids in her blonde hair, and big blue eyes sitting in front of me. I knew her, but I didn’t know her. I loved her, but I’d never met her. I related to her, but we’d never spoken. We were best friends, but I’d never seen her before. 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, courage, Guest Posts, healing

Groundhog Day.

January 4, 2015

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black

1798X611

By Marika Delan.

I came out of my hole to see the things that hurt me in the light of day.

I was frightened of my shadow and went back inside to hide.

I’ve been here for so long now, it must be that winter has come and gone away.

Punxsutawney Phil came out of his burrow and saw his shadow today.

The forecast is 6 more weeks of winter.

. . .

Vicodin, Oxycodone, Percocet, pick your poison — there was no shortage of top shelf pills for the pain. Just make sure to follow the instructions lest you cause liver failure, or worse, stop breathing and die:

Take one to two tablets every 4-6 hours as needed for pain.

Do not operate heavy machinery. May cause drowsiness (and nausea, epic constipation, anorexia, withdrawal that will make you think you are Leo DiCaprio in The Basketball Diaries, and deep dark soul sucking depression that might explain why people ruin their lives over what doctors are doling out like candy).

Do not drink alcohol while taking this medication.

Pick a shelf, pick a drug, my medicine cabinet was full of whatever you could possibly want because there was nothing I wanted less than to take opiate narcotics. I had seen the true meaning of the word painkillers. I had seen them kill more than the pain.

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And So It Is, Grief, Guest Posts, healing, loss, love

Nothing Is Just One Thing. By Elizabeth Crane.

February 6, 2014

Nothing is just one thing.  By Elizabeth Crane.

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The last few days have involved a combination of gratitude and morbid reflection.  The inevitable losses that result from addiction somehow still never fail to shock me, though I have not had a drink in nearly twenty-two years and I’ve seen more than a few people die at this point.  It wasn’t until the news about Philip Seymour Hoffman that I thought about how many there have been – which turns out to be too many to count – I keep thinking of others.  Sometimes you see it coming, sometimes you don’t, and for me, most of the times, I just don’t want to.  I’ll make up reasons why this one or that one is an exception so that my friends will all live forever, or at least until after I go first.  The people I’ve met in recovery are some of the most phenomenal people I know; some have come back from homelessness and prostitution to build lives they could once barely imagine.  My own drinking story is less dramatic; think of your most self-pitying girlfriend and add in a bunch of booze (whatever was available/free) and poor decision-making and that’s about as interesting as it gets. When I quit, I had reached a point where I imagined going on like that for the rest of my life, maybe never even missing a day of work at the job I hated and for sure never having any more money than I did then (which was in fact, substantially negative), or a relationship that lasted longer than four months, and I saw a way to change that worked for me.

When I was newly sober, Phil was part of a crew of my closest friends.  He wasn’t my closest friend, I want to be clear about that.  We had many delightful conversations, but we weren’t I’ll call you when I get home kind of friends.  We were close with a lot of the same people (who I did call when I got home), and I often saw him on a daily basis.  That was two decades ago.  But it was a critical time in my life.  I cannot overstate how much each person in that group meant to me, then and now; we were part of a greater thing, and we all helped each other whether it was deliberate or not.

Over the years, many in that group moved away from NY, including myself.  In Chicago, I found a new group of people to break my daily bread with, and as we built our new lives, we all had less time to gather every day.  I have kept in touch with those who aren’t close by, and we’ve always found ways to keep tabs on each other, pre-social media and pre-email.  We used the phone.  We wrote letters!  Crazy.

I’m not getting to it here.

