Dear Friends I Saw Play Last Night –

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What a great show. Seriously. You all transported me for roughly an hour back to a place where music was pretty much the only friend who’d never abandon me. Sometimes you forget how important certain artists/albums/songs were in your formative years. Last night was a nice reminder.

But when I saw you after you’d finished playing, I was stiff and awkward and not as animated as I usually am.

I feel bad about this, so this morning I’m going to try and explain.

You all know I’m sober, and have been for a number of years now. Even with that amount of time under my belt, I have to make difficult decisions when it comes to being social. I have learned that if I’m feeling even a little bit like I’m going to be uncomfortable, it’s usually best for me to stay home. I ignored that niggling little feeling last night, because I really, REALLY wanted to see you play.

I won’t say I made a mistake, because I didn’t. You all delivered, and then some. But as the tiny club filled up, I felt myself shrinking up against the wall, trying to find a little elbow room for myself, trying to ignore the smell of everyone’s drinks, praying that something wouldn’t get spilled on me. I kept imagining that happening, and wondering what I’d do about it. It didn’t even happen, and yet I found myself as tense and miserable as if it HAD.

I won’t lie; I very much wanted to bolt. I was ready to tell my husband that I’d take the T home. I hadn’t felt that uncomfortable in a long time, and it scared me.

Fortunately, my husband can read me astonishingly well. He found a table for us further back, not so far away that we couldn’t see and hear you, but enough away so that I could breathe without smelling beer/whiskey/fruity alcoholic concoctions. Enough away so I could feel a little better and in less danger of being jostled. So I got to watch your show, and it made me really happy.

But I still felt bad. I felt bad that people have to make concessions for me, the non-drinker with considerable anxiety issues who doesn’t want to be a drag, truly. I feel bad that sometimes I have to ask people not to drink around me. And I get tired – really tired – of feeling like I have to explain myself.

So by the end of the night I was exhausted from – as needlessly DRAMATIC as this sounds – just trying to keep it together for the few hours we were there. Resenting every glass of beer sloshing in front of me. Not wanting to hug people because they had drinks in their hands and on their breath. Feeling stupid and infantile for feeling resentful and wary. Knowing that I can’t expect everyone around me to change the way they live to suit me, just because I can’t drink. Not understanding why, after 13 years of not drinking, this shit still sometimes GETS TO ME. Well, understanding WHY, but being mad that it has to be this way. I’ve always said that I never wanted to be a “normal drinker.” I always wanted oblivion. But last night I really wanted to be normal. I wanted to be normal so badly I could taste it. Not just so I could drink. So that I could feel like not wanting to crawl out of my skin.

And so I wasn’t particularly effusive after your set. I could tell how happy you were to see me, and I felt like I couldn’t muster half of your enthusiasm. Please know, friends: I love you. I love the work you do and the passion with which you play. For an hour or so, I was transported. But I crashed hard. And so you guys got a tepid hug and a wan smile when I should have been jumping up and down and squealing. You didn’t deserve that.

The next time I see you I will jump up and down and squeal. Because what you all did last night was incredible. I mean – spot fucking ON. I love you guys so much and am so grateful that you’re my friends.

This is me, usually. I swear:

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What about Bob (or: Staying Sober In The Zombie Apocalypse)

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I’ve had kind of a tumultuous past week+, so I’ll try to make as much sense as I’m able.

My mother-in-law is in the hospital with pneumonia. This is, unfortunately, very common with Alzheimer’s patients. Dysphagia, or difficulty with swallowing, happens in the later stages of the disease, causing people to aspirate and therefore develop pneumonia.

(This is yet another reason why I have little-to-no patience with Alzheimer’s “jokes” — like when people say they have Alzheimer’s because they lost their keys. Just…no. Stop. It’s not only not funny, it displays unimaginable ignorance as to how horrible this illness really is.)

She is bouncing back fine, and was cheerfully confused when we went to visit her yesterday, but will now have to be on a fairly strict puréed diet. It’s simply one of those things we now know to expect.

