New Books and Sitting With Some Grief

My current literary love affair is with memoirs. I find myself utterly moved by the stories, experiences and words of other people – women specifically – who mirror some of my addictive behaviors or can teach me new perspectives through the wisdom of their own journeys. My newest infatuation is with a book called Whip Smart: The True Story of a Secret Life by Melissa Febos. In it, she describes her struggle of balancing school in New York City with a heroin and cocaine addiction, a pastime she pays for from the spoils of being a professional dominatrix. This story speaks to my own sexual fascinations and my own specific needs to numb which used to rule my life.

In one scene she describes walking from the subway to her next ‘session’ with a client. She has just come from her dealer and holds her next fix in her pocket. She walks past a common room at a dorm and sees students through the windows, studying, catching up for finals, socializing. What she says next sent a needle of recognition directly into my heart — ‘A part of me belonged there, and sometimes I could feel how I was killing it; I could feel its deprivation in me like a great, sucking wind, an inverted scream. A part of me wanted to be good, to believe that I inherently was, and that everything would be okay, in warm places without secrets or the endless craving that drove me outside at night to fill a hole that was never full. But my craving was real, not only for drugs but also for things that could only exist in the limitless world outside those cozy windows. I knew I’d have to quiet some other inconsolable part of myself to live in that safe world and wasn’t at all certain that I could, even if I’d wanted to.’

This resonates with me oh, so much. I can’t possibly count the number of times I’ve felt like a worthless, dirty junkie watching any number of cozy moments from the outside. I remember my days of drinking alongside an active alcoholic, feeling like the secret of his addiction would swallow me whole just as easily as he swallowed his beers. I remember watching him stumble, sip, chuckle, sip, and stumble again on his way to the bathroom night after night. I remember sensing his cravings and wanting, wishing, willing them to stop. Of course, no amount of my energy would ever be able to console the inconsolable part of him.

I believe we all carry something in us that cry out. Parts that perpetually hurts. I think that by default or maybe some sort of emotional osmosis, he  melded with the grief stricken parts of me that fed into my addictive behaviors. Some of the habits I gleaned from my time with him remain with me now. I still have cravings of my own. I still, from time to time, feel like a nasty little miscreant, pressing my nose up against the cold glass as I covet what others have on the inside. I used to delude myself into thinking my relationship with someone as addicted as him was what I wanted, even deserved. I believed that I would find, with him, what it meant to exist on the safe, cozy side of life. I tried that for a while, but it continued to spiral out of my control. Some of the bad times still haunt me – broken furniture, spilled beers, angry words – but it wasn’t all bad all the time. Even now, some of the verbal expressions that were hilarious and so him still fall out of my mouth from time to time. Relationships leave their mark on you. The good and the bad. For me though, the bad parts of it had a hold on me for a long time.

As the years have gone by, I’ve processed all I could think to process around my relationship with him and I detached. I moved on. I got over it, little by little. But, occasionally, nostalgia would get the better of me and I would peek at his pictures on Facebook. He got married in 2016, to the woman who came into his life right after I left it. He seemed to be doing really well. I was happy for him. I hoped very much that he would have a fulfilling life with her and find some peace. I hoped that she could give him what I couldn’t, whatever that was.

I got a call two weeks ago from one of his friends who I stayed in touch with here and there over the years to tell me that my ex had died. Cause of death was liver failure. The wave of grief I felt was immediate and strong. I was so surprised with how big it felt. I hadn’t spoken to him in years. He was married to someone else, I’m in love with someone else. It didn’t make any rational sense for me to feel so consumed by learning he was dead. I didn’t think I had the right to mourn him.

But mourn him, I did. I got right into the depths of grief for a few days and sat in the muck of all the complicated stuff I didn’t realize I still carried with me. I immersed myself in memories of him – without drinking to numb the pain I might add – and looked at old photos, remembering all the laughs and honest to goodness good times we had together. I laughed and then I cried. When I cried I thought about how sad and untimely his death is. He was just 41 years old. The heartbroken places within him were never able to be soothed or quieted. I knew I couldn’t save him, but some naïve part of me prayed that he would somehow find a way to save himself. Knowing that he couldn’t and it killed him makes me so very, very sad.

I went to his wake with my supportive and emotionally stable boyfriend by my side. I faced his family who did not like me very much by the time he and I were breaking up to pay my respects. His mother was very surprised, but touched to see me and cried into my shoulder. I hugged his widow whom I had never met after hearing her say, ‘you’re that Annie’. I offered my condolences to his stepmother whom I adored and his father who stoically pushed me away towards the end of the line. I knelt in front of his smooth black coffin and cried my own private good-bye to him.

It was a terribly emotional experience and it was tough, but it was 100% worth it. The more you grieve, the better at it you get. It’s like anything else you do more than once; you get more experienced and more practiced. I, for better or worse, know this to be true. I didn’t know how to let go of grief when I was younger. But after walking through a wake for someone who played a large, dysfunctional, often fun, complicated and toxic role in my life, I am fully capable, if not eager to let go.