It’s been twenty-two years.  Countless individuals have helped me change my life, countless more help me keep it changed.  But there’s a special place in my heart for the people I met at the beginning.  And losing one of them feels different – shocking, frightening, heartbreaking, cause for a broad, unbidden life review.  The short version is that it’s good now, life.  I’m happy and well, I have meaningful work and healthy relationships with people.  I’m also married to a sober person, and yet it’s not until just now that I’ve stopped to really consider the flip side of that.  We continue to do what we need to to maintain our sobriety, but it is part of our makeup to want to drink or use.  Relapse happens.  There’s a lot of talk in the media right now that makes me want to scream, the idea that we can just suddenly decide to not drink or take drugs, and that it’s a moral failing somehow when we can’t.  We drink and take drugs because it’s what we’re wired to do.  I’ve said many, many times that I think it’s just incredibly hard to be awake and conscious in the world.  Shitty things happen kind of non-stop.  People die.  That’s just the deal.  Spectacular things happen too, which is the part of the deal that makes the other part of the deal worth shaking on.  But the feelings associated with the relentless input of life can often present themselves as unbearable, and plenty of people can have one beer or one hit off a joint and resist taking another.  Alcoholics and addicts don’t have that luxury, not in my view, but we’re really, really good at making up stories about it.  Maybe I should just speak for myself.  I’m really good at making up stories about it.  “Oh, I never crashed a car.  Oh, I never drank as much as so and so did.  Oh, it wasn’t really that bad.  Oh it’s been a long-ass time now, I’m older and wiser and sure it will be different.  Oh, I’ll just take one extra painkiller, just this once – it’s prescribed!”  And so you have one, but for an addict or an alcoholic, as they say, one is too many and a thousand isn’t enough.

I’m still not getting to it.  Maybe I don’t even know what it is.

So Phil died, and our friends are crushed, and I’m in shock and yet I feel lucky and amazed that I’m here.  I don’t know how I got to be this age.  (My thirty-fifth high school reunion is this year.  Wha-huh?)  That’s shocking too, because not many people get to be this age without a lot of losses.  Both my parents are gone now.  I’ve been back in NY for a couple of years, where I grew up, where I drank and where I quit, fueling my bittersweet nostalgia for that time of early sobriety in particular, crossing Columbus Circle with eight or ten friends through rain and slush and sunshine to our favorite coffee shop; we had a big round table in the window that was almost always held for us.  I think of all those guys – and it was a guy-heavy group, though I had many sober women friends too – and how I had crushed on almost all of them for one five minutes or another even though I was in no position to be seriously involved with anyone at that time – and according to some greater plan, wouldn’t be for another ten years.  (It worked out right.)

Maybe there’s nothing to get to.  Oh yeah, gratitude and morbid reflection.  I think we exist in a culture where we still think in black and white so much of the time.  So and so should have not taken drugs, obvi.  This is right, that’s wrong.  You’re happy or you’re sad and if you’re sad you should get happy.  But that’s not my human experience. I exist in a place where I feel at once profoundly conscious of what I’ve been given in this life, and also how quickly that goes.  I feel grateful, giddy, on occasion, at the bounty that’s been given to me, but it’s not mutually exclusive of feeling impossibly sad.  They coexist, more or less constantly.  I’d much prefer an easier, softer way.  I haven’t found one yet, but I have found one that works for me.

***

Elizabeth Crane is the author of the story collections When the Messenger Is HotAll This Heavenly Glory, and You Must Be This Happy to Enter. Her work has been featured in McSweeney’s The Future Dictionary of America, The Best Underground Fiction, and elsewhere.

Bio

Jennifer Pastiloff is a writer based in Los Angeles. She is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Jen will be leading a Retreat in Costa Rica at the end of March and her annual retreat to Tuscany is in July 2014. All retreats are a combo of yoga/writing and for ALL levels. Read this post to understand what a Manifestation retreat is. Check out her site jenniferpastiloff.com for all retreat listings and workshops to attend one in a city near you. Jen and bestselling author Emily Rapp will be leading another writing retreat to Vermont in October. 

Guest Posts, healing, motherhood

The Rocky Path To Grace.

January 22, 2014

                                                       By Lindsey Mead 
I have so few memories of the first weeks after Grace’s birth. It’s fascinating the way the mind recovers and copes, isn’t it? My memory has smoothed over those weeks of tears and panic like the airbrush facility in photoshop: the pain is still there, I can’t forget it, but its pointy, prickly granularity is sanded down to a more general, uniform memory. So I strive to remember specific moments, but I mostly can describe the overall experience. In my letter to my friend, I referred to the crucible of bewilderment, fear, and wonder known as postpartum depression, and I still think that’s a pretty good summary.

What do I remember about those first days and weeks?  I remember a blur of tears, darkness, crying, and most of all a visceral, frantic sense that I had made the biggest mistake of my life. This fear was powerful enough to almost topple me: the panic that I had ruined my life was layered with the guilt for having those feelings in the first place in an incredibly toxic cocktail. I remember walking one raw, early-November afternoon, Grace strapped to my chest in the baby Bjorn, my hand almost freezing off as I held a phone to my ear (one of very few phone calls in those days) and cried to a poor, unsuspecting friend who was expecting a joyful new mother. I remember sitting in the rocking chair in my kitchen, a week-old Grace asleep on my knees, wondering numbly why it was that my doula (there for her postpartum visit) was looking at me so oddly, why she kept urging me to call my midwives, why she took Matt into the other room and whispered something to him.