So while it was a mostly pleasant visit, it’s one of those things that remind me that my life is still not “normal,” in the sense that once you’ve committed to caring for someone with this disease, you can’t ever go back to where you were prior to taking on the responsibility, even when you are no longer an in-home caregiver. This is probably going to happen again. Or something else will happen. We’ve certainly learned that there are no shortage of rugs to be pulled out from under us.

I was still recovering from a conference I’d been to last week, which was book-ended by air travel snafus going to and coming back. Some air traffic control mess outside of D.C. caused my flight to the conference to be delayed several hours, and severe weather caused an even longer delay coming home. I didn’t hit my own bed until around 2:30 in the morning on Friday. The conference itself was great, but every day was scheduled such that I was up early and in bed late. I think I averaged maybe 4 hours of sleep a night. And maybe some of you can function fine on that, but this girl cannot. So I spent most of my first day home asleep either in my bed or on the couch.

I roused myself sufficiently to attend Walker Stalker Con (which my sister and I had been planning on since LAST year’s Walker Stalker Con) on Saturday. Among other cast members, I got to meet Lawrence Gilliard, Jr.

CNDFRwkUkAAHUcmHis character, Bob Stookey, an Army medic prior to the outbreak which has created the zombie pandemic in the series, is also an alcoholic. I found Gilliard’s portrayal to be spot-on and incredibly moving, and when I met him on Saturday, I got to tell him as much (I may have gotten a little weepy as well). He was really happy to hear this, and said, “You know, I figured, in this alternate universe – you know there’s gotta be people like that out there in it. I wanted to do that justice.”

I’ve thought a lot about that since Saturday. It’s sort of comical. Like, where are you going to find a MEETING in the zombie apocalypse? And if you did find a group of recovering addicts out there, what are you going to talk about?

“I took this walker’s head off with a mop handle, and while I KNOW I did the right thing, I just keep thinking about how GREAT a glass of Scotch would be.”

“Wow. I so relate. I had to shove a crowbar through my coworker’s skull, and I have SUCH a resentment about it.”

I kid, but I’m also kind of serious. I THINK ABOUT STUFF LIKE THIS. Especially now that the companion series has started and one of its principal characters is a drug addict. We’re not exactly equipped to deal with even mundane things like paying bills without wanting to anesthetize ourselves, and here are these characters trudging a Road of Happy Destiny that’s strewn with big globs of gore and severed body parts. It gives one pause, it really does.

And it comes down to survival, doesn’t it? We’re faced with a decision. We have to make that decision every day. Drink or don’t drink. Use or don’t use. Live, or die. Maybe it’s not quite on the level of…magnitude…as a zombie apocalypse, but…you know, actually, it really kind of IS. Let’s not even get into the parallels of substance abuse (and the way it can render someone who previously had been vibrant) and being a shuffling, unfeeling walking corpse. Let’s not talk about insatiable need. Let’s just talk about getting through a day without being destroyed by something inside of you. About finding the people who’ll survive alongside you. About the importance of connections, even when shit is falling down around you.

It’s not that much of a stretch. Not to me, anyway.

In recovery, I’ve absolutely learned that I can survive just about anything without drinking. I can sit with discomfort. I can handle 4 hour delays in the middle of a lightning storm at the Orlando airport. I can be present just sitting with my severely-addled mother-in-law in an unfamiliar hospital. So, you know, I could probably deal with zombies.

It’s just too bad that Bob had to die on the show.  We would have stuff to talk about.

Today’s Rant

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Most of the time, I feel supported, if not entirely understood, in terms of my being open about addiction and recovery. Friends and loved ones take the time to read what I write, and engage in respectful, supportive discussion.

It’s enough to make me feel pretty good about what I’m doing. That’s why it’s always a punch to the gut to hear someone describe people like me in some really unflattering terms.

I’m still reeling a bit from seeing a thread on a friend’s Facebook wall last week. My friend was wondering why some people “look down” on those in recovery, and those who are still struggling. And a friend of hers went on a rant about how addicts will ALWAYS fail, we will NEVER recover, and we’re basically doomed to die terrible, scumbag deaths.

