Tag Archives: Addiction

hope is not enough

BY EMILY DICKINSON“Hope” is the thing with feathers -That perches in the soul -And sings the tune without the words -And never stops - at all -And sweetest - in the Gale - is heard -

There comes a day when you open to Hope, examine its feathers, begin to hear its song.

23843599_10214476329163299_5196544792506332245_nWhistling very quietly you make plans for him, and even for yourself. Not big plans, small plans like a Service Dog for him, and a divorce for you. The dog will ground him, and he will keep getting better. He will work, he will find stability and he will have times where he is happy. For you, it’s just a small hope, a little house, a little life of your own, a means to live this life you imagine.

The call comes, just as it always does. The call after the successful holiday visits, after your biggest worry was how to pay for a dog for him. Aside: you mistype dog as god and consider leaving the typo. Spoiler: you never get to figure the pay for it part out. The call after everyone has assumed that he is now Better and Everything Will Be Okay and are secretly so fucking relieved because having to keep hearing about his struggles was rather exhausting, and they would like the much easier task of thinking all is Just Grand now.

The call comes and he is unstable, he is very ill and he is back in a hospital. You’ve had this call dozens of time, you still whistle and hold Hope’s feather between your thumb and first finger.

Then silence. Silence for days and days and you don’t know where he is and no one is answering your messages. The silence perches in your stomach. The silence does know how to whistle.

The new call came this morning while you were drinking coffee. The new call included the phrases,

  • He needs another level of care and they’re not it. They had Been It for four years. You thought they would Be It when he got his dog (or typo god). You thought this is where he might feel happy because you know what really sucks? What REALLY SUCKS is being 22years old and struggling with a serious illness for the last 11 years. An illness that people judge and blame you and your family for. Nobody wants that.
  • He needs a  ‘Long-Term Therapeutic Living Community”  Info: 1. they are Capital E Expensive, but 2. You have good insurance! but 3. they have very long waiting lists. Aside: He has good insurance only for another few years under his dad’s plan.
  • We’ve practically been keeping him for free / We can’t adopt him / What did YOU think was going to happen to him long-term?! This is where you mention the dog, the work, the bit of happiness and feel foolish.
  • We don’t know what more we can do for him / This is the best he can manage / He isn’t going to get better than this.

He isn’t going to get better than this.

The feather is gone and you are trying desperately not to sound like someone who is sobbing into a couch pillow between mumbled replies.

Then you hear the voice that said to you years ago that if you ever tried to leave, to divorce that you would be destitute and live in a ‘rat infested shithole’ which is now somewhat funny because of the current news. Still, how can you possibly think of divorcing, taking money for your little house when your son will need it for the rest of his life. How can you think about yourself when you realize he will not get better and you will be in charge of him for the rest of your life. IMG_20171202_011100_116.jpg

divinity

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dear Johnny,

He was there again at the same spot on my drive home. Hours and hours after I had stopped and given him what food I had. The same face, same cardboard sign that driver after driver pretended not to see. He seem resigned to this, that he deserved nothing more than their indifference. I think this is what made me cry, this and the thought of his cold hands holding that sign. 

This is where I remember I am no hero for feeding him, that I am the person who left you to die alone with your hands and face slowly turning cold hours and perhaps days before they found you. I remember that I let my own son be homeless, left him to the mercy of strangers, let him be cold, alone and resigned to the indifference of others. That once when he came home cold and hungry I gave him a sandwich and a sleeping bag and sent him out again into the cold night. That I spent that night just sitting on the floor because I could find no other way to breathe. I remember other nights sitting against my bedroom door listening to him trying to get into our house, not crying, only breathing.  But the sight of this boy tonight, this cold boy, holding his sign, his face believing that he deserved no better, tonight this is more than I can manage.

When I see him I also see you, cold, alone and dying. I see my precious boy walking away from his home on a cold night with a stupid sandwich and a sleeping bag and I know that I let all of you down. That I let you die Johnny. That I let my boy be cold and alone and hungry. 

I don’t ever want to be forgiven for this.

