The View From Upstairs.

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In looking over my stats here, I see that someone found me by searching on “Alzheimers poop in trash can.” Well. I hope you found what you were looking for. Also, yes – that is a thing that happens when you’re caring for someone with Alzheimer’s. Poop in the trash can. Among other places.

Haven’t checked in here in a while. The last couple of months have been a frenzy of boxes, packing tape, arranging pickups for donated items, and all the other unpleasantness that comes with emptying one apartment, packing up YOUR apartment, and then moving into the apartment you emptied.

We live upstairs now. We live in the apartment formerly occupied by my mother-in-law. Where we found poop in the trash can. Among other places. Where I also found, under her bed, a salad bowl containing a pair of her underpants. A small Corningware dish containing potato chips under the kitchen sink, behind a bottle of 409. Cat food in the washing machine. Where I’d sit with her every evening at dinner, trying to get her to use a fork and/or her napkin. I’d sit there and try to make conversation with her, even though we couldn’t understand one another anymore.

And I’d scan the walls and think that eventually I was going to be living here. I couldn’t fathom when that would be, but I knew that she was sliding faster into her dementia than we could keep up with. I knew that her needs had long ago surpassed our ability to fulfill them. I was terrified and depressed and exhausted, but I couldn’t show any of this to her, because even in her addled state she remained hyper-aware of the mood of those around her. Every waking minute was about keeping her calm and out of trouble. I couldn’t imagine a time when I’d be living in this apartment, and she’d be somewhere safe. But I’d mentally redecorate the place as I sat there, trying to comprehend the dying circuitry inside her head.

And here I am. I’ve done my level best to make it as not-haunted as possible. I’ve been through every room twice with a smoking bundle of sage, smudging and purging the place of all the bad juju and bad memories. And I’m mostly comfortable. We still have a bunch of boxes to unpack, but I’m giving myself permission to be leisurely about this; I’ve spent so many weeks now in a frantic push to get up here and get our former apartment at least slightly more than “broom clean” so that our friends Adam and Felicia could get in and settled by the end of March.

I’m adjusting to the notion of our house as a happy place now. Coombsie and Adam have been friends since they were boys. Adam even lived here for a few months in high school, my mother-in-law having always been unfailingly kind to Coombsie’s friends. And Felicia is the Ethel to my Lucy; the highly organized yin to my sloppy yang. I am seeing a summer of cookouts and planting and porch-sitting, of taking Adam’s daughter to breakfast at Donut Villa on the weekends he has her. We are headed into a new chapter where this house is a place we actually want to be in, where we look forward to weekends, and I’m struggling with that. We’ve spent the past 4 years waiting for the next emergency, the next giant shoe to drop through the ceiling and land on us, so this “relaxing at home” thing is new to me.

But it’s good, I know. I’m hopeful.

I’ve also stumbled upon a small degree of Tumblr fame here. I, with the help of my more Photoshop-savvy friends, have created a strange little corner of the internet where my 8th grade picture has gone from a source of embarrassment to a glorious experiment in learning to love one’s self. I have something like 3,500 followers, garnering certainly more attention than I’ve ever gotten here, or with my writing in general. I’m not entirely sure how to feel about this, but I’m running with it. Do have a visit.

The Places That Scare You.

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If you haven’t been watching the news or following the Twitstagrambook feeds of your friends and loved ones in New England, we’ve been effectively hobbled by repeated “significant weather events” for several weeks now. We have been buried under many feet of filthy, dog-pee-and-car-exhaust-riddled snow. It’s not Currier & Ives; it’s the Apocalypse. Roofs have collapsed, snow emergencies and parking bans are everywhere, and public transportation has become a terrible, terrible joke.

Because of what I’ve learned in recovery, I am grasping onto a precious few straws of gratitude in the midst of all of this. One is that we have not lost power during any of the meteorological pummelings we’ve received. Another is that my mother-in-law is snug and warm in the memory unit of the assisted living facility she’s been in since late June. I cannot even fathom how awful all of this would have been had we still been in daily, on-the-premises charge of her care. I frequently have to stop and remind myself of this as I start to complain about the 10’ piles of snow outside our house which are obstructing our view of the 10’ piles of snow across the street.

