eulogy for my brother

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“He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last forever: I was wrong.”
-W.H. Auden, Funeral Blues

To paraphrase Emily Brontë, my love for my brother was like the eternal rocks beneath, not always visible, not always a source of delight, and no more a source of pleasure than I am to myself, but necessary, it resides in my bones, not just in my heart, or my thoughts, it lives in every cell in my body. Whatever souls are made of, his and mine are the same.

To say John was brilliant, or merely complex would be an understatement. He was so many, many things, – to paraphrase myself – a brilliant creator and solver of puzzles, a talented player and lover of music, a gifted conceiver and expresser of visual arts – be they paint, pencil, wood, clay, or words, and an inspired and – sometimes overly – creative chef.

He created. He created games, puzzles, paintings, delicious food. He created a home for his daughters.

He made you laugh.

John would have had you in stiches by now. He was the funniest person I’ve ever known. Brilliant, witty, irreverent and always ready with a joke or amusing observation.

Everyone in this room has laughed, and not just once because of something John said or did. He was the original photo-bomber, he was always ready to drop to the conversation lowest common denominator, which generally involved loud bodily functions, burping, farting, burping and farting together, burping songs, making fart noises in his arm, in his arm pit, and then drawing everyone in.

20151019_144255-01When my son first started struggling he sent him homemade Hero cards, featuring Greek, Roman God, with points and skills assigned. Each and every one said “Kicks Butt” and Hercules “Occasionally goes BESERK” The last card he sent was the Uncle John card. The Uncle John Hero was described as “The Sharpest Spoon in the drawer, fancified dancer, can kick his own butt – plus that of Uncle Ruth’s, yep, that’s what he called me when he wasn’t calling me Big Nose. His Attack number was 42, a Douglas Adams reference I’m sure, His Thoughts were listed as “Not Often”, his Symbol was “Messy Hair and Stinky Socks” – although his stinky socks, as many of us knew could be better listed as a Weapon. His special skills were “Sarcasm and Burping” – okay, that part was pretty accurate. The card was quintessentially John, from the stinky socks to the self deprecating humour. he also sent Graham a rubber chicken, a series of original Canadian comic books, still in their protective covers (a state that did not last long), and a hand sewn teddy bear.

He was generous. With his love, with his art, food, with everything he gave openly and freely.

Picture John made for (of) me, 2003

Picture John made for (of) me, 2003

He also called me Big Nose, even made me a little drawing of Big nose. I called him No Chin. It was a special sort of endearment between us. He also called me Bruce, well my whole family calls me that, between that and the Uncle Ruth is surprising I don’t have a gender identity problem. At my wedding he gave a brilliant speech – it included Ode to a Grehian Urn, my driving skills, my applying makeup while driving skills, my applying makeup, singing to the radio, while shifting gears, driving skills – you get the idea. He was brilliant. He was also charming, and a beautiful person all the way through.

Where I have been described as feisty, stubborn, Little Miss Splendid – yes, they gave me that book, John was the sucky second child, the one who charmed his way through things. I would dig my heals in and cross my arms – metaphorically and often literally when faced with obstacles, John used charm. It made me crazy. One fateful year when I was visiting from school I came home to a little brother who was now taller than I was. It was a moment he had been waiting for his whole life. In the den he wrestled me to the rug, sat on me with his hand over my mouth and the poked and tickled me all the while yelling “mom!!! Ruth’s hurting me!!” Needless to say by the time my mother arrived he had jumped back and assumed an injured stance in the corner looking beseechingly at our mother, who may or may have believed him, but certainly played along. That is how my brother rolled. Many of the times I have laughed the hardest, the stuff coming out your nose, tears coming down your cheeks, the immanent danger of peeing your pants kind of laughter, those laughs 20151019_152813-01originated with my brother.

Which makes his ending all the more tragic.

A few months ago, a friend of mine died. He was in his 90s, had lived a full life, was productive right till the end, and then one night he died peacefully in his sleep. We took comfort in that. The rare times we think about our own deaths, this is often the one we want, the good death, the peaceful, after a long well lived life death. This is what we want for ourselves and our loved ones. No one wants to die like John did, no one. There is nothing comforting about his death. It is utterly heartbreaking and tragic. It is unfair. It was wrong for him to die as he did.