And so, I see all your faces together, all your cold hands holding that sign today and it is as raw as the nights I spent sitting on my floor not saving anyone but myself. 

I don’t what divinity is, only that I saw it in his face today and all I wanted to do was save him, feed him and to beg him to forgive me, but the traffic moved then and I do nothing but drive home and leave him cold and alone holding his small sign.

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one of us

It’s always the same funeral home. Maybe they specialize in supporting the families of addicts and alcoholics. Maybe one them is one of us and understands. Maybe, maybe not, but it’s the place we meet when one of us dies.

griefstatueOne of us.

Another one of us has died. We gather together again and stumble through all the things you say when there really is nothing that would make this anything other than horrible and tragic. Prayers, Healing Light, God, Heaven,  At Peace, Better Place, people say these things when they want to provide some comfort, where there is none to be had. There is nothing that is comforting at a time like this. Honestly the only thing that makes sense to say is that This Sucks, It Sucks A Lot, and I’m sorry. We hug each other, cry, hold hands. We laugh too, just a little, sometimes.

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This will be the first memorial I’ve been to since my brother’s.  He is at the front of my thoughts today. He is most days, but more so today. I miss him. She will miss her sister. Forty and dead. Somehow this seems worse than forty eight and dead.

Not that you should qualify the degree to which some thing is tragic, but we do just that. Did they have children? How old are the kids? Was it sudden or was it drawn out? How old were they? Were they in love? What were their gifts? Somehow the answers to these questions let us decide relatively how tragic someone’s death is. Then there is the shame or a stigma that can accompany a death from addiction, alcoholism, or mental illness. Sometimes this can let us believe that we can be immune to this kind of death. We cannot. No one is. We know this. It’s why we congregate and reassure each other that we are still okay, that our demons are still in check and that, just for today, we can look at them without needing to hide from or numb  our feelings.

As to the purpose of this pain and heartbreak, I can think of just one, and that is to make you better able to be of service to another person. Ultimately, that is all we can do, service is the thing that gets us out of our own ego centered lives and broadens our vision and our reach.  John’s death has been unspeakably painful, it has been to date the most difficult thing I have experienced. It brought me to my knees, physically and spiritually. It has made me at times, angry, heartbroken, depressed, cynical, and so many more things.  It has also opened me in a way I was not before. Today’s service was excruciating, awash in all the emotions from John’s service and the months following it, but I was also able to be there for a friend and be fully present with the pain she felt.

People die from alcoholism and addiction for many physical reasons, but emotionally a very self centered fear is what takes over their thinking and leads them to their death. Fear of not getting what we desperately want, that we are unlovable, fear that we are unworthy  is often what drives us, what holds us back, what causes us to lash out, to retreat and hide. When we live in fear we don’t really live. When we live in fear we can reach for anything to numb it, to take the unbearable feelings away. Living in fear is dark and scary place. The only way out of it is to do the thing that is the most terrifying, to lean into the fear, to feel it completely, to get really, really uncomfortable, to tell someone of your shame, your fears, to be fulling present as yourself, your flawed, imperfect, messy, shameful self. It is here you realize that you can survive being uncomfortable without constant distractions, that you are worthy of love, that you can be comfortable in your own skin.

TIMG_3274his is not the easy path. Anyone who has walked it wished for an easier, softer way. If there is one, I have not found it. If there was one there would be fewer services like today.

ghost

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I love you

I got a call from a ghost today.

The call display said Montana, and  I almost didn’t answer, I don’t know anyone from Montana. The call was from a father that I didn’t know. A father that I will never meet. He told me his son was dead, and for a moment I had to think which dead son is this, which dead child is this about.

Then I understood.

This was Kevin’s father. Kevin who was dead. Kevin, the young man who made a small party my son’s first birthday in Arizona, far away from home. Kevin, who arranged for a decorated ice cream cake and twenty candles. Kevin who ordered pizzas with everything that Graham liked on them. Kevin who took pictures of Graham blowing out the candles and sent them to me because he knew how sad I was about not being there for his birthday. That Kevin who took care of my son when I could not. That Kevin who within six months of the party had relapsed, and shortly after had died.

