Rainy Beach Day.

Exactly two years ago I wrote these words in my journal:

Sarah is still clean.
It is a miracle.
Others are dying though. Dying everywhere at an unprecedented rate.
But we all die. I think about this at the beach and I cry with relief.

I think about these words. I don’t remember writing them.
Was I crying because my daughter was safe?
Or was I crying because death is our shared destiny
– and how can you fear something so natural?

I don’t know.

Today my daughter is safe after her relapse.
But today I do not feel relief.
Maybe it is the rain. Or the wind signaling the end of summer.
Or maybe it is something internal that I just can’t access.

It could be fear for the future,
or stress over the uncertainty.
It could be sadness for her struggle,
or anger at my being unable to fix it.

It is probably all of these things.  And more.  I know there is more.

One thing is certain though – today I will visit the beach.

The Art of Telling Stories.

I recently joined a storytelling troupe. This is a weird one for me since I don’t like being on stage. No one would ever describe me as theatrical. But this particular group shares recovery stories. Wishing to ‘end the stigma” I felt a moral obligation to sign up.  Plus, let’s face it, I have a lot of ugly stories in need of a facelift. Quite possibly this group could help with that. And there was a selfish reason; I was searching for people whom I could talk to. I’m not a recluse; I have some pretty awesome, long-term friends. But the whole friendship thing gets complicated when your child suffers from addiction. Most of the time, your friends just don’t ask. I had been forewarned ‘when your child suffers from a disease like cancer you get cards and casseroles, but when your child suffers from addiction you get silence.’ I found this to be true. Five years brought me one card, and no casseroles. Occasionally I did get to share my experience… but the exchange became too lurid even by my standards:

Mom #1: “X can’t seem to pass his driving test and he is so depressed. I worry about his self esteem.”

Me: “Y is sleeping in a filthy motel forty miles away using type A narcotics. I can’t sleep at night worried that she may be dying as I lay here in my beautiful bed.”

You can see the problem.

So you end up alone with your thoughts, either by choice or because people don’t want to engage in this kind of exchange (how are they supposed to respond?) But if not careful your sense of isolation can fester into a wound of resentment. You can’t help but wonder what friendship is really for. You start to feel buried alive: your once perfect family is now dysfunctional and your friends are psychologically absent. It can be a dark place to find yourself in.

This time when my daughter relapsed I decided things were going to be different. I considered asking for what I needed. But I just couldn’t do it. It felt like asking someone to love you… pathetic and powerless.

Instead I opened myself up to new avenues of expression. The arts take Courage and Power (uppercase letters intended). I am going out on a limb here… but I would venture to say that the definition of good art is that it is emotionally complex, it inspires conversation, and that it accesses the buried but universal elements of human nature.

As suspected it wasn’t easy to stand up in a room full of strangers and entertain, inspire and heal with a broken hearted story. One teller spoke of a day when she had sat at a table littered with jittery tinfoil scraps and the small rocks of crack she had been hoarding. She describes her apprehension when a strange man decides to sit opposite her. When he offers her a little blue pill to help her come down from her teeth clenching high, it is not the free pill that takes her by surprise. It is the impossible blue of his eyes. Suddenly the drugs became secondary to basic human connection. I could feel my head nodding. Connections can be made in the most difficult of environments. And the truth is that those who say you can “do it alone” are either misguided or lucky enough to not have been in too dark of a place.

One of the last storytellers spoke sadly of the loss of her marriage and self control to drug use. And of her dad’s steady effort to take her on long daily walks. On stage she mimic’d how her father, on these walks, would steal long wordless glances her way. It was all she needed; to be fully seen and quietly loved. To be fully seen and quietly loved – it is the only thing any of us truly need.  Life had taught me this.  And the arts gave me the means to express it.

 

 

God Moments?

 

Someone in recovery described a story of mine as a “God moment.” They didn’t mean God, per se. They meant those moments when the universe just seems to be there for you. One of those rare times when the “dots get connected” when you least expect them to.