The thing about a brain disease, which is what John died from, a brain disease called alcoholism, the thing about it, is that it takes away the personality, and then it takes away the person that you knew and loved. We lost John, but before that he lost himself. That guy, the one who made us laugh till we cried, who sang to us, read to us, who made wonderful art and delicious food, that beautiful person, was lost to a disease that affected and distorted the way he thought, the way he saw the world, and mostly the way he saw himself.

John felt things very deeply, maybe too deeply. One of my first memories of us is me wrapping him in a blanket during a sand storm on a beach. I have no idea what the context of the situation was, what I remember is wanting to protect my brother above anything else.

I couldn’t protect him from this. None of us could. There was never something that one of us did that caused this, there was nothing that we didn’t do that would have cured this, and there was never a way anyone else could have controlled his disease. Cunning, baffling and powerful is how alcoholism is aptly described, and it is, it is all of those things. It took our father, and it took John, both before their 50th birthdays.

John’s behavour for the last several years was baffling, it was heartbreaking. He pushed us away. His brain, his thinking was so distorted by this disease that the only way he could cope was to continue to try and numb his thoughts and feelings. It never meant that he loved any of us less. He loved his family, his daughters and Tamara were his life. That never wavered, not for a instant. He loved us, all of us, and in the end that’s what we need to hold on to. As painful as this has been, hold on to the times he made you laugh, the times he showed his love to you, the times he was his exceptionally lovable and goofy self. It won’t happen today, or maybe not this year, but start to let go of the painful memories, and hold on instead to what you loved about him. Remember him as someone full of love, caring, stinky socks and really terrible jokes. His personal favourite was “you know the corduroy pillows, the ones that are making all the headlines?”

“I myself am made entirely of flaws, stitched together with good intentions.”
― Augusten Burroughs

“He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last ——

I was right. Love is the thing that endures. Love is what we have left of John, love and some pretty wonderful memories.

12108267_10207722033310124_8293890433605817967_nHang onto those, and hang on to each other. He loved us all, what we have to do now is continue to love each other, to create in what ever way we express ourselves, eat good food, play games, solve puzzles, and make the odd fart or burping joke.

this is what the living do

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Johnny,

I have become a person who people send sympathy cards to, someone people want to nurture with food, chocolate, flowers and kind messages. People hug me when they see me, and ask how I am. Most of the time I have no idea.

I’m wearing your pj bottoms as I write, and drinking tea from one of your cups. The pile of your newly washed, and neatly folded clothes sits on my bed and asks me what are you going to do with us now? I don’t know, that’s why I tried on the pj bottoms. I had to roll the waist because you were taller than I am. Were, I have to get used to speaking of you in the past tense.

We’ve been speaking of you in the past tense for two weeks, two weeks tomorrow, Saturday at 4pm. I’m still getting used to that.

I also wear your wedding ring, the one that dad left you after he died. It’s on my thumb. I play with it constantly, twisting it, rubbing it. I think about you and dad, and how I ended up older than either of you, and wonder if wearing this ring is a good idea or not.

I think you would like your service, it’s in two weeks, and I have spent a lot of time working on it. It has readings, poems, and we’re playing Leonard Cohen and The Beatles, actually the choir, the one you used to sing with, will be performing Hallelujah and All You Need is Love. They said they would be honoured to sing for you. Honoured, I wonder what you would think about that. We’re doing two of my favourite prayers. To be honest I don’t know what you would think of the whole thing. I finished the first draft of your eulogy, I’ve never written one of those, but I’d never written an obituary either, and I think your’s turned out alright.

When I went through your clothes that first week, the week we went through and cleaned and organized your apartment, I mainly thought of ones for Graham, so he could have something of yours. I thought about taking a box of your books for him too, but then didn’t. You two had so much in common, but he walked out of his treatment centre 3 days ago and we don’t know where he is now, so I’m back to looking at the pile of clothes, and I’m still don’t know what I will do with them.

I sit here, healthy, safe and warm, and you’re gone, you’re not even a body anymore, you’re ashes siting in a container somewhere, I don’t even know where. They gave mom your glasses and your watch. That’s what she has, your glasses and your watch. I can’t begin to know how that feels. Did they put them in a special box with gold lettering? A velvet bag? Or did they just shove them in a brown envelope? Does that help? I don’t think it would. I think it would equally excruciating to receive the items from your child’s body no matter how they were presented to you.