But in the midst of all of this, we’re trying to move. Granted, we’re just moving from our downstairs apartment into the upstairs apartment formerly occupied by my mother-in-law. But this has required Herculean amounts of organizational skills which I do not possess. Purging a three-bedroom apartment of possessions and clutter acquired over a period of decades, when the former occupant is still among the living, is emotionally trying and just plain shittyawfulhorrid. It is constantly second-guessing and attempting to determine value, both sentimental and monetary, of these things. What goes to charity? What gets saved for the grandchildren? What gets thrown out? I try to be efficient, and wind up wandering weepily from room to room, overwhelmed to the point of distraction.

I have, however, managed to get most of this packed up. There are boxes and boxes and boxes of stuff that can go to charity at any time, except that it can’t really, because of the aforementioned piles of snow. They have turned our fairly wide street into a barely-plowed-out path flanked on both sides by pee-stained, icy behemoths. No truck could idle there for even 10 minutes without drawing the ire of our neighbors and those who use our street as a throughway to get onto Route 1 more quickly.

I am beyond stressed about this. We have to be completely moved upstairs in a matter of weeks; our friends are moving into the downstairs apartment and must do so by the end of March. The whole shebang requires trucks. Big trucks. If I think about it too much I start getting wheezy and unhinged. I mean, more so than usual.

So I’ll talk about one thing I managed to do which I’d been putting off for a long time, and that’s empty out the cabinet under the bathroom sink. Most people would think, “What’s terrible about that? You toss a couple of bottles of Drano and a few old hairbrushes, right?”

No, friends – that cabinet was filled not only with the things you’d expect to find in a bathroom cabinet, but a whopping load of real bad mojo.

As some of you know, the final year of in-home caregiving for us was pretty bad. My mother-in-law’s mental state had deteriorated to the point where she could not/would not care for herself in the most basic ways. Brushing her teeth. Bathing. Properly disposing of toilet paper. Her Alzheimer’s had also ramped up her pre-existing OCD, causing her to scratch and pick at her skin, leading to a constant threat of cellulitis and other infections. Mornings and evenings were spent donning latex gloves and coating her hands, arms, and ankles with both prescription and over-the-counter antibiotic ointment. Because she would slap at me and yell if I tried to get her to take a bath, many times I had to give up that particular battle and use pre-moistened washing mitts, which she would permit, up to a point, when she would then threaten to scream if I came near her with them. And when incontinence became an issue, the cabinet was then the home of the flushable wipes and Depends.

So this cabinet was something I’d been trying to avoid, even with the knowledge that I no longer was responsible for any of these things on any significant level. I just didn’t want to go there. I didn’t want to open the scary bathroom cabinet and deal with the physical and symbolic throwing away of these things. I felt guilt, remorse, sorrow, fear, and resentment, in varying order and degree. It felt very much like avoiding looking under the bed, or into my psyche, really the same thing if you think about it.

But one afternoon about 2 weeks ago, I grabbed a trash bag and did it. Out went the prescription ointment, the latex gloves, the Depends. What I could handle saving, I saved (boxes of gauze pads and BandAids, hand sanitizing wipes). I tied up the bag when I was done and brought it into the room where we’re storing all the stuff that needs to be thrown out/trucked away.

Here’s where I’d like to say that I felt as though a great weight was lifted, that I was washed clean in the light of my bravery or some such bullshit. It didn’t feel great. It felt sad. It felt crappy. I have to do this. When faced with any seemingly insurmountable obstacle, my mantra has always been “It’ll get done because it HAS to get done.” You’d be surprised how calming this actually is. It’s much more of a soul balm than “You don’t have to do it alone!” or “God doesn’t give you more than you can handle!” Because I’ve found that neither of those things are necessarily true. Sometimes you do have to do it alone. You have to go to the places that scare you, even when it’s just under the sink, and you have to do it alone. Because you HAVE been given more than you can handle, and this is one less thing you have to worry about.