I left the funeral home feeling shaky and…..relieved. It felt like a fog was dissipating, not lifting, but slowly disappearing. I felt his power over me go away. It left no trace or whisper of its existence, it was beautifully and simply gone. Just as he is gone. His death, as with any other, brings an acute sense of finality. A somewhat ugly chapter finally, at long last, closed.

I’m leaving all the mucky, murky mess of that time in my life behind me. (Truth be told, I thought I had already done that…but life can always surprise you.) I’m letting go. I have so many good, warm, cozy and safe things to look forward to. I’m still adjusting to how rife with fertile potential my future is. It’s process for me, but a process I am so excited and satisfied to be a part of.

 

 

I hope you can Rest Peacefully. I will miss you and hold the good times we shared in my heart.

 

The Parking Lot of Pain

So. I had a session with my therapist today and she (as per usual) had some fantastic nuggets of wisdom for me. I read ‘Visiting Day’ to her. Her immediate question when I finished was, ‘Does the pain really still feel that big to you, even now?’ My answer was, ‘Yes.’ I wish my answer was something different, but as of today, it’s not.

I then told her about a dream I had the night before I wrote the post. In it, I was walking through a huge parking lot. A Target style lot. Rows and rows of empty spaces on either side of me. The air was humid, saturated with moisture and very close. My clothes clung to me like barnacles. I was pushing an overloaded shopping cart. I had no idea what was in it, only that it was cumbersome, heavy and difficult to navigate. I was trying to get to my car as quickly as I could because of the heat. I loathe the heat. But because of the damn cart I wasn’t covering any ground. It was almost like the pavement was half melted and the wheels of the cart were forever getting stuck, twisted and off course.

I glanced behind me and saw a group of five 13 or 14 year old boys following me. They had an intense ‘Lord of the Flies’ energy about them; all charged up on primal testosterone-fueled anger. Their faces may have even been painted and they were literally carrying spears. They were gaining on me because of my snail-like pace. I could have left the cart and started to run. This idea didn’t occur to me. I just dug in my feet and continued to push. Before I knew it, the leader of the pack starting whooping, ran at full speed toward me and smacked me square on the ass – HARD. He said, ‘Get the FUCK out of here!!’ I felt the slap, but not in the good way. It Hurt. And then I woke up.

I didn’t think of it again until I was in session with my therapist today. Right away, she knew what the dream was trying to slap me (literally) with. The pack of boys represented my brother and his tumultuous existence. Their anger was Tom’s anger. It was my anger too. All my anger directed at myself. She reasoned that the parking lot represented my pain. Big. Suffocating. And she went further still saying that the boys were trying to literally kick me out of my pain. They wanted me Gone from that giant lot. Disappeared. Never to return. It was like they wanted to be left there in peace. I had been overstepping my welcome for far too long and they were just plain done with me. Done.

And holy shit. The boys in my dream and my therapist were both SO right. I feel this pain of mine too much. I turn it over and over in my hands. I gaze at it. I worship it. My Precious.

Putting the tribe of boys in my dream together with what’s been going on in my life, (e.g., drinking daily, not exercising, feeling stuck as fuck) was exactly what I needed. My eyes opened and it clicked – I’m stuck in my pain. I’m addicted to my pain. It’s like I’ve been laboriously pushing that damn cart up and down the rows, looking for a car that isn’t there (and probably never was) since 1997. It’s a fruitless and tremendously exhausting endeavor, one I’ve been trying to perfect for years.

And I don’t have to stay stuck there. I can give up the search for my non-existent vehicle and simply walk away. First I have to let go of the shopping cart. That has to stay in the lot. I know it.

All I have to do is….Let………Go.

It’s so simple.

Mindfulness and awareness have always been my biggest allies. Both have helped me immensely to foster change in my thinking and behaviors in the past. Remaining aware and mindful is where I struggle; it’s oh so easy to fall off the wagon.

But nowadays I have a blog. I can come back to this and re-read it any time I need a reminder of what I already know. I have friends who check in and can help me remain accountable and blissfully aware. I do not have to do this alone. That’s one prime piece of knowledge I want to remain especially mindful of.

I am not alone.

 

 

 

 

 

Visiting Day

Today is July 16th.

I saw my brother alive for the last time on this day 19 years ago.

He hadn’t been living with my parents and I for a few years. He wasn’t around much during my adolescence. He ran away a lot. He bought and sold drugs. He tried to kill himself. He spent a lot of time in group homes or juvenile detention centers. In the last few years of his life he was living with his girlfriend. When he did manage to make an appearance at the old colonial farmhouse we grew up in it was always because he needed something.

That day he needed money. I knew he needed money. He came sweeping into the kitchen, cool as a cucumber, ‘where’s mom?’