You broke my heart, Johnny, you broke all of our hearts, and I let you die. I let you die alone. I let my son become homeless, and I sit in my house and feel sorry. I feel sorry, and sad, and tired, really, really tired. Somehow that seems wholly inadequate. It seems there should be larger consequence for not saving you, or Graham, or even dad.

There is more, obviously. You can’t tell by looking at me, or by talking to me, most of the time anyhow. On the outside I look and sound pretty much the same. I’m not. I’m unmoored, I am no longer somebody’s sister, I no longer have a brother, and you were it, my only sibling. It’s just me now, and that feels unnatural. All our private jokes, our code words, things that only we talked about and knew, all those things are gone, and what’s left is just space.

This was not how all of this was suppose to turn out. We were going to be great. We had grand plans. Happy lives mapped out. Lives with spouses, and happy children, successful careers, and somehow bits of that got lost.

I have to stop now. I have to find a place to put your clothes, and I have to go back to the actions that make up my life now.

I found this poem for you. I think maybe you would have made fun of it, but you don’t get to speak for yourself anymore, so here it is.

What the Living Do
Marie Howe

Johnny, the kitchen sink has been clogged for days, some utensil probably fell down there.

And the Drano won’t work but smells dangerous, and the crusty dishes have piled up

waiting for the plumber I still haven’t called. This is the everyday we spoke of.
It’s winter again: the sky’s a deep, headstrong blue, and the sunlight pours through

the open living-room windows because the heat’s on too high in here and I can’t turn it off.
For weeks now, driving, or dropping a bag of groceries in the street, the bag breaking,

I’ve been thinking: This is what the living do. And yesterday, hurrying along those
wobbly bricks in the Cambridge sidewalk, spilling my coffee down my wrist and sleeve,

I thought it again, and again later, when buying a hairbrush: This is it.
Parking. Slamming the car door shut in the cold. What you called that yearning.

What you finally gave up. We want the spring to come and the winter to pass. We want
whoever to call or not call, a letter, a kiss—we want more and more and then more of it.

But there are moments, walking, when I catch a glimpse of myself in the window glass,
say, the window of the corner video store, and I’m gripped by a cherishing so deep

for my own blowing hair, chapped face, and unbuttoned coat that I’m speechless:
I am living. I remember you.

Goodnight Johnny. I love you.

“I just sit by and let you fight your secret war”

meanwhile, when you were focused on back to school, this happened

So This happened today.

The Heroin Crisis Act Unanimously Passes Through Illinois House

A friend from one of my online support groups summed it up beautifully “Today was epic! Illinois legislators passed House Bill 1, the Heroin Crisis Bill that opens up treatment options for ALL who suffer from the disease of addiction. You no longer have to be wealthy, or have “the right kind of insurance”…all you have to do is want to get into recovery, and a way will be found.”

Alex Colville,  Horse and Train,

Alex Colville, Horse and Train,

People have died. Way too many people have died, are dying now, and will die from this disease.

I don’t mean to be unkind, really I don’t, but there are days when reading about how hard it is to have your well, well and alive, well and alive, and thriving, child away at college and how much you miss them, and all the money you have to spend on their phones, books, cars, rent and so on, there are days I just can’t read your Facebook posts, or look at pictures of your kids’ dorm room, college campus, and/or sports team. Today is one of those days. Today I am missing my son, not because he is away at college and spending too much money, but because he is away in treatment half  a country away. He’s been away for over 15 months, without holiday weekends visits, or summer or Christmas  at home. I haven’t seen him since December, his sisters since last June.

And I know there are people reading this who would give anything to have their child safe and in treatment, anything just to have their child alive again.

We are very, very lucky. We had the “right” insurance, sort of. More accurately, we had insurance and the time, and the physical and mental tenacity to fight, to fight over and over and over again, for coverage that was constantly denied. I can’t even think about the money still owed.