And it’s just…sigh. You know, I get that the majority of non-addicts out there still believe that this is a moral shortcoming, that we’re a bunch of pleasure-seeking selfish idiots who could just, like, stop if we really wanted to. I also know what it’s like to have lived with an addict, and been the recipient of the pain and humiliation that comes from that.  I get that.  But then I see the judgment bubbling out of people every time a celebrity addict dies from their condition: Why are we caring about Whitney Houston/Amy Winehouse/Philip Seymour Hoffman when good people are dying of X/Y/Z?

Because there are limitations on compassion, right?

I write and post about people who die from the same thing I battle every fucking day because it’s what I know, and it’s but one of the things I care about. And when I call people out for denigrating addicts, I invariably get: “But I’m not talking about YOU!”

Except that they are. Because I’m only one drink away from being that scumbag alcoholic. I’m one drink away from being the obnoxious drunk on the train. One drink away from being the selfish asshole with no self-control. They are talking about me, because of this refusal to see people like me as ill. Gravely ill.

I tend to keep it light on Facebook. I’m not the kind of person who goes online and says, “UNFRIEND ME NOW if you think _____.” But I have been sorely tempted to do just that every time an addict of note dies, because the willfully ignorant bile coming out of folks – who are purportedly on board with me as my “friend” – is enough to make me doubt just how valid some of these “friendships” are.

It doesn’t matter that you’re not talking about me specifically when you’re bashing addicts. See above.

It doesn’t matter that you’re “just joking.” It’s not funny.

It doesn’t matter that you’re just trying to point out that there are “more important” things to talk about. “Important” is relative. Would you be giving me as much crap if I were posting about someone with cancer? Don’t tell me that’s “different.” It isn’t.

I have a condition that will absolutely kill me if I don’t remain vigilant about my specific route to recovery. I don’t think it’s out of line for me to ask that folks take a second to muster a soupçon of empathy before unloading their judgmental ish on me and my kind. Because the junkie you saw that you have so much disdain for? That’s me. The guy reeking of beer sweat in the subway station? That’s me, too.

And I can pretty much PROMISE you that not a one of us sets out to become an addict. I don’t ever – EVER – hear anyone in recovery say, “When I was a kid, I COULDN’T WAIT to become physically and emotionally dependent on substances. Like – woo! – SIGN ME UP.”

When I was seven, I wanted to be a writer. At 16, I thought maybe I wanted to be an actor. Sobbing and retching over the toilet every morning, alienating everyone I cared about, covered in bruises because my liver couldn’t keep up with the steady flow of poison I was drowning my organs in? Not at all in the game plan. But that’s what happened to me. Because I am sick. My condition is in regression, and it’s certainly my hope that it won’t rear its head again, but this is what I’ve got. What I’m dealing with. And it’s no joke. And when you say ugly things about people who die from this, or people you pass on the street who can’t get well, you are talking about me.  And it hurts.

So if that’s the way you really feel, then perhaps you aren’t my friend after all.

Do with that what you will.

Grasping at Reason

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I wrote a piece for The Flounce the other day about helping friends and loved ones in crisis. Kind of a “what not to say” thing. I’m only a year out from no longer being an in-house primary caregiver, so the feelings there are still very fresh, perhaps to the point of misinterpretation.

We went to visit my mother-in-law yesterday. She has her “lively” days, and this was not one of them. She wasn’t depressed or despondent (she seldom is, and we’ve found that it’s still fairly easy to redirect her when she does become upset), but she was listless. She was sitting in the “quiet room” when we got there, napping in one of the wingback chairs, but woke up when we said her name.

What was it like? It was like interacting with a sleepy toddler. She sat in the chair, kind of cooing and babbling.

Occasionally she can eke out a partial sentence that seems like it’s going somewhere, but then it fades off into more gibberish. There are no real conversations. We can ask her how she’s doing, and sometimes she’ll remember to say “Fine.” But mostly it’s acknowledging whatever she’s saying, and not trying too hard to decipher it all. She seems contented with almost mimicking the back-and-forth of a conversation: saying something and awaiting a response. Yesterday, though, her cadence was very sing-song, like a small child consoling itself at bedtime.