Comfort Food

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We had to take my mother-in-law’s 22-year-old cat, Sam, to the animal hospital to have her cremated.  Our plan had been to bury her in the backyard under a little statue of Saint Francis, but the cold snap made that nigh on impossible.  So we took her to the animal hospital where we’d been taking her for years, explaining that we’d been caring for her after my mother-in-law became just too addled by Alzheimer’s to do it herself, and that we’d continued to look after her when my mother-in-law had to move into a memory center.  And Sam seemed to know that it was time to check out, and just went to sleep.

I sat in the car and cried.  I’ve been doing that a lot over the past couple of years.  Crying for my mother-in-law.  Crying for my husband.  Crying for myself and the gradual, insidious emptiness we’ve been experiencing all this time.  And through my tears, I asked Kevin if we could go to Lendy’s.

Lendy’s is a “New York Style Deli & Restaurant” improbably sandwiched into a strip mall of dollar stores and nail salons.  We discovered it one weekend, a couple of years ago, when we had a couple of days “off” from caregiving.  My God, it’s fantastic.  Blintzes and knishes and half-sour pickles and waitresses who’ve been working there since the Reagan administration.  After we moved Mom into the memory center, we found ourselves going there after visits to break up the sadness just a little bit.  The waitresses all know us, and ask after Mom, even though they’ve never laid eyes on her.  Comfort.

And so this is where I needed to go after bringing Sam to the animal hospital.  Our favorite waitress was there.  I dried my tears and tucked into my breakfast-for-dinner and noticed a very well-dressed woman sitting with her friend in a booth across from ours.  She got up, went to the counter where they keep the macaroni salad and corned beef, and yelled into the window for the cook.  “I just wanted to say – your food is awesome.  This is the first time I’ve been here.”  Then she tottered back to the booth on her very nice boots, grabbed her very nice handbag and coat, and left with her friend, after shouting fond farewells to our waitress, like she was an old friend.

Our waitress came over to clear our plates.  “That lady there?  She just lost her husband.  55 years old.  She hadn’t eaten in FIVE DAYS.  Her friend made her come here.”

“Wow,” I said. “You know, her friend was right to bring her here. I always come here when I’m sad, and then I feel better.”

“You’re SAD, hon? Why’re ya sad?”

I explained about Sam, and what we had to do, and how we always come here when we’re feeling a bit crushed and like we can’t draw any nourishment elsewhere, like near-dying plants.  How the cases full of cream soda and pickles and day-old bagels comfort me, and how I know the waitresses here will take care of me.

She sighed.  “To do this job ya gotta be something of a psychologist, I’ll tell ya.”

Let’s All Sing And Walk To The Kitchen

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On the daily schedule that’s posted outside of the door at the “Legacy Building” (where my mother-in-law has now lived for the past 6 months), at 7pm there is something called “Let’s All Sing And Walk To The Kitchen Together.” I cannot imagine how this actually goes down.

We usually visit in the afternoon or very early evening, in between lunch and dinner. We’ve walked in on various memory games (one of which involves what looks like one of those pool noodles) and movies (usually musicals), all of which are on the schedule, so I have no reason to doubt that the sing-and-walk thing happens. I just can’t imagine it. It sounds like something you’d do in daycare.

But then caring for Alzheimer’s patients is structured along very similar lines: it’s a regular schedule, with no activity (save the movies and back-to-back “Family Feud” episodes – which are hugely popular in the Legacy Building) lasting more than a half-hour, tops. Meals and snacks are always served at the same time each day. And, as more and more people are learning, music is increasingly becoming a part of the Alzheimer’s patient’s routine.