So yeah, today was important. I am hopeful. I am precariously optimistic that things could get better, that fewer families will watch their loved ones die from lack of adequate treatment. I am also tired, and feel like my skin is way too thin, and stretched way too tight, and feel like I have no defenses left, no protection from the emotions this stirs up. Oh, and I hate this disease, I hate how it decimated my family, my son, but also my father and my brother, and all who love and who loved them.

That’s it. That’s all I’ve got tonight. No pithy wisdom, no sage acceptance or quotes about letting go and letting god. Just straight up tired, Maybe tomorrow I’ll be wise.

old poems

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Over 9 years ago I stopped drinking. It’s not something I advertise, but it’s not something I actively try to hide either. The disease runs in my family. I am alive, and on most days well, only because I found a way to stop.

I used to write poetry. I used to write quite a lot of poetry, and today for many reasons I dusted off writing from around 10 years ago, from one of the most difficult times of my life. If there was a way I could take what I’ve learned, box it up and give to people I love I would do it. I can’t. I can only pray and hope, and continue to take care of my own sobriety. Someone told me when you quit drinking you feel better, you feel pain better, joy, love, sorrow, you feel everything that you had been drinking not to feel. It can be overwhelming. Most of the poems are about that, about feeling better.

I don’t know why I moved away from poetry, and started using more words to write blog posts instead. Poetry is much harder, maybe that’s why.

Here are some, in no relevant order, because organization of anything creative still is challenging for me. Most are free verse, a few are cinquains, one of the very few forms of poetry I had any proficiency with.

blackness

a diving spotted loon
to which the surging waves arouse no wonder,
a soaring mateless seagull beneath
grave misting clouds,
a pair of blackest crows
in deliberate and dark discourse,
and the early morning chorus of birds
I have not met,
here are my early morning companions

this morning,
my last morning here.

and this I ponder wrapped in heavy woolen
drinking strong coffee
made stronger still with Jamison’s

I ponder these birds
the burden of their sky
the profundity of their black waves
their universal harmony

and when the drizzle mixes with the rising surge
the loon dives again and does not return for me
the crows take their argument to distant trees
and the seagull glides so low under
the weeping
clouds – I cannot breathe to watch

I am alone
with their water and thoughtful stones
the unspoken rain
and within my silence
with the blunt smell of cold
and the raw touch of
grey horizon light

in the untraveled blackened depths
under which
I will always lie.

fish hooks

Sober,
I have not known this face
reborn in palest newborn skin
translucent, and
tissue thin
all my nerves unclothed
disgraced, at their own nakedness

I do not know how to use these hands

a flesh of weeping grief
from savage shredded tracks
the tiny fish hooks sliced
and pierced
with their
sharpened razor points

of grief and joy and hate and fear of love
and of despair

I have never heard my voice
still they dig
minute barbs grasping
my unprotected soul
wrenching out my
heart
for all to see
tearing open my
eyes
so I must look

at the person I do not know.

river

Has there always been such green
all and each
so richly saturated
with this chromatic life,
these leaves, spirits within living stories,
twisting over
and around
and in between
each and one another
in their lilting seduction of
wind and sun?

did they do this yesterday?
did they flicker in this coquettish glee
inside my footfalls
sun tickling tenderly
each surface – so thoughtfully webbed-
while in their turn they reached
to lick the honeyed beams
along this muddied path
to water’s edge.
I walk to sense the flowing strength
flirting within twinkling beams
and to caress,
between reflective ripples,
smooth slippery stones
filled with energy.
will there always be
such life?

ecstasy

I would let go
but for the colour.
still,

I like to sneak to the edge
and dig my fingernails into stone
and ponder
the relief of falling
the ecstasy in shattering bones, the
liberation of seeping blood. but

when I crawl back
it is for the shade
of your tears.

unforgiven

who do I imagine I am?
breath?
thought?

in a place
where ten year old
bulldozers tear down
one hundred year old trees
in this place where
house sized wood chippers
vomit green onto
clear cut ground

bare foot in the grass
the rain will not
baptize me

my finger waits
for the drop that
could forgive me.