Eventually, I handed her a throw pillow to fuss with, as this tends to trigger the need to tidy something, which in turn makes her a tiny bit more lucid. She stroked at it and made little furtive scratching motions on the embroidered side. She managed to do a number on several pieces of furniture that way, back when she was still in the house with us. She’d rub and rub at imaginary spots until it left divots on her coffee and dining room tables. We couldn’t salvage the coffee table in the end, but did save the dining room set. In the quiet room, there’s usually a basket of towels for someone to fold, or a box filled with sand and small plastic objects, to satisfy the urge to do repetitive tasks. I think these things must have been moved to one of the activity rooms; yesterday there were just the big leather chairs and a little white noise machine. I digress.

When we go visit, we usually pass several folks who live in the regular assisted living community, sunning themselves in Adirondack chairs or reading. The ladies are always dressed to the nines in bright colors and accessories. And I never see them without lipstick. They are fabulous. They are always happy to greet and be greeted.

I love passing them on the way in and out, but this is also painful. There are no guarantees in this life. Some of us will get to be fabulous old ladies, like my own mother, who doesn’t dare leave the house without her giant Dolce & Gabbana sunglasses that she found at a flea market.

My mother is a fabulous old lady. My mother-in-law has been essentially infantilized by her own brain.

It angers me that she’s been cheated out of being as fabulous as I know she could have been. She’s broken most of the great costume jewelry necklaces I packed for her last summer, or twisted them the around the Lladro figurines I put in her room, creating strange little works of art that make sense to no one but her. She still gets her hair and nails done (there’s a little salon on her floor called “A Cut Above”), and when she’s freshly coiffed, she looks like she could say, “Get me the hell out of this place and let’s go to Rockport.” Instead she smiles beatifically and says, “Flibberty jipsum on the mo mo mah mah mah.”

So I leave after every visit with a heaviness that’s different from when I was with her every day. It’s a combination of remorse and relief. I know that I cannot do for her what the staff can. Every morning and every evening took everything that I had, mentally and emotionally. Getting her dressed. Getting her clean. The nightly ritual of lowering all the blinds and turning off lights so that something in her mind would kick in and she’d know it was time for bed. Fighting her over taking a bath, or even getting her to agree to a once-over with a washing mitt. Keeping her from dismantling another appliance. Keeping her out of danger. That’s no longer on my daily to-do list, and I’m grateful. But my own shortcomings were such that we had to move her out of her home. I still feel guilty about this.

I leave feeling such sorrow for her, and everything that’s she’s lost. What’s fair about any of this? I talk to others who are dealing with sick parents. Sometimes you find yourself comparing your situation to another’s. “It’s worse for my dad, because he knows he’s dying.” “It’s worse for my mom, because she’s losing her mind.” The thing is – it’s ALL watching someone deteriorate. It’s ALL confronting mortality and frailty. There’s no comparison. There’s only grief.

I feel so hopeless sometimes. As much as I appreciate my life as it is right now – living in a house I’m happy to come home to, with neighbors who are engaging and funny and kind – it came at a cost. My faith in any sort of a just and concerned Universe/Higher Power/Flying Spaghetti Monster has been shaken to its core. I don’t know what or who I’m praying to, and I’m simply not at the point where I can accept entropy, or nothingness. I can’t make sense of any of this.

So I write. I talk to other people going through similar situations. There’s comfort in the similarities (“Your mother hoards paper towels? MINE DOES TOO!”). I wonder if some become sick because others need perspective, or more contact. I flail about for the right words to describe it all, hoping that in re-reading, it will make sense. I’m re-reading this now; it’s all over the goddamn place. It doesn’t matter. This is life in the shadow of illness sometimes: grasping at reason.

Sticking Up.

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A post I wrote a couple of years back has been making the rounds again, and has brought with it a bunch more followers.

I always get a little nervous when this happens, like I’m being thought of as this Sobriety Guru, like a wizened Yoda-type sitting on a lily pad doling out sagacious tidbits about not drinking, when really I’m just another clown on the bus trying to stay on board. I mean, you’re dealing with someone who sticks her eighth grade picture into pre-existing photos and works of art. I am really NOT the person to look towards for sanity and wisdom, y’all.

So I feel a responsibility to let folks know that while I do a fair amount of talking about recovery, it’s not the ONLY thing I talk about, and a lot of times you’re going to also get stuff about Alzheimer’s, zombies, and garden variety potty humor. If that’s not your bag, and you want to bail, I will totally understand. But getting sober frequently means rediscovering other areas of interest, and one of the great things about sobriety is that while it’s still gotta be first and foremost, it doesn’t have to be ALL you talk about.