I try to imagine my mother-in-law going along with this. We did “music therapy” with her while she was still living with us. She’d be receptive to it for a little while, but then she’d invariably walk over and yank the iPod from its dock (or unplug the dock altogether) because she didn’t like the “noise” (I’ve had to tell well-meaning people on Facebook over and over again that the amazing video of an Alzheimer’s patient responding dramatically to hearing music is very wonderful indeed, but this didn’t yield nearly as miraculous a reaction from Mom, unless throwing the iPod across the room counts as miraculous). Before all this happened, if you’d told her that she’d be “singing and walking her way to the kitchen” every night at 7, you’d be treated to uproarious laughter and a fusillade of expletives.

At least I’m pretty sure that’s what she would have done. I’m finding it extraordinarily difficult to remember her the way she was, prior to diagnosis. I’ve heard this is common for caregivers: we are so immersed in watching helplessly as our loved one’s mind is erased by this illness, and we are so traumatized by it, that it’s very difficult to think back to a time where Alzheimer’s (or any serious illness, I suspect) wasn’t a daily part of our lives. So while I understand that this is somewhat normal, I’d still like very much to just be able to pull up a memory – just one goddamn memory – of what it was like to hang out with her before all of this. Pictures help, yes; I would just like to be able to summon something up on my own, without visual aids, that’s all.

I don’t know; maybe there’s something to this singing and walking to the kitchen. Might put me in a better mood.

Desperation Anniversary

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One thing I didn’t really think to acknowledge as New Year’s Day came and went is that it’s an anniversary.  Of sorts.

It’s not my sobriety date.  There’s still a part of me that wishes I could have stuck with that, because January 1st seems like such a GREAT date to claim as your sobriety date, when of course the reality is that ANY date works just as well, is just as personal and suffused with meaning and liberation.  But we generally put a lot of emphasis on the first day of the new year.  Advertising has a lot to do with that.  The fitness and diet industries thrive on touting January 1 as potentially transformative, but that’s another post for another time.

So, no, I didn’t stop and stay stopped, effective January 1, 2002.  It would take another 6+ months of struggling and relapsing to arrive at June 19th.  But January 1st is when I faced the truth about my drinking.

I had been, like I had for several years, at my best friend’s house for her annual New Year’s Eve party.  And as usual I had too much to drink and passed out in the car on the way home.  But there had been no screaming arguments with my husband, no embarrassing antics.  And I hadn’t thrown up.  At this point, that constituted a “successful” night of drinking for me.  People, including myself, had been expressing concern about my drinking for months up until then.  If I’d still had any fight left in me, I would’ve been pleased to hold up December 31, 2001, as “proof” that I was okay.

But I woke up later in the morning on January 1 feeling more than just hungover.  I was well and truly pitted, and I knew in my heart that I was an alcoholic.  I made a call, and was directed to a church basement.

It didn’t stick, January 1st.  I wasn’t ready.  If I’d felt horrible that day it was nothing compared to the way I felt some 6 1/2 months later.  But I felt horrible enough.  I felt desperate enough.  And that’s why January 1 is my “desperation anniversary.”  I don’t get a card and a medallion on that day.  I don’t get taken out for brunch with some the friends I’ve made over the last 12+ years.  But damn it, it’s an anniversary, and I’m grateful.

My Year (sorry, Facebook)

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There are a lot of New Year’s Eve posts all over social media today, reflecting on the year going out.  Seems like a lot of us had a….challenging 2014 at best.

I opted out of the “Year In Facebook” thing that people have been doing, where –  because of algorithm wackiness – FB chooses photos that maybe aren’t the best representation of the user’s year.  For me, most of my indelible images from 2014 don’t appear on my Facebook feed:

  • Having a complete breakdown in the E.R. at Melrose Wakefield Hospital, where we sat with my totally discombobulated and frantically addled mother-in-law for over 12 hours.  Dementia + UTI = insanity on a level that I still cannot find the proper words for, some six months after the fact.  After 3 ½ years of being a primary caregiver, this is the day that broke me, utterly.  It was the day I stopped pretending I had it under control.
  • The big bag of food left on our porch, from our chef friend Sean.  The Styrofoam cooler with a couple of nights worth of meals from my childhood friend, Christine.  So many times, when someone is in crisis, we don’t know what to do, and so we say:  “Let me know what I can do,” and what I can say now, from experience, is that when you are in that kind of maelstrom, you don’t have an answer for that.  It’s not that caregivers don’t need help when you don’t hear from them after you’ve made that offer; it’s that caregivers are just stressed beyond belief and cannot even summon the words, or the courage, to request help.  Simple gestures like those of my friends made all the difference to us this year.
  • My husband sitting in the leather, Mission Style recliner, learning to tie knots.  By early summer, we had to seek placement for my mother-in-law, as her Alzheimer’s had progressed to the point where her needs far exceeded our abilities.  In the days following her move to a memory unit, we walked around the house in a fog.  When it cleared somewhat, we realized that we could DO STUFF.  So Kevin took sailing lessons on the Charles, and taught himself knots.  Me – I’m still trying to figure out what to do.  I keep going back and forth on singing lessons.  So there’s that.
  • Visiting the E.R. at Melrose Wakefield Hospital AGAIN, because this time I was walking down the street, minding my own business, when I tripped and faceplanted right on the sidewalk near the Mexican restaurant where we go for take-out.  I mention this only because in all my years of fairly severely alcoholic drinking, I never faceplanted.  I mean – never.  I certainly vomited in public, had screaming fights in parking lots, and maybe made out with people I wasn’t supposed to, but I NEVER FELL ON MY FACE.  This year?  12 1/2 years sober – I smashed up my nose and my upper lip and learned just how much it costs to take an ambulance to the E.R. for a couple of Extra Strength Tylenol, once the staff figures out that your nose isn’t broken.  Good times

I don’t want a tidy little social media package describing my year because it was anything BUT tidy.  It shook me in places I didn’t think were shakeable – or rather – it shook me in places that I didn’t even know were there to be shaken.  But there was grace, too, and laughter.  And some new friends.  And, of course, wigs.

A Shining Christmas

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Contrary to the silliness that usually goes down on my Facebook page (I keep it pretty frivolous there; I’ve found that it’s not at all wise to be otherwise on that particular platform), I have to tell you all: I am actually really struggling with the whole “making merry” thing this year.

If you’ve been following along here for a while, you know that this is the first holiday season in which we are no longer the full-time, in-home, primary caregivers for my mother-in-law, which we had been since 2010. We have thus far had several months of not jerking awake at all hours of the night, listening for footsteps, running water, and other various strange sounds not coming from our cats. We are not responsible for getting her dressed, fed, and bathed. We are not washing soiled sheets and clothes.

The unbelievable pressure we had been under has been lifted, mostly. We are still her caregivers in that we’re regular visitors at the memory unit, checking her room to see that it’s clean, checking in with the staff to make sure she’s set for lotion, Depends, and non-binding socks. We schedule her hair appointments at the little salon on her floor (as I write this, she’s probably getting her perm right now). But this is manageable. This is done without the constant undercurrent of fear that marked the last year-and-a-half of our caring for her at home.

In the depths of my depression and anxiety during that period, I would try and look ahead to this very time. The first Christmas where I could take a deep breath and enjoy myself. I held it aloft as something that would, surely, be a shining Christmas, even with the sad understanding that my mother-in-law would not be actively participating in it.

And here we are and well, I’m just not having it. Any of it. I’m dressing the part and wrapping the presents and baking the cookies. My tree is up, decorated, and lovely. But I cannot muster the cheer. I get home most nights and can’t be arsed to flip on the lighted garlands or the little ceramic “village” on the sideboard. I’ve talked to a few people about this, and the general consensus is that I’m still just emerging from the trauma of that last year-and-a-half, and that feeling completely “normal” is still a ways off. I should go easy on myself, and stop feeling pressure to make this the BEST CHRISTMAS EVER.

So I’m going through the motions while feeling sort of sleepy and intermittently sad. I might also be overcompensating a tad by eating a lot of carbs. I’m sort of looking forward to January 2nd at this point.