bones

far away
I am this night
as blackness swallows day
sweet, my grief
rests in the folding
black from bloodless red,
lay my bones,
my lonely love
lay my bones
and heart of clay

silences

I have not
always shown
me, as I am.
not in open, worn
these ragged
clothes.
let sun and rain
peel away my
raw, and
bloodied flesh.
and so,
I sometimes pause,
to wonder
at the silences.​

for you

for you
I would wrench
thunderclouds from rapture
accept their jagged burning rage
weep till there is no rain
and scream out all your agony
until my heart disintegrates
in thunder

for you
I would dry dew’s tears
from each and every
green and glistened blade

for you
I am salt
and I whisper
through your hands

crying

I cry for what I cannot save

for the dying roadside bird
bloodied under blackened wheels

for the frightened child
held down
learning how a secret’s kept

I cry for
young veins punctured
with poisoned needles

I cry for pain
I feel screaming inside you
that fills all of me
that I cannot take away

for the sickness
that I comfort
but cannot heal

I cry for all that’s broken
that I cannot fix

and some days
I cry
for me.

cold sleep

no stars
weep abandon
as our discarded die
disappeared in foul rooms, cold tears
dried wine.

claws

fear strolls
on soft bear’s paws
hushed growling, calmly tastes
decides – and stretching sharpest claws
carves me.

cut me

I hate
the sky’s fading
touch – etched within my heart
take the words from me – cut them all
away

him

there was a time
he could not
release me

that was
before

now his
ever restless feet
carry him away

a broken toy
stepped on, crumbled – yet
walking still
a stranger
that I tried to stand before

uncovered
as only myself
a broken, walking doll

he is
not a boy, but
a man, terrified of the ghosts
in my eyes
of the unsayable
that slices through my rooms

he is close
and he is untouchable

in a way
that cuts through me

alone with his beauty
his pain
his cruelty
his anger, and
his love

an embrace unfelt
laid cold
upon my soul.

Like I said, I used to write poems. There are more here.

it’s got nothing to do with a better rat cage

nugget

So a friend posted this, The Likely Cause of Addiction Has Been Discovered, and It Is Not What You Think. 

I read it, a few times, and while it is not completely without merit and makes some valid points, it is an oversimplification of a complex disease, and ultimately draws conclusions and makes generalizations from limited data.

I completely agree that the way we treat addicts, that the ‘war on drugs’ only contributes to the problem.  Criminalization and incarceration simply do not work. I do not agree that simply by making a better rat cage we can prevent or treat drug addiction.

The “Rat Cage” experiment was this. Put a rat in a cage, alone, with two water bottles. One is just water. The other is water laced with heroin or cocaine. Almost every time you run this experiment, the rat will become obsessed with the drugged water, and keep coming back for more and more, until it kills itself. The conclusion was that once exposed to the drug the rat became addicted and then ultimately died from the addiction. There are different versions of this test, another, perhaps more relevant, experiment involved direct stimulation of the rat’s pleasure center in the brain when the rat pressed a bar. Here the rat would neglect  activities such as eating or drinking to press the bar, and ultimately died.

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Addiction is caused by a combination of several things that basically can be divided into three categories, drug use, stress, and genetics. It is a combination of these three things that will  cause addiction. This is why some people can use without becoming addicted (no genetics, and/or little stress), and why some become addicted with only a small amount of use (strong genetic component, high stress).

Addiction happens when the combination of these factors trigger a reaction in the brain that causes a shift in neurotransmitter activity.

Don’t believe me? Watch This  

Back to the article. They made a nicer rat cage, with rat balls, rat toys, other rats and the rats in there didn’t want the drugs anymore. Interesting right? Then they correlated this with Vietnam soldiers who used heroin and came home and didn’t need it anymore. In other words they left the lonely rat cage for the nicer one and the need for drugs went away. The point the author keeps coming back to is that drugs don’t hijack the brain and cause addiction, that disconnection does, and here is where I have the problem.  Addiction changes the brains neurochemistry, addiction in the form of alcohol, drugs, or behaviours such as gambling, food, or sex. It is when this shift happens addiction occurs.

The danger of articles like this is that the implication is that if only you had a better rat cage your loved one would not have become addicted. If there had been connection, beauty, and nice rat toys addiction would not have happened. That is the family’s fault that addiction happened, if only they had done a better job. If only. 

If only. Words that have echoed through my head for the last five years. If only I had done more, done things better. If only I had done this or that, or not done this or that. If only breaks your heart. Articles like this make me angry, because my son had a fantastic fucking rat cage, and he still became an addict. He had support, he had early, early intervention (in grade school through high school), he had mentors, social peer groups, doctors, a family that loved and supported him, and he still became an addict.