I had sent his phone a text after he died. More of a prayer in text form. It read something like I’m so very sorry, and thank you. I was so sorry he had died, and still so grateful to him for taking care of my son. I sent it, and like a prayer, I never thought anyone would ever know about it.

I do understand that to his father when he finally got his dead son’s phone that my message would be a mystery. I imagine how many times he must of read it before he worked up the nerve to call me and ask just what I meant texting a dead person.

Today he called and we found out about each other, although we never even exchanged names. I told him that I was so sorry, that his son had been kind to mine, and kind to me, and how much that meant to me. I told him that my son was still alive and still clean and sober. I don’t know that was comforting or painful for him. I think it could be both. Maybe I should  have said in October my brother, John, and many years ago my father, Alan died of the same disease his son did. Maybe, but that’s not the same as a child. Nothing could be that.

He seemed content enough to have his mystery solved and we said goodbye, and then I sat there and cried for all of us, for those who have died, and for those of us who loved them. I cried, because there is nothing else I can do for Kevin, for John, for Alan, for any of the dead ones.

For the families and loved ones left behind, sorry is not ever going to be enough. Sorry can’t heal the kind of pain this is, but is all we can do. We say sorry and we then hold space for someone’s pain. We say sorry and we hold space in our words, in our actions, in our lives, and in our hearts for them. We let them feel their pain without judgement. We surround them in as much love as we can. This is what we do for the living,

because there is nothing more we can do for our dead.

275 days

wp-1468187743004.jpg275 days of saying goodbye. 275 days so far.

We’ve made it through the first month, first Christmas, first Easter, first birthday, the first 9 months.

275 days since they found you lying on your floor. 275 days of imagining you lying there alone.

It started with a phone call, an email and a long drive home to police tape and a stain on your carpet. Days of cleaning and loading parts of you I wanted into my trunk, an obituary and another long drive back. Later a eulogy, a service with your family, your daughters, my daughters, poems, songs, readings, prayers, food, friends family and a goodbye. Another drive.

20160130_122314-01.jpegThen a flight, a Sedona hike with your nephew, a candle and a prayer in The Chapel of the Holy Cross. Another hike, an offering with the same prayer, “I love you Johnny”. I left part of you in Arizona in one of the most sacred places I know. I left your ring, our father’s ring in The 20160130_143710-01.jpegAmitabha Stupa and Peace Park, a place full of love and peace. I left it there wearing your shirt, the sleeves rolled up in the heat.

And this week a drive, a sacred fire, prayers and songs, an offering to the creator in the tradition of the Lakȟóta people. And last night a bamboo leaf, the same prayer, and a candle floating away into the sunset.

 

 

 

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I love you Johnny

too busy

20151019_152813-01screenshot_2016-03-06-22-58-25-01.jpegGoogle has been good enough to remind me that your birthday is coming up. There’s a bright red rectangle, with a little picture of birthday cake on my calendar on the top of Tuesday, an “All Day Event”, “John Day’s birthday”. Facebook too doesn’t want me to forget your 48th birthday is coming up this week.

I don’t know how to get rid of either notification. I can’t wait until about 10 am on Tuesday when my phone will send me the notice that I should wish you a Happy Birthday. There doesn’t seem a way to turn these things off.

Thanks, Google! Facebook, you’re awesome, the  absolute best, I mean I might have forgotten to call you and sing happy birthday with the kids like we always do. Except you won’t have a 48th birthday. You won’t have cake, terrible singing (that would be from me and my kids), me making fun of you, your daughters, you won’t have any of this again.

And what do I do? I sit here in wrapped up in your clothes punching the keyboard of my laptop in some vain attempt to find some meaning, some comfort, some anything in this. I’ve got nothing. Absolutely nothing. I want to write something profound and beautiful, but all I have is this huge empty place that is absolutely silent.

“Love is so short, forgetting is so long.” – Pablo Neurda

or as he orginally wrote it “Es tan corto al amor, y es tan largo el olvido”  translated “It is so short to love, and oblivion so long”

It is so short to love, and oblivion so long.