And I feel shitty because of this. I feel guilty because I’m having difficulty with getting into this whole holiday thing while my mother-in-law is in a memory center having no earthly clue what day it is, let alone that it’s almost Christmas. And I fall into the trap of clobbering myself for not having perspective. And mostly I just feel stupid. I should have known better to load up on expectations.

As always, humor helps. I bought this mock-ugly-Christmas-sweater not too long ago:

10425438_10102734531932890_7391550646571351082_nA coworker posted that photo on Facebook, which started this whole…trend…where my friends started posting thematic pictures for me:

10418303_2554109775630_706734808926499292_n10850042_10204446332735102_2358759221660275175_n10849935_10154994466605085_2346307634257814993_nSo, as crummy as I’ve been feeling, it did turn out to be a Shining Christmas after all.

Ranting While White

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One night, in the early 90s, I was drinking in a little bar on the campus of M.I.T. with my then-boyfriend and a couple of our friends. We were participating in an orgy of irony typical of the era: watching “Melrose Place” and drinking Knickerbocker in cans (which were ridiculously cheap – $2 each). I was buzzed and feeling somewhat out of my league, surrounded by all of these smart people, and what happened next is something that has haunted me for over two decades.

I started chastising Billy Dee Williams.

That sentence is utterly ridiculous, right? Comical, even. So hang with me for a few more sentences and I’ll explain why this is so awful.

I loudly declared that Mr. Williams was doing a “disservice” to “his community” by being the spokesperson for Colt 45, something that I personally had no problem drinking (because it was “ironic” – this was the early 90s, remember), but Billy Dee had no business promoting, because it was so abused in black neighborhoods and this was an act of betrayal that everyone should be aware of. And I, a twenty-something middle class white girl with a couple of Public Enemy records, was just the person to bring this to light, right?

(God, this is painful to write.)

All of a sudden, a young black man approached our table. “I couldn’t help but overhear what you’ve been saying about Billy Dee Williams.”

“Um, yeah?”

“Why do you think he doesn’t have the right to make his own decisions about how he wants to present himself?”

“Well, because….because what he’s doing is dangerous. Colt 45 is, like, aggressively promoted in poor neighborhoods and…that’s…um……bad…”

“So you’re basically saying that it would be like Geronimo promoting Jack Daniels.”

“I…”

“Yeah. Just checking. OK. You have a nice night.”

I squirmed in my seat, pounding another couple of $2 Knickerbockers, and stewed until the episode of “Melrose Place” was over and I could get my boyfriend to agree to leave. And I ranted at him for the entire walk home, and while we got undressed in his apartment, and even before we went to sleep. How dare that guy question my dedication to WHAT’S RIGHT. I was OPEN-MINDED AND AWARE.

Jesus.

I very much realize that I’m “uncomfortable” writing about this 20+ year old exchange because in doing so, I am outing myself as having engaged in some real smarmy, entitled bullshit. Because I know I am still on the cusp of doing so a lot of the time. Because in spite of my believing myself to be an ally, I understand that privilege drives the desire to make this about myself. Look at me. Look at how aware I am.

I tell this story because I am learning, from some really smart people whose writing pushes me to work through my discomfort and my increasing realization of my own biases and – yes – racist beliefs, that to be an ally is to listen, to share the space in quiet solidarity, and not to make what is happening right now a platform for MY opinions. It is not my place to monopolize the emotional energy. I’m not even sure that writing, and posting, this piece is the right thing to do. But I want to put it out there, to own my privilege and begin the work of unpacking it. I don’t want people cheering me on for being “brave” or assuring me that I don’t have a fuck ton of work to do on myself in the midst of all this pain and anger. That is REALLY not what I am going for.

I am saying: I have said some really dumb shit. I have been a self-styled expert on something that I personally have no experience with. I have ranted while white. I’m working on this.

To Megan.

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I was directed to this painful read yesterday.

It’s heartbreaking.