And yes, we did make him leave our home, I let my own son live on the streets and in homeless shelters, that doesn’t mean I ever stopped loving him. I wrote about that here and here and here and here and so many more times.

The rat cage, the sad empty one that makes the rats want the drugs, that’s not an addict’s home life, that’s an addicts thinking.

The rat cage is their thinking.

There is no easy fix for someone’s thinking. It’s hard, heartbreaking work, and sometimes to be able to do this work, you have to get to a very bad place so you are motivated enough to want to change. I know this because I have done the work, I have been to that dark cold place inside me and I have crawled out of it.

We need to stop blaming the victim, blaming the family, they have been through a hell that you cannot imagine, and to say that addiction happened because of a lonely rat cage is unacceptable, short sighted and heartless.

And yes, I am angry. I’m angry that there are people who care more about how this makes them look than about helping people who need it.  That people who should  be a foundation of support, are defensive and outraged that I would even have this conversation. That people would rather be angry with me than examine why I keep talking about this.

Micheal Lee comes as close to showing what this has been like for me as a person in long term recovery, and what is like to love someone suffering from addiction. He does it in 2 minutes. I have been talking for years and it still seems like no one really hears me.

one more, if you want to see a simple, but very clear representation of addiction

dear john

dear john,

today I wanted to carve the words
carve them into my skin, so
all could see
what I am

when we spoke, had you asked, I might have told of the holes – I carve – inside, maybe you could have seen the ardent slice ripped out, to quietly lay at your deeply restless feet. but all it touched was your breath, passing backwards in your constant cool drifting words.

had you understood my voice –
could you have heard?
known my songs are all written for you?

before I left
did I tell you
of bloodstained views on wood grain hall floors – knee in my back, fists gripping long hair, of the stripes of our walls getting closer just before they turned black.
or was it you who told me
of the view from mum’s hand standing in doorways –
watching,

blocking escape.

dear john,

should I have warned you? of trusting too young, and of pain, and fear, and of blood, sometimes first – and of tears locked in rooms, could this have saved you?

I would have saved you – you know, taken your blows, swallowed your bitter bruises, your raw pain, and sent you away whole – if only I’d found you.

dear john,

even now that you’re here,
I’ve lost parts of you.
and no longer can I wrap you in blankets.
I can’t find your song or your bruises. so I keep carving these slices off me to make us both whole, but your restless feet walk by them with your words always drifting backward at me.

dear john,

today I wanted to carve the words
into my skin
so all could see
what I am.

about that homeless, mentally ill, and intoxicated man

Aside

Homeless Jesus by Timothy Schmallz

Homeless Jesus by Timothy Schmallz

Dear Well Intentioned Friend,

I know your intentions were not unkind when we talked the other day. I’m certain you had no idea the affect your story would have on me, and I’m somewhat ashamed I didn’t speak up more clearly at the time.

homelessOkay, here’s the thing. Your story? About your daughter’s dance class being threatened by a lone homeless man, the one where the instructors bravely hid all the girls (who ‘were practically dressed in bikinis’) in the locker room to protect them? The story where the lone homeless man who may have been intoxicated, who likely was mentally ill  (spoken with your voice lowered), had come into the lounge near the studio and sat down to watch the tv, you remember? Do you remember telling me how horrified you were, what danger these girls were in. Do you remember when you first described the man that I said, poor thing, he was probably just looking somewhere safe to rest?

Here are some things I didn’t tell you. I have worked with homeless people for the last ten years. Yes, many are mentally ill, many are alcoholic or addicts or both. All of them suffer greatly. All of them are human beings, who love and are loved by someone. I didn’t point out that mental illness and substance abuse are medical illnesses, just like cancer, or diabetics. I also didn’t mention the reason many of them are homeless is because of inadequate resources to treat these disorders,and the tremendous negative stigma that goes along with being homeless, with being an alcoholic, with being an addict.