It all came crashing down at my 2 week midwife check-up. I am still horrified that most women have to wait until 6 weeks for their own appointments after giving birth, and am intensely grateful that my midwifery practice mandated this 2 week appointment. I sat across from the midwife, Grace asleep in her bucket carseat, and dissolved into tears. I remember crying with those all-encompassing sobs that make you feel like you are drowning. I could barely breathe. I was not allowed to leave until the end of the day, at which point I left with prescriptions and therapist appointment cards clutched in my hands and a dawning sense that I was truly not okay.

I have heard many funny stories of how control-fanatic women like myself struggled to adapt to motherhood. I always laugh, but the truth is that my reality was different. I crashed off the cliff of depression so quickly and so utterly that I was not even trying for control (for the first time in my life?). I didn’t even care, which was for me much scarier. I just sat there and cried. I think the fact of my surprise pregnancy contained within it the seeds of my PPD: I had never been in control of this, not from the very beginning. I, who have been able to muscle my way through basically any challenge (mostly because I was good at only selecting those challenges that I could conquer), was completely undone by this 7 pound, 12 ounce baby, and it devastated me.

My body fell apart as rapidly as did my mind: within 2 weeks I was 10 pounds thinner than I had been pre-pregnancy. I did not sleep, I did not eat, I did not smile. I looked like a cadaver, with deep circles under eyes that would not stop crying. I would not talk to anyone; the phone rang and rang and I refused to pick it up. Now I see I was recoiling into the deepest recesses of my body and spirit, trying to physically hide, to pretend somehow that this was not happening.

I tried reasoning with myself. I had had the unmedicated delivery I wanted so desperately, despite it being long and arduous. How could I have survived that experience, whose pain was fresh and blinding, and not be able to bear this? I had delivered a daughter, the gender of child that I’d never even allowed myself to admit how much I wanted. How could I not be grateful? In the face of such a thick, inarticulate fog of despair, whose power felt primal, logic absolutely failed. I could not see past the storm clouds either in my heart or on the horizon (and there were many there, too: an economy in collapse and a terminally-ill father-in-law awaiting a heart transplant).

I admit that for all of my pretense at open-mindedness, I had always thought that people who took anti-depressant medication were simply not trying hard enough. That arrogance disappeared overnight when I swallowed my first zoloft. Grace’s arrival was my hint – and, frankly, it was more like a sharp slap to the face, since I seemed to have trouble hearing the hints – that trying hard was not always going to be enough.

My recovery was gradual. If I plunged off a cliff in a near-vertical line when Grace was born, I climbed out on an angle just north of horizontal. I got significant help. I saw more than one therapist, frequently. I took medication. I can’t remember a specific day that I looked at my daughter and felt the swell of pleasure, of joy, of love that I had expected when she was born. It did happen, though I hate that I can’t note a specific day that those feelings arrived, and I love her fiercely now.

The truth is that I expected motherhood to be simple. I had been told that it would be instinctive, that I would look at my baby and realize I’d always been waiting for her. I didn’t. While I’ve spent my life working for specific achievements, I think I thought that this one thing, being a mother, was my birthright. It wasn’t. I am dogged by a profound guilt about those early days. I ask myself all the time what kind of damage my ambivalence did to her and to our bond. My passage to parenthood was marked by a deep grief that is integrally woven into my identity as a mother.

I delivered Grace myself, pulling her onto my chest with my own two hands. From that moment I began a long and difficult passage to the grace of motherhood. It did not come easily to me. I’ll never know if this has made me a more confident mother, for knowing the treacherous shoals I traversed, or a more insecure one, for the lingering knowledge that I did not embrace my child immediately. I try to tell myself it doesn’t matter now.