The moment I had been sharing was hardly ‘heavenly.’ It was about the time when my seventeen-year old daughter had prematurely left drug treatment and gone missing. A tip on her location had landed me in court to have her arrested and involuntarily committed for treatment. The judge issued a warrant that was due to expire at the end of that very day. As I sat on the court bench and waited for her arrival I had a distressing front row seat to a slow parade of sadness, ugliness, and desperation. What I did not witness was the arrival of my daughter. (A year prior police escorted her in both hand and leg cuffs. There is nothing more shocking than seeing your child shackled this way; other than realizing a year later that you are now looking forward to those same custodial restraints.)

With one eye on the ticking clock I asked the court officer for the address to the local police station. Upon arrival I informed the officers that I was about to “do their job for them.” They warned that my efforts would be wasted since ‘no one would open the door in a drug den.’ I countered that it was much more likely my daughter would answer if she heard my voice and, regardless, I was going whether they came with me or not. Possibly shamed, but more likely legally bound, they agreed to accompany me. That was when I learned that the neighborhood was so dangerous that a second cruiser was needed. To top it off I was given a lecture about “staying behind the officers” when we entered the building. (No God moments thus far… instead It felt a bit like we were prepping to enter the fifth level of Hell.)

The address led us to a street that was a lifeless shade of grey. There were dozens of people milling about but they morphed, understandably, into silent watching shadows. The triple decker we approached was adrift in discarded clothing, empty cans and bits of unidentifiable metal debris. The front door was located on the second floor and had no discernible way to reach it. No staircase, no doorbell, no mailbox, no buzzer. Together we rounded the building and discovered a dirty basement door boarded over with plywood and nails. I envisioned prying it open and crawling through the darkness. I made a note to return to this door if need be. Rounding the last side of the building we were greeted with an entry level, dead bolted, door. And a woman. The same woman who had been silently watching us from across the street. Earlier I had thought she was a man. But now I was close enough to make out the large breasts that hung to the left and right of her plain cotton tee shirt. She was powerfully built in denim jeans and construction boots. She had a plain round face, and a long thin black pony tail that hung down her back: pencil straight. Her countenance was unreadable. She pointed to me and, wordlessly, pointed to the third floor. I replied “yes.” She nodded and turned her attention to the large brass key ring on her hip. Methodically she flipped through dozens of standard cut keys and selected just one. And she opened the door. The next few minutes were a bit of a blur. I know we climbed to the third floor and we knocked and my daughter answered. The officers put her in handcuffs and she was wild with spitting fury. Even so, the officers carefully tucked my daughter’s dirty blonde head into the back of their cruiser. Before following them back to the courthouse I sat in my car for a moment. I didn’t notice that the woman had approached my driver’s side window until I heard the knock. Rolling down the window she spoke her first word to me. “Drugs,” she said. I nodded. Staring hard at me she then said “Bad drugs.” I replied, “yes.” Then she said, “good mamacita,” and slowly crossed the street.

It was only then that I remember feeling truly overwhelmed. Unhinged may be a better word. I had been playing this game for a few years but this feeling was different. I rolled up my window, but not without the self correcting thought “this is what you do in neighborhoods like these.” Yes, this is where my daughter was lost. But this is also where she had been found. Someone – someone I never expected to help me – had done so. The police hadn’t. What if she hadn’t been there? What if she didn’t have those keys? Why did she help me when she knew there was drug activity going on in a building she obviously had some sort of responsibility for? Why had she helped me in front of the cops? Was it a gift from one mom to another?

It was, in the end, a coming together of disparate parts of the universe.

Of course I felt unhinged. I don’t know if I experienced a God Moment. I don’t even know if there is a God. But I am beginning to believe I may have met some sort of fallen angel. A fallen angel who was working hard on our behalf. A fallen angel in construction boots.

.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sthira vs. Sukha

Sthira and Sukha are popular yoga terms meant to convey a “yin and yang” sensibility. I think of sthira as “roots” and sukha as “wings.” A more accurate translation of the Sanskrit would be “stability” vs. “lightness.” When practicing Ashtanga yoga I have always sought the sukha, or the potential to fly. I sometimes giggle aloud when my feet release skyward or my heart floats up to the ceiling. It is such a rare treat to escape gravity’s pull.