Something I will address today is sticking up for yourself and your sobriety. That can mean anything from shooting down overly-personal questions about why you quit to voicing your discomfort.

Case in point: I share a practice space with my bandmates. As someone who’s contributing to the rent, I think it’s fair of me to ask that people not leave their empties lying around after practice. It’s not like I’m going to run around drinking the dregs in said empties (although I definitely wouldn’t have been above that 13 years ago), but – you know – I also don’t particularly want to look at them, either. So the other night, I politely asked folks to pitch them in the trash can in the hallway. I’m not a Puritan by any stretch of the imagination, and I get that sometimes people want to have a beer at practice. I was able to express my discomfort about the empties in a respectful way, and everyone was on board with being a little tidier.

That’s maybe an overly-simplistic example, but I think a lot of alcoholics/addicts also have fallen into the habit of being really, really passive aggressive. Before I started really getting into the work of being sober, I just assumed that everyone would immediately sense my discomfort and summarily capitulate without my having to say a damn thing. And if they didn’t, then I’d find some insanely roundabout way of getting what I wanted. That’s exhausting for everyone.

But what I’m basically trying to say is this: you’re dealing with something that could kill you; it’s okay to protect yourself. You have the right to turn down invitations to parties if you feel you’re going to be uncomfortable in any way. You have the right to ask if a get-together can take place somewhere other than a bar (I’m usually okay in a bar if it’s also a restaurant, and I can occupy myself with nachos or fries). I’ve learned over the years to understand that this is NOT an outrageous proposition. If I know I’m going out to dinner with vegetarian/vegan friends, I will order vegetarian/vegan. It’s just common courtesy. I will say that it’s interesting that this is a courtesy that is very seldom extended to me as a non-drinker, even though I’m generally comfortable with someone ordering alcohol with dinner. I’d say less than 5% of the time I’m asked whether or not I’m okay with someone drinking in front of me, and maybe that’s because I’ve been pretty sanguine about it over the years. I don’t know. It’s nice to be asked, though.

I am, however, wicked uncomfortable around people who are obviously inebriated. That’s just plain no fucking fun at all, and it’s why I’ve sometimes either stayed home from a party, or bowed out early. As I get older, this becomes less of an issue, since most of my friends by and large aren’t into getting stupid drunk anymore. Me, there is always going to be that urge, however long it’s remained dormant. I am hard-wired for oblivion, and there are still days where I have to tread carefully, and it is 100% okay for me to ask my friends and loved ones to help me out when I’m on shaky ground. And it’s okay for you, too.

“Masshole.”

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Here in Massachusetts, some of us are celebrating the fact that the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) has seen fit to make “Masshole” an official word:

Masshole Syllabification: Mass·hole

Pronunciation: /ˈmasˌhōl/

noun

US vulgar slang

A contemptuous term for a native or inhabitant of the state of Massachusetts.

Now, I have a problem with this notion that this is a “contemptuous term.”  Perhaps outside of the Commonwealth, it’s used contemptuously.  Around here?  It’s a badge’a fahkin’ HONAH, kehd.

Further, I feel like it’s much better explained with visuals.  I’ve started a few:

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index
They really should’ve asked me first, that OED.

The Play’s The Thing.

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Geralyn is convinced I’m going to kill her.

I have to say, I almost enjoy the idea that every Sunday I go from being a vaguely-old-gothy database administrator to a scheming murderess. I always smile at Geralyn, who holds court in the back row of rocking chairs in the day room, along with Nancy, Joyce, and a few of the other more lucid ladies, before I take a seat next to my mother-in-law. Geralyn always smiles back, but invariably – several minutes into my visit – I hear her tell the others that I’m going to kill her.

“That’s the one. She stopped me in the hallway and said she’s going to MURDER ME.”
“Which one?”
“HER. The WEIRD one.”
“Oh, I don’t think that’s true. She’s here very often. I think she might be married to that nice fellow there.”
“She’s going to KILL ME. I can’t sit here with her in the room like this.”
“She’s very strange, though. I won’t argue with you there.”