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Lindsey Mead is a mother and writer who lives outside of Boston with her husband and two children.  Her writing has been published and anthologized in a variety of print and online sources, including the Huffington Post, Literary Mama, Torn: True Stories of Kids, Career, and the Conflict of Modern Motherhood, the Princeton Alumni Weekly, and Brain, Child.  She blogs regularly at A Design So Vast and loves connecting with people on twitter and facebook.
Jennifer Pastiloff is the founder of The Manifest-Station. She will be leading a Manifestation Retreat in Costa Rica at the end of March and her annual retreat to Tuscany is in July 2014. All retreats are a combo of yoga/writing and for ALL levels. Read this post to understand what a Manifestation retreat is. Check out her site jenniferpastiloff.com for all retreat listings and workshops to attend one in a city near you. Jen and bestselling author Emily Rapp will be leading another writing retreat to Vermont in October.

Guest Posts, healing

Recovery Is a Choice. By Jennifer Lake.

July 23, 2013

Recovery Is a Choice. By Jennifer Lake.

You might not know it but I have it. I have the same thing that Corey Monteith died of. I have what Marilyn Monroe, Jim Morison, Amy Winehouse, Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, and Heath Ledger to name a few died of. That thing that we DON’T GET as a society, family, pop-culture. I have it. The same exact thing.

That thing that Jennifer, Mathew, Evan and Christy died of. But they weren’t famous, so it might not appear to be as glamorous or horrible or sad or tragic.

When I hear about the deaths of the famous and we see the headline: “Talented (fill in the blank, actress, actor, musician) found dead at “X” am in the morning, past known history of drug addiction and alcoholism, cause of death unknown.”  I go…really? Cause of death unknown? Maybe the (official) toxicology report says “cause of death unknown” but I am pretty sure it is clear when this story hits, to me anyway, I GET IT INSTANTLY. A hit of high octane reality check yourself at the door.  They died of their untreated diseases, alcoholism and drug addiction.  I get it. It is a HARD thing to wrap so many parts of your mind, body and soul around. It is a disease. NOT a moral choice. Not a matter of will power. Not a matter of I can have ONE and just be ok, walk away and live an enlightening meaningful existence. Not possible. If it were do you really think there would be SO many people suffering from this? I am one. I am a recovering alcoholic and drug addict. 12 years. AA found me when I was 20. I got sober a month before my 21st birthday. I am 32. 12 years in recovery WORKING a program based on spiritual principals that guide me through my day.  I pause when agitated or doubtful. I make amends if I have caused harm I show up, I make mistakes, and I hit the retry button. I never let a day go by without feeling fully grateful for where I am today even though it might not look exactly how I want…yet. That is up to god, it’s my life, unfolding in its own way and my REAL purpose beyond all the career hoo haaa is to be of maximum service to others. How can I show up and help you? How can I smile and be genuinely me so that you might have a brighter day? Sound too Anne of Green Gables for you?

I used to snort cocaine off of toilet seats at the restaurant I worked at in Times Square and guzzle the cheap pink house wine we served you out of a kid’s Sippy cup mixed with sprite. Yeah, I mixed cheap wine with sprite. You know? to cover it up. It tasted good, it felt good and it was my only way I knew how to live with myself. MESSED UP. It worked. It’s what got me to that place of utter oblivion where I wanted to live most of the time because what was the point of living if you had to be “sober” un-bearable. It was un-bearable to live with the noise that lived between my ears and deep rooted emptiness that inhabited my soul.  Judgment, fear, self doubt, resentment, blame, VICTIM, I am a victim. Alcohol is just a symptom of the disease. The world is doing to me. I’m way better, I suck way more. Everything is amplified times a million. A feeling is not just a feeling but a mad rush of concrete reality and it will never get better unless you get the fix to take YOU away from you. People love you? You don’t care. You are hurting people and loved ones around you? Impossible to fully accept or see it because you are too wrapped up in you… what YOU need. ME YOU ME YOU ME I. ME.  I begged to die. I wanted to die. I tried to die. It had me by the throat, the ballz, the ovaries, my cells. Every cell in my body was consumed with it. Toxic to the core. And yet on the outside I was this beautiful, intelligent, talented aspiring professional dancer.