Heartbreaking, because even 12+ years away from my last drink (a plastic cup of warm Chardonnay, which I couldn’t even keep down, because my body was fighting valiantly to keep any more alcohol from braying through my bloodstream), I relate to EVERY GODDAMN THING she writes here. And I suppose I’m grateful for that. I’m grateful that I can still easily plug into the memories of how painful, awful, and shitsuckingly BORING it is to be an active alcoholic.

Yes, boring. When you are that dependent on something, your every waking minute revolves around it. Obsessing. Planning. Scheduling. Having “rules” for yourself which keep you from being a real alcoholic. Not drinking before 5. Not drinking at work. Not drinking more than ____ drinks a night (you can easily get around that by drinking out of really big glasses, or continually topping off your drink because – hey – if the glass isn’t totally empty, it’s still only one drink). It’s a second full-time job, one that reaps absolutely no benefits.

It’s lonely, too. This sentence jumped out at me:

I’m upset that I’ve yet again stayed up, alone in my apartment, until the wee hours of the morning, watching music videos on YouTube I’ve seen a million times and sending embarrassing emails, which I type with one eye closed, the other bloodshot and squinting, because I can’t see straight.

I stopped drinking before YouTube was a thing. I can only imagine how much time I would’ve spent watching videos of the drippier New Wave ballads from my formative years and dry-sobbing in front of my laptop, lamenting my lost youth. Or something. As it stands, I spent my time listening to these songs on my stereo, drunkenly fumbling with the 45 sleeves and CD cases, listening to them over and over again until I passed out. Alone. On the crappy little futon sofa while my husband slept in the next room. He actually bought me headphones so he wouldn’t have to listen to this, and thus have some semblance of peace in the midst of my emotional hostage-taking.

Alcoholism gets you where it wants you: alone. Isolated. I drank alone even in a room full of people. That’s the paradox of it – so many of us start drinking because we can’t function around people otherwise. Koester puts it this way: having a few drinks makes it “easier to interact with the world through a filter.” I, like many alcoholics, am wired for isolation. Most people who know me would find that surprising. It takes a tremendous amount of effort for me to go to a party, or to a show, or to any gathering of more than 3 people. Drinking made things easier. Drinking made me funnier, sexier, more creative. Until it just made me drunk. Until it made me prefer the company of my bottle (I certainly wasn’t enjoying my own company). Because to drink the way I wanted to drink required isolation. I couldn’t possibly drink as much as I was drinking around other people. Because they would know I had a problem. So fuck them. Fuck everybody.

Active alcoholism is also an inherently dishonest way to live. We compartmentalize our lives, being one person to one group of people (Wacky! Zany!) and an entirely different person to another group of people (Responsible! Considerate!), while being just one thing to ourselves: drunk.  And we manage this way for a long time, until we (if we’re lucky) come to the realization that we’re broken and in pieces. And then there’s that whole hiding the extent of your drinking from everyone (here’s an Inconvenient Truth™ for you: you’re not fooling anyone). To stop drinking is to face the horrible fact of having to be honest for the first time in…well…for however long you’ve been drinking alcoholically.

Here is the thing that I have learned time and time again in my recovery: DOING something (in this case, being honest) is never as bad as NOT doing it. Because while you’re avoiding the thing you’re afraid of, you’re prolonging the agony, and stacking up more consequences. A sober friend of mine put it to me this way: “When it gets too painful to continue, you WILL change.”

I wish I could sit across some sticky diner table from Koester and tell her that same thing.  But I’ll say this here:

Sobriety is not a death sentence, Megan. Taking away the drink will not take away the central parts of your identity. You don’t even know what those are anymore, because you’ve been drowning them. I’ve read this essay over and over again since last night. I so understand the terror you’re feeling at the very thought of not having that chemical escape hatch anymore. There’s a very palpable grief that happens when you know you have to stop doing this thing that’s NOT EVEN FUCKING WORKING ANYMORE.

You may very well not be ready to stop yet. I hope that changes soon.