Sthira, however, is quite different – in many cases it requires the engagement of the larger, lower, muscle groups (the quads, the glutes, the abdominals). For two weekends now I have been reminded that stability is key. Scot, our instructor, has had us feel our feet, bend our toes, challenge our inner and outer thigh muscles…he even put us in cat pose and had strangers balance their bodies atop us in a form of improv contact. These undulating movements required constant shifting of my center of gravity in order to take someone else’s flight – or to entertain my own.

I thought I understood: ground yourself before you take off in flight!

Once again, I required re-direction. I overheard Scot explain that being actively grounded allows the upper body to be consciously free. “Active” being the key word.  Do not rest in your present position – but fully feel it for what it is (whether it be crooked floorboards, the push of another body against your spine, or the outward turn of your imperfect feet.) By doing this you are not actively seeking flight or lightness of being. You are instead grounding yourself to the earth and thereby engaging an interior reservoir of strength. Only then will your body feel safe enough to bravely reach upwards.

That is when the lesson sunk in. I have lived this lesson. For years I tried to create and recreate stable, safe footing for my daughter who suffers from addiction. I bounced between “Maybe I shouldn’t have said that. Maybe I should have said this. Maybe I missed something developmentally. Maybe a new school will work. Maybe a new friend circle. Maybe a new therapist. Maybe a new medication. Maybe exercise. Maybe more consequences. Maybe less consequences. Maybe a different insurance plan. Maybe, maybe, maybe….” I left no rock unturned. I needed her, us, to be free. But sukha was nowhere to be found.

I remember the moment when I finally accepted our situation. I was driving and the sun was setting and and my whole sense of being was flooded by the fact that my daughter had relapsed again. I didn’t know how to be. How could I just be with this? I remember breathing and releasing into that moment with a complete acceptance of the truth. It was dusk and the sky opened up before me and I thought, “this.” There is “this” too.

This acceptance, which I still feel vaguely uncomfortable with, was a long time coming. I had to fully acknowledge that change may not be possible – at least not in this present moment. This is not an easy thing for a mother to fully feel. But once I did I noticed the sky. It sounds so cliche – but at that moment I was fully awakened to the incredulous sky. I also understood this to be the second part of Scot’s admonition: to be consciously free. I chose to see the sky.

Since that day, nearly three years ago, I have looked upwards and found something akin to flight. And, incredulously, for two years my daughter has stood on terra firma.

We are free.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I Wish I Could Be A Better Person.

I have seen addicts become better people than you and me. Those previously deemed selfish, sick, irresponsible, lost, criminal, hopeless.  Pick an adjective – at one point they all fit.  I know this sounds like pure hyperbole.  And to clarify, I don’t mean better than their old selves – that is obvious.  I actually mean better than you and me.

You and I, presumably, are the definition of good people.  We try to do the right thing on a daily basis. We live the Golden Rule.  But at the end of the day we close the curtains on the larger community.  We choose to be with just ourselves or the nuclear family we have created. We retreat to safety, comfort and self.

But the recovering addict doesn’t do that.

They often choose to mentor those who are still suffering severely – with little concern for the temptation that may present.  In the Big Book it is referred to as “giving back” or Step 12.  They claim that it helps themselves – but this, I think, is an overly generous sentiment.

I liken their behavior to that of a person surviving a fire… and then becoming a fireman. I don’t know about you, but I would never be that brave.

When those we love truly beat their addiction it can be hard to recognize them.
And it can be humbling to see that they have surpassed us in their ability to love and empathize.

For example, my daughter shares an apartment with three other individuals in long term recovery.  Their lease has expired, and two of them have decided to buy a home and possibly marry.  But even though this couple is ready for life’s next big step – they will not leave the other two women behind.  One could rationalize and say they are bringing them along to help pay the rent.  Until you learn that they are narrowing their house search to homes that can access the bus line.  My daughter is the only one of the four that does not have her driver’s license.  Purchasing a home within walking distance of public city transportation is of course more expensive.

And then there was the lesson I was given on Christmas day.  I had told my husband I wanted a pair of earrings made by a local artisan jeweler.  I wanted any color but blue – because, lucky me, I already had so much blue!  On Christmas day I opened my gift… and they were blue.  My face fell.  I didn’t hide my disappointment.  I even said “Ohhh… but they are blue.”

My daughter looked at me and said “but they are beautiful.” And later she said “Mom, you should have been grateful.”  She was right.  I had put my feelings (not needs!) first in a matter as trivial as that of material abundance.