This goes on at full volume, like I’m not sitting mere feet away with my mother-in-law, who’s smiling beatifically and occasionally stroking my hand.

Edith is in her wheelchair, right in front of the television. I like Edith. She’s got a series of wigs that usually wind up askew on her head by mid-afternoon. Edith repeats phrases, words, and short declaratives by way of communication: “BillClintonBillClintonBillClinton.” “You’refullashityou’refullashityou’refullashit.” I think she likes me, too. She’ll sometimes creep up next to me and stare, before making kissing noises. My mother-in-law is gently protective of Edith, patting her on the knee and saying something like, “Oh, you’re the typewriter flibberty jipsum.”

Meanwhile, in the back row, the conversation seems to have turned from my homicidal tendencies to the temperature in the day room.

“It’s cold in here, don’t you think?”
“It IS cold, yes.”
“It’s ridiculous. I’m going to the front desk and complain.”

(A pause, then:)

“Aren’t you COLD?”
“I was always a very cautious driver.”
“She asked if you’re COLD.”

Friends and acquaintances frequently ask me if I’ve seen Still Alice. They’ve seen it, and/or read it, and it was “just devastating.” Have I seen it? I want to say, “I’m in the middle of kind of living Still Alice right now, thanks.” But what I usually say is, “I don’t think I’m ready to watch that.” Both are true; it’s just that the latter response is considerably less snarky, and I’m trying really hard not to be snarky, at least where this is concerned.

There was an article in the Boston Globe recently about the “trend” in theatre right now: the preponderance of plays about dementia. How many of them so accurately depict not only the fear and despair experienced by those who are losing their minds, but the despair and exhaustion of their loved ones. As someone who’s been immersed in theatre since adolescence, I understand the importance of telling these stories onstage. As someone who studied playwriting in graduate school, carefully crafting dialogue in workshops alongside friends who would go on to create amazing work, I feel as though this is something I myself could tackle, eventually, when it’s not so goddamn raw.

The problem is that it would wind up being completely inappropriate, if not downright Ionesco-esque.

“Where is my room? Where are my clothes? “
“She flat out told me that she’s going to kill me in my SLEEP.”
“Can’t you report her to someone?”
“SHE DOESN’T LIVE HERE.”

An aide comes over, to fetch my mother-in-law. It’s time to go into the dining room for a snack.

“Marcia! Marsheeta! Happy Birthday to you…”
“Happy Birthday to you, happy birrrr…no, I’m not going to that place.”

Annnnnnd…scene.

Now We Are Thirteen.

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Today marks 13 years since I had my last drink.

This morning I tried to think about what I was going to write, and I mostly kept thinking back to what I wrote last year. It was just about a week before my mother-in-law went into memory care, and I was just barely functioning. I was on auto-pilot, just trying to get through every day, trying to knock off the tasks in front of me and hoping things wouldn’t get too FUBAR, because I honestly didn’t think I had it in me to deal with anything other than just surviving.

In a lot of ways, that was like early sobriety. Only I wasn’t entirely stripped of coping mechanisms.

This year was better. Markedly so. It wasn’t without its stressors – emptying out her apartment so we could move in, and subsequently have our friends move into the downstairs apartment, was probably one of the most emotionally taxing things I’ve done. Sorting through the personal effects of another person, trying to assign value to these objects, and all the while doing so knowing that the person is still alive, yet unable to tell you to whom things should go…that is some brutally frustrating shit, you guys. I found myself fighting resentment left and right, because as a recovering alcoholic, I really don’t get to be resentful. At least not for very long.

The further I get away from that last drink (warm Chardonnay in a plastic cup, in case anyone was wondering), the more I feel like I have to really make a concerted effort to remind myself what a bloodhound for oblivion I was. How many hostages I took because I wanted an audience.

Three years ago, I wrote this:

I don’t want congratulations — I want understanding.

I want the people out there who are drinking themselves to death to understand that there is nothing romantic about being a drunk. It is not a cultural or artistic imperative to be a drunk. Drinking does not make you a better writer, a better artist, a better musician, or a better lover. It does not make you more in touch with the Universe, your muse, your emotions, or the person you’re trying to have sex with.

