Stone Heart.

“Too Long a Sacrifice Makes a Stone of the Heart”  – William Butler Yeats

This week I had cause to worry about my child’s commitment to her sobriety. I had been led to believe that she had traveled by train to our hometown to spend time with a friend who is an active alcoholic and was, or still is, a crack cocaine abuser. This friend has a boyfriend who regularly beats her. She is a petite blonde with glassy eyes and bird like bones – but he throws her against walls and routinely blackens her blue eyes. My child was to spend the entire evening with them in a Boston hotel. She did not share this news.

Why would she choose to do these things? What good could come of this?

I felt fear – and anger.  I had a hard time sleeping that night. I took a melatonin, but it didn’t offer much relief. I also turned the phone off. I didn’t want to be woken by what I assumed would be a midnight phone call from an overcrowded emergency room. Or the police demanding I pick her up at 2 am. I imagined changing out of my warm pajamas, programming my gps, and driving into yet another cold, fraught ridden night. And then to be greeted by a kicking, screaming addict, a disgusted police officer, and the mind numbing question: how do you want to handle this?

I am still so tired and it’s been over a year.

I never got that imagined phone call. A few days later I drove up to Maine to see her myself – and she appeared healthy, happy and whole. Which made me ask myself, “why would I turn off the phone when I had a sneaking suspicion that she would get into trouble?” Why would I put limitations on coming to her aid when she had worked so hard for so long? People make mistakes. People relapse. Is it because I didn’t want to look at that fact? Or because I didn’t want to be inconvenienced?

In retrospect I should have made sure my phone was fully charged. I should have had a type written list of detoxes to call when the sun rose. And if her relapse had been fatal (as it often is after having significant clean time) I should have rushed to the emergency room to hold her.

I have a beautiful child. Despite it all she is caring, funny, hard working… and mine. Why had I allowed the past to make a stone of my heart?

Some Words Stick.

Two quotes have been bouncing around my head recently. I read them voluntarily but didn’t invite them to stick around. The fact that they have is disconcerting. A lot of the stuff I read, or hear, vanishes pretty quickly from the old memory bank. A story twice-told can still provide a surprise ending. Sometimes, half way through a movie, I ask myself, “have I seen this before?”

But Carrie Fisher’s description of addiction has parked itself inside my drive-through brain. She writes, “It was a kind of desire to abbreviate myself. To present the Cliff Notes of the emotional me, as opposed to the twelve-column read. I used to refer to my drug use as putting the monster in the box. I wanted to be less, so I took more – it’s as simple as that.”

Unlike Carrie; when I drink I want to become more. Her explanation is so contrary to my own that it gives me pause. When I drink each sip is like a loosening of some inner bind; a freeing of my emotional gatekeeper.

Why is our response to substances so dissimilar? Carrie speaks of a daily struggle to suppress the beast. She claims her substance misuse was an attempt to quiet a constant state of emotional overload. Does the non-addict control their inner monster by subconsciously cramming it down (and employing the weekend safety valve of a couple of “harmless drinks” to avoid explosion)? If so does this mean that the addict is more conscious of emotional dis-regulation? Or are they incapable of the “cramming” part? Are they incapable because they feel more? Or because they have less free space within which to cram the over wrought monster?

Which leads me to the other quote that has taken up residence in my brain.  In The Folded Clock Heidi Julavitz confesses to carrying around a small water tap handle which she found between the studs of her newly demo-ed wall. She imagined the prior owner put it there because they didn’t want to throw it away, yet they didn’t want to keep it laying around because its daily usefulness was long gone. She contemplates what is stored between the “studs of the walls of herself…. who knows what I have hidden in there because I could make no sense of it at the time, and found nowhere else to put it.”

Which makes me wonder: what have I placed inside my interior walls? Are things taking up unnecessary space because I refuse to look at them? Or am sentimentally attached to their expired value? Should I create a little larger space inside for my inner beast to slumber or should I wake my monster and face the consequences? (Hey – is this what meditation is for? Will it both clear the mind debris and shrink my emotional beast?)

Do we have to look at all this stuff? Isn’t it annoying to have to look behind every wall? In some respects our “tap handles” are a record of a life lived. And our inner beast a barometer of our capacity to feel. The tap handle and inner beast may also represent the sum total of all of those emotional traumas we have absorbed but failed to assimilate. Funny, but when my daughter first started on her 12 step program she suggested that my husband and I pursue it as well – not because we are addicts but because it would allow a peek at our own hidden spaces.

For most of us, a certain point surely comes when the walls become overstuffed and the well over flows. Those conditions don’t just magically resolve themselves nor are they swept away by some outside force. Intimately seeing the path of a recovering addict has taught me the hard lesson that change can only come through painstaking self-analysis. Time for exploring this old house. Time to wake the monster.

Here I come 2017.