It will be work, getting sober. It will absolutely fucking suck at first. But how much more work are you putting into drinking? Think about this.

I’m not the only person out there who read this and 100% related to it. We’re all over the place, and we’re ready to help you when you’re ready to be helped.

The Tale Of The Pantsless Clown

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I was hanging out with my sister yesterday, as part of my weekend-long birthday festivities, when my nieces and nephew started clamoring to hear Stories About When We Were Kids™.

And perhaps this wasn’t the best story to tell, but I automatically launched into The Tale Of The Pantsless Clown.

It was around ’78-’79. I was eight, and Tina was six. At the time, we lived on Samoset Avenue in Hull. My mother had choir practice down the street at Saint Ann’s, and figured that Tina and I could manage for a couple of hours by ourselves without burning down the house. By today’s parenting standards, this would have been enough to have us placed in state custody. All I can tell you is that, hey, it was the Seventies. We ate terrible food laced with at least a soupçon of Red #5 on the daily, played completely unsupervised for hours on end in abandoned buildings, and had very questionable television watching habits.

I don’t know where our dad was. Probably away on a business trip. Our older brother was thousands of miles away on an exchange student program in Málaga, where he’d send postcards lamenting the preponderance of bad disco. All I know is that we were instructed to go inside once the streetlights came on, and that perhaps there’d be McDonalds in our future if we managed not to cause serious harm to ourselves or to the furniture.

We amused ourselves with the neighborhood kids, being mindful to glance up at the streetlights now and again. For some reason, the easygoing chatter of children turned very dark, and before long, we were being regaled with the story of a clown in a van. A clown that was naked from the waist down, only you wouldn’t know that until he beckoned you to come closer as he proferred….I don’t know….candy or a puppy or something. And you’d be so shocked at this pantsless clown that you wouldn’t even scream as he snatched you and tossed you into the back of his van.

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As Tina and I grappled with the horror of this, the streetlights started coming on. And our friends were called in to enter their respective, safe, parented homes. Being all of two years older, I knew that I was responsible for Tina, who was perched in a tight little ball on the edge of the sidewalk, sobbing. I placed my hand comfortingly on Tina’s shoulder. “C’mon – we should go inside now.”

She looked up at me, huge blue-green eyes round with terror. “But…butbutbut…what if THE CLOWN IS WAITING FOR US IN THE HOUSE?!”

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This hadn’t occurred to me. I mean, Jesus, we were total clownbait, weren’t we? Desperately, I tried to suss out my options. Run to a neighbor’s house? No, I was acutely conscious of not interrupting dinner. Stay where we were? No – the thing was to keep moving.

“Get up. We’re going to Saint Ann’s.”

We ran all the way up Samoset Avenue, crying hysterically, checking over our shoulders for headlights that appeared vaguely hostile. Like they’d be attached to a van driven by a pantsless clown. And we arrived at the church shivering and scared witless. I managed to pull open the huge mahogany door and was immediately hit with the smell of incense and floor polish. The sound of the organ and the choir, my mother’s pristine soprano ringing to the rafters, abruptly stopped and I heard: “Betty – aren’t those your girls?”

My mother raced down the front aisle, her brick-red polyester pantsuit fwisk-fwisk-fwisking as she approached us, face pinched in maternal concern. “What’s the matter? What’s wrong? What happened?”

Tina and I exploded in a cacophonous din of explanatory wailing:
“There’s this clown….”
“…in a big black car…”
“NO, a WHITE VAN…”
“…and he’s not wearing anything…”
“HE HAS NO PANTS ON.”
“…and he’s really mean and he puts kids in the van…”
“…and he…”
“HE HAS NO PANTS ON.”
“We WANTED to go inside like you SAID.”
“BUT THE CLOWN IS INSIDE THE HOUSE, MA.”

My mother looked at me, then looked at my sister, then looked back at me. “JESUS H. CHRIST,” she muttered, then directed us into a pew, where we sat quietly ashamed until practice was over.

There was no McDonalds for dinner.

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