At one point while you were describing in great detail how horrifying and dangerous this man was, I did manage to quietly say, just like my son. I don’t think you caught my meaning. I don’t think you understood that what I was saying was that my son is homeless, that my son is mentally ill, that my son is an addict, that my son has curled up in all sorts of places trying to get some sleep, some comfort. I don’t think you realized that while you talked about saving these girls from this threat, all I could see is the countless cruelties that the homeless, mentally ill suffer, that my son suffers. The diseases themselves and the heartbreak they cause to families are bad enough, but the stigma that well intentioned people attach to them and then use as a justification to treat them badly, as something less than human, and something not worth compassion, or love or comfort, the stigma is the worst of it all.

Change mentally ill to someone with cancer, with diabetics, suddenly it seems horrifying that someone suffering from cancer, or uncontrolled diabetes would be ostracized, would be seen as a threat to children.

Eventually all I could see was someone treating my son with the horror and disdain you very eloquently described, all I could see was the pain and the humiliation he has suffered. All I could see was my little boy being threatened, and there was nothing, absolutely nothing I could do to save him. All I could feel was all the pain and the heartbreak of the last several years as I fought to keep my son sane, sober and safe. You see, my well intentioned friend, I too am a mother, a very protective one, and I do understand the overwhelming desire to protect my children. My daughters took dance when they were young, I did my time sitting in studios, going to recitals, I do understand that part, to this day I would do anything to keep them safe. I also love my son with the same intensity, and I have done, and still do everything I can to protect him. Sadly with his disease part of doing what’s best for him and my daughters is to let him hit a bottom so he can hopefully one day come back to me.

I couldn’t tell you any of this. All I could do was to cover my face to hide the tears and run away. When I got to my car I sat for a very long while until I stopped crying and could drive home.

The other thing I didn’t tell you is what I may have in common with the homeless man, I’m an alcoholic. I was raised by one and am related to several. The disease runs rampant in my family. I’ve been told to say I’m a person in long term recovery, meaning I’m sober and have been so for quite some time. I don’t generally tell people this, because unlike, say cancer survivors, there aren’t any coloured ribbons, or fun walks for alcoholics or addicts, even the clean and sober ones. People don’t look at you as someone who has fought – and remains constantly vigilant – against a chronic and deadly illness, and survived, people see a drunk, an addict, someone who has a flaw in their moral character, someone who cant’ be trusted, someone you can’t leave your children with (yes, I have been at the receiving end of all these attitudes) people look at you as something that is less than normal people. That’s why I don’t generally share that about myself. That is also why when you told me about the homeless man the first thing I felt was empathy for him, and the pain he must feel at fear and loathing that he experienced in your daughter’s dance studio, and likely just about everywhere else he goes.

I didn’t tell you any of this, because these things are usually too raw for me to say out loud. These things have brought judgement and negative stigma on me and my family, and some days I’m just not up to saying out loud that this is wrong. This is so very wrong. That it is not okay to view people as less than. No is less than anyone else. I think if people could get that straight in their heads the world could be a more compassionate and beautiful place.

So, maybe, next time you see a homeless person, someone who is mentally ill, intoxicated,maybe, you could let some compassion enter your viewpoint, and not let fear guide your thinking and actions, maybe you could lead with kindness and compassion, just a little at first. Or maybe you could, just for a moment, reexamine the way you view the homeless, the mentally ill, the addicted, the alcoholic. Maybe that could be a start.

how not to eat a cupcake

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I bought this cupcake for myself yesterday.  I was feeling really down and thought I need some chocolate (and sugar and buttercream) to help me feel better.

Except, then I opened up the cute little box and couldn’t eat it. Nope. Nada. I wasn’t going to touch it.

Maybe it’s my recovering alcoholic brain,  but I could not make myself eat chocolate as a method of self soothing. Recovery has taught me many things, and it would seem that the worse I feel the more I will reject “fixers”. Alcohol and drugs (even most prescription) are automatically off the table for me in times of trouble (and all other times too), but so is chocolate it would seem.  It’s not like I consciously say, “I shouldn’t have any because it’s a crutch, and crutches and my brain chemistry do not mix well.”, it’s like my whole body recoils subconsciously and I’m left staring into a cute little cupcake box.

The good news is I had pulled myself together by this morning and had no trouble devouring the cupcake with my morning coffee.

Life lesson?  Profound philosophical musings?  I got nothing tonight.  I’ll be profound tomorrow. … I hope.