Here is the ONLY thing that worked for me. I had to accept help. For an addict or alcoholic accepting help is like garlic to a vampire, silver to a wer wolf and crosses to ward off demons ( did I get my gross misinterpretations about Folklore correct? Great). I had to accept help. Alcoholism and drug addiction is a serious disease of mind, body, and spirit. You cannot cure one without the other and expect phenomenal results. GET IT? It is not just as simple as handing someone a thirty day stint in rehab where they might show improvement for that time and then say “HEY look you have a really big band-aid on your body. You should be fine going out into the real world now.” It is not as easy as a fix of taking some Percocet and wishing them well. Talk therapy is a beginning and can aide in recovery, but it won’t fix it. There is NO quick FIX. That is why SO many of us DON’T make it. YOU CANNOT TREAT THE PROBLEM WITH THE PROBLEM. It sounds SO simple and really quite obvious; YOU CANNOT TREAT THE PROBLEM with the problem. Rehab is a beginning. The first phone call for help, a beginning, the second stint at rehab a beginning.  The real solution is something that can’t be packaged or sold, health insurance companies can’t make money off of it and drug companies can’t either. The real solution, something that has been working with all its perfect flaws lies in this magical book and program of action; The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous as well as AA meetings. If you read it and you are not an alcoholic guess what? It won’t turn you into an alcoholic, but it might give you a better understanding of what people are dealing with. If you read it and you are an alcoholic? Guess what? You might actually have a chance of finding a solution to what MODERN MEDICINE has failed to solve and actually, probably never will. Because the solution lies in the addict or alcoholic actually doing some DEEP soul digging mind blowing work: WORK. ACTION. PROCCESS.  A process that is in and of itself PAINFUL. Like a good detox or hangover. You want it to hurt so you grow so far away from it that when times get tough you KNOW to your core you never want to go through that ever again.

Yes, it talks about god. Yes it does. You know what it says about god though? That YOU get to define what that looks like and means to you. YOU get to create that. My solution was in the big book of alcoholics anonymous. It is not ALL unicorns and fairytales. It is a long hard process and journey. There is a lot of joy in the whole deal. I get to be a parent of a beautiful gift of a daughter who is brilliant in every divine cell of her being. Her smile melts any despair or self doubt I may have and brings me right back to the moment.  TOO many bright souls fall from the starlight and sink into the pit of the destiny of their disease. Alcoholism and addiction want to annihilate you. Obliterate you. Take you out. It is a serious, life threatening disease, one never to be taken lightly or for granted or judged.

Here are some things I have learned and put into practice since doing the 12 steps as they are outlined in the big book of alcoholics anonymous with a sponsor (someone that has been through it and can guide you through the process as well) This took me 6 years, it can take shorter amounts of time it can take longer, it just depends on how much time you give it. It is but a beginning to the process of living the rest of my life one day at a time as a useful, meaningful, inspired being who can actually participate in life instead of hide in a corner in the middle of her own self created hell.

  1. The whole point of the process is for me to create a clearing so I can be connected to…GOD, Buddha, the universe, a light bulb, the air conditioning, stars (a power greater than myself, and KNOW that I am NOT IT)
  2. I show up to life NO MATTER HOW I FEEL
  3. I have beautiful divine gifts and it is my responsibility to work with them and be of service to others
  4. I have a past, it is my past. It’s been dealt with. I do my best to in live in the present to create a better future.
  5. I have tools, a literal process to utilize in order to “turn around” any current resentments that might pop up in my day to day activity
  6. I own my mistakes, take responsibility for my actions and make amends for any harm I have caused
  7. To the core of who I am I know I am loved, valuable, matter, belong here and have a divine purpose

May everyone find the help that they need so their voices may be heard and lives lived with purpose truth and meaning. If you do go to a meeting and don’t like what you hear…go find another one. Keep looking until you find your solution. NEVER give up. Recovery is a choice. Alcoholism is not.

 

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Jennifer Lake: Is a divine gift and inspiration straight from the heavens upon this earth. People collect in masses just to kiss the ground she has touched as it has special, spiritual properties that have been known to transform you instantly into a unicorn that lives just beyond the end of the rainbow. And they dance happily in the thick of the meadow and play the banjo and of course all are welcome. She is also an experienced Kick A$% Yoga Teacher, and A.C.E Certified Personal Trainer. She is a riot to be with for real and enjoys making her clients laugh so hard they pee. She specializes in helping herself and others ENJOY this thing called life ( I mean really, we live on a sphere that is whirling through space, and we just relatively recently accepted it is round). More JOY please. She has known great suffering and despair and equally great joy and inner space freedom. She is fascinated by how our minds work and perceive things and even more fascinated by overcoming the negative pull of frustration, self doubt, judgment, and ego in order to truly, really, honestly be at peace and be happy. Find her at: www.be-one-yoga.com