I wish I had loved you better. I wish we had had more time. There is nothing now, no more time. I rethink and replay entire years and the individual seconds that I had you as my brother and know I could have loved you better. I should have done something more to save you. I knew better than anyone what was happening to you. I can never say I didn’t fully understand what was happening. I understood. I felt many of the same things you felt.  We were the same in so many ways, I knew your demons, I shared so many of them, and I still did not save you. I stood still and watch you leave.

The truth is I was too busy saving my own life, too busy with my own demons, too busy trying to save my son. I knew you were leaving, and I watched you go. I should have done more, I should have done something. I just didn’t have anything left in me to save you too, and now it’s too late.

I’m so sorry Johnny.

the forgotten art of self love

10616274_10204420794615608_257153541342318674_nFor too many days I have not written about you. I tell your stories more quietly, to just myself. Wearing grief on the outside becomes less fashionable as time passes.

I never did unpack my car trunk completely from my last visit home, my last visit to your home, it’s not mine anymore, and so I still hear the shift of your tool bag and the occasional rattle of the metal picture frames in their basket when I turn corners. To unpack them, and store them has a finality to it I’m not quite ready for.

It’s been just over four months. One hundred and thirty eight days more precisely.

In one hundred and forty nine days it will be what should have been your 48th  birthday. I try not to think about that.

Just over four months since they found your cold dead body lying alone on your apartment floor, alone and cold. One hundred and thirty eight days of imaging you there. I hide the grief better now, but it hasn’t dulled. Its weight on my chest a nearly constant presence.

People are trying to be kind and well meaning when they say things like you’re in a better place, or that you’re happy now, or the absolute worst, these things happen for a reason. I know they mean well, but I also know that regardless, you’re not here, and we are.  That there is no good reason for any of this. The people you left behind, the ones who loved you, the ones who loved you despite your struggles, who loved you even when it was the most painful thing in the world to do. We loved you. We still love you. We are still here trying to make sense of a world without you. You’re not in pain anymore, and perhaps one day that will be comforting. It’s not right now. It’s selfish, but when you were alive and in so much pain, we could at least hope. We could hope that you would find your way back.

20151019_143920-01When you were just a little boy mom had to rush you to hospital in the middle of the night. You were very sick, and I remember being so jealous that you got presents, new pajamas, and all the attention. You recovered completely and the dramatic midnight hospital trip became a family antidote that we would pull out and laugh about.

Last night I ended up in hospital in tremendous pain. It was a different time, different place, but the same aliment. But mine was brought on by my own indifference to myself, that and some ambitious and opportunistic bacteria. I did not get presents or new pajamas, but I did finally see how poorly I’ve been taking care of myself. I’m like the character in the video below, a cartoon version of me.

20151019_144255-01Johnny, I think about you every single day, every hour of every day that I’m awake, and often in my sleep. My heart hurts every day. I wear some of your clothes, your art work hangs in my office, your tools rattle in my trunk every time I drive. You are with me every moment, so much so that I forgot that I needed to take care of myself. I have been so wrapped in grief and heartbreak, and keeping that pain inside that I made myself physically ill.

For the first time in a very long time, I cooked a meal just for myself. We were such foodies you and I, and I lost that. Tonight, after a quiet day of post hospital rest, I made myself a wonderful meal and ate it while I read. It was an act of self love that I’d almost forgotten about.

I miss you. I keep waiting for this to be a story I’ve made up, but it never ever is. You’re gone, and I’m still  here.

IMG_5568I love you Johnny,  that was the last thing I ever said to you, last summer, a couple of months before you died, standing in the pouring rain by the lake in Chicago from my cell phone. I had called you on whim, we had barely spoken since your time in ICU, the time we thoug
ht you were going to die, but you pulled through.  I didn’t realize I would never speak to you again.  I still want to say more to you. Maybe that’s why I write these letters to you. Maybe it’s me pretending that you can hear me still. Or maybe I just need to get the words out to keep myself sane.

I love you Johnny, and I miss you so terribly much.305888_1912109127175_7470649_n