‘Out’, my curt reply. I was so mad at him. He had caused so much pain and never given anything back. I hated him for leaving me alone with my parents and sick grandmother. I hated him for taking my parents’ attention away from me when I needed it too. I hated him for being so fucking selfish and never asking me how I was. I hated him. I hated myself for hating him.

He showed me his new piercing. Tongue. It looked like a wad of raw hamburger; slick, swollen and red. ‘Wow, gross.’ My second short reaction to my big brother who used to have nothing but my worship when I was really little. Even though I was angry at him and didn’t know how to love him, I was really happy to see him. He would always be my cool big brother. Oh, how I wanted, needed his attention. God.

He shuffled his feet and looked toward the door, ‘Will you tell mom to call me? I need to ask her something.’

‘Sure,’ I said. I watched as he angled his body toward the porch without looking back at me.

‘See you later.’ His last words to me. Ever. I nodded and silently flipped the bird at his back.

I watched him walk back to the car idling in the driveway, his friend who drove him smoking a butt. I could see sweat beaded on his forehead as he sank into the passenger seat. The door slammed with a finality I didn’t yet understand. The car backed up, drove down the dirt packed driveway. Out of my life. Forever.

That was the last time I saw Tom. He died in a car accident the next day, along with another young man. The person driving the car wasn’t drunk or high. Just irresponsible and reckless. Going around a hairpin curve at 70 miles an hour can take lives.

19 years.

I used to think that this pain would go away. I used to assume it wouldn’t hurt as much as it once did. But that’s just not the case. On days like today, when my dreams feature him and his ghost feels so near, the pain is as big as it was back then. The loss doesn’t go away. The grief doesn’t leave. It never, ever stops hurting. All you get is distance from the pain. Sometimes it’s across the country. Sometimes it’s a block away. Other times it’s sleeping in bed with you. And others still it’s in your fucking blood.

Today is one of those times for me. I can hear the songs played at his funeral mass, ‘Fur Elise’ and ‘Every Breath You Take’ as covered by Puff Daddy. I can smell the flowers at his funeral and see the white roses of my ‘sister’s bouquet’ perched amongst the arrangements. I can hear the young girl asking my mother to open his casket so she can see him one last time. I can feel my mother’s kind reaction as she soothes a stranger while her son lies dead 5 feet away. I can feel the humidity of the July air as we buried him. All of it happening in my head in vivid living color.

It will pass. It will lessen. Soon, the pain will click its’ dusty bootheels on the pavement, steadily moving away from me…but it will always come back for a visit. Always.

Her First Time

Oh God.

I made a decision to start a blog without really thinking about what it would actually feel like to write about myself honestly and allow *everyone* to read my words. I’m shaking in these boots of mine a little. Be gentle with me….won’t you?

Here goes:

I am an addict. This is my attempt to stay accountable, responsible, conscious and one day, become sober. I am a truth seeker, a truth speaker…but I’ve been lying to myself for too long. I am an addict. I have been hiding it for too long. I need help. Maybe, just maybe, in writing this blog and talking about what is slowly taking control of my life I will be able to dig deep and let go.

Most people are addicted to something – booze, drugs, sex, gambling, shopping, social networking, gossip, food, etc. A lot of people are unaware of their vices, I certainly was. Addiction is quiet, stealthy. It builds and waits. Waits and builds. It likes to *pounce*. When it pounced on me, the paralysis was total. And terrifying. I thought I had my shit together, I really did.

Growing up, I was always the good girl. Good grades. Good friends. Good after school activities. Good plans for my future (Syracuse University baby!) I did everything right, it never occurred to me to be anything but a ‘good girl’. That was the first half of my life. Everything was mostly ok until the summer before my senior year of high school. My brother died. And the Good Girl part of me was lost. His death gave birth to The Addict in me.

The second half of my life feels like a whirlwind of grief, bad relationships, booze, overeating, random sex, cancer, more loss, more grief and chaos. All the tough life experiences that have simply happened to me have dragged me down so much that I am now a daily drinker. I don’t even think about it anymore, I just come home from work and pour. Desperate to disconnect.

My addiction is threefold – food, men, alcohol. The focus of my addictive behavior ebbs and flows. Sometimes all I want is to drink myself gone. Others I want to eat an entire bag of potato chips and then some cake. Maybe an entire cake. And others still, I want to get laid and I don’t give a fuck who it is. But the foundation remains the same, I continue to need to be numb. I need to fill myself because inside I feel empty, broken and viscerally scared.

I think I’m almost to the point of being sick and tired of being sick and tired. I’m almost ready to make a significant change. Almost. Will I drink tonight? Probably. Will I feel quite as guilty about it as I have in the past few months? Maybe not. I’m finally talking about it. My white knuckle grip on my ‘secret’ has loosened.

Thank you for reading.

More to come.