I can’t imagine living every day weighing my psychological, financial and material needs on an equivalent basis with the larger community.  I had thought the Golden Rule was enough.  But the Golden Rule is based on seeing things through your own eyes – treating others as you would like to be treated.  But how about getting the “you” out of it?

Becoming a better person is within reach.  I know this because I have learned it from the recovery community.

Triggers Are Not Real.

“TRIGGERS ARE NOT REAL.”

My daughter stated this, firmly, when I tried to stop her from taking a bus through a neighborhood full of triggers. Addicts are supposed to avoid triggers….just like someone on a diet should avoid a bakery, and someone thinking about a new dog should avoid a pet shop. It’s good common sense.

This particular neighborhood, for three years straight, had replaced days meant to be spent at school. It was where she met her first, of many, older, opiate-addicted boyfriends. The neighborhood where she drank with her girlfriends until they couldn’t stand up. The neighborhood she went missing in for nights on end. The neighborhood she partied in to the point of hospital intervention, repeatedly. The neighborhood with the drug store street corner. All of this would be within memorable reach.

“I don’t want you to take the bus. I can get you in the car.  I would be happy to come get you… “

“No.”

Trigger has to be the perfect colloquialism for “classical conditioning.” I appreciate the way it brings to mind the image of a loaded gun to the head. When you are the parent of an addict it becomes that clear. That person, that bent spoon, that ball of singed tinfoil, that street corner…. all become sensorial reminders capable of triggering relapse. And relapse is nothing short of a game of Russian roulette.

To be clear, my fear of triggers isn’t a case of playing probabilities or trusting in a predictable pattern of personal weakness. Classical conditioning is scientifically proven. Most of us are familiar with Pavlov and his bell salivating dogs. This early study in classical conditioning proved that a learned process can change a previously neutral stimulus into a potent stimulus. This potent stimulus in turn creates real biological change in the body. Biological change where none existed before. Replace Pavlov’s bell with a street corner and excessive saliva with irrepressible craving and the problem becomes all too real.

“I want to take the bus. Triggers are not real. Like, everything is a trigger. A song. A boy. The bathroom. The sunshine. A nice day. A bad day. Even the breeze. You have to deal with your stuff, mom. If taking a bus makes me relapse then I haven’t dealt with my stuff. You just don’t understand.”

I am trying to. Classical conditioning is not equivalent to the loss of free will. Biological stimulus does not have to be a siren call to action. We are a little more complicated than a bell drooling hound. But how difficult must it be to retrain our rewired and tired brains to see each situation clearly and non-reactively? Can we be our own psychologists, neurosurgeons, life style coaches and cautiously present Buddhas?

In the end, she took that bus. And you know what?
She made it safely home.

Broken Things Have Value.

I have a set of flawless china. It is Lenox and it has a silver rim like a lucky cloud.

I also have a morning coffee cup. It’s crazed from being microwaved just a little bit too much.  There is a chip that serves as a reminder to not sip on that side. When the handle breaks I will, most likely, glue it back on.

Sentimental? Not really.

I have been thinking about broken things a lot lately. How my daughter’s journey has introduced me to the fractured and hidden members of our society. I have been inside too many psychiatric hospitals, too many jails, too many police stations, too many emergency rooms and too many detox centers. I have seen too many people cry.

But now I can hold these experiences in the palm of my hand like an old coffee cup. They are no longer things that happen to other people. And I can see that they have added value to my previously flawless life.

Three years ago I noted in my journal the incongruities that were becoming our norm:

“I had to pick my daughter up from an in-patient psych ward this morning. She looked just beautiful in a black tee shirt and old jeans. Her blonde hair hung in a long braid over one shoulder. I could barely see the bruise on her cheekbone. As she gathered her things to go she insisted on saying goodbye to Carl. She knocked on his door on her tippy toes, and said, “Carl come out.” “Carl, come out and say goodbye to me.” And she waited patiently. I was expecting a young boy…. but an old man came out. Wizened, beaten down, shuffling. She gave him a big, big hug. And I just didn’t know what to do with the feeling.”

Somedays I still don’t know what to do with all the feeling.  But I know I am the better for it.