I want the people still out there, still trying to make it “work,” to understand that nothing is so terrible, no emotional terrain so unnavigable, that drinking will not make worse. I want them to understand that it’s not a balm; it’s poison. At the very LEAST, it is preventing them from processing their grief, pain, or frustration in a healthy way. It’s simple physics: you meet with a lot more resistance when you try to move through fluid.

I want people who don’t suffer from addiction, and the indignities it heaps upon those of us who DO, to understand that they need to stop making jokes at our expense. I want them to understand that we are not less deserving of grief or compassion when we die from our illness.

I stand by those words. We’re still living in a culture that celebrates drunkenness in the form of cutesy “wine humor,” yet looks upon the struggling addict as weak-willed and worthy only of derision. There is still so much willful ignorance when it comes to this.

And there are still so many people who won’t get what I have. I lost another friend this year to this disease. Brian was beyond kind and patient with me in my early sobriety, when I was just a blubbering mass of exposed nerves. We went out for bagels, we got ice cream, we went to the movies. He understood my need to fill those first days and weeks with all manner of stupid, banal shit. He was also the only person – EVER – to get away with calling me “Lee.” But he struggled, too. It happens with us. It honestly doesn’t take much to shove us off the straight and narrow and right into a ditch. As horrible as it sounds, I need to see what happens when we start up again. In a terrible way, that was Brian’s last gift to me. I am not immune, nor impervious.

It was another twelve months of loss and transition, but it was also a year in which I remembered how to take really deep breaths. It was a year in which my shoulders began the slow descent from just around my ears to where they more or less are supposed to be. I can actually start focusing more on my job, and my writing. I can write about something else other than being a caregiver. I can write about vampires. I can create ridiculous Photoshopped pictures of my 8th grade self.

I’m beginning to not feel guilty about how much I enjoy weekends. I’m trying to give myself a break from thinking about all the things I could have done better, the things I could have done to – I don’t know – slow down the process of my mother-in-law’s disease. I’m trying not to put the ugly things I’m thinking about myself into the thoughts and motivations of other people. And I’m starting to take off some of the 30+ pounds I gained while being a primary caregiver.

I am really trying to better myself through simply listening. I’m also trying to avoid comments sections.

And I’m not drinking. Miraculous. Unfathomable. Fucking amazing.

The Standoff

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I had today what I can only call a Ladies’ Room Standoff. Or Sitoff. I don’t know.

This has happened before. I go in, needing to….take care of business that’s a little more complicated than just a tinkle, and someone’s already in there, in the other stall. Fine. Maybe that person is finishing up; I’m thinking she’ll flush, wash her hands, maybe check her hair, and I can do my thing in peace and solitude.

So I have a seat and do, well, something else while I’m waiting. And there’s nothing. Just a stony silence. No rustling of toilet paper. No metallic “ting” from the feminine hygiene product bucket supplied so that we don’t flush anything that ought not to be flushed. I wait another moment. No shifting, no flushing.

And I realize that this person is not going to leave.

I am supposing it’s because she’s got a similar situation. She entered expecting to make a drop-off in relative privacy, got herself settled, and in I walked. I’ve ruined everything. Yet I, too, have needs.

Apparently we’re both just too dainty to let it go, so to speak. To do our dirty work without regard for the other worker, I mean. Neither of us is budging, but something’s got to give.

I’m a martyr by nature. When confronted with the last cookie in the jar, I’m the one who will say, in a somewhat loaded manner, “Oh, I’m FINE. YOU have it.” And then I will silently seethe. Or gloat, depending on who gets the cookie. In this case, I verbalize nothing. I get up, flush, wash my hands, and leave.

And then case the door.

On this day…

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Facebook has been encouraging me to share “on this day” posts. Stuff I posted on May 13, 2014, or 2012. I’ve taken advantage of this feature a couple of times, noting how much different things are for us this May as opposed to last May.

I don’t feel a great sense of “relief” from visiting the sad, scared, and hysterically miserable me from May of 2014. My home situation is tremendously improved, but that’s because my mother-in-law is in a memory unit. And that’s not an entirely good feeling – I am more comfortable because I couldn’t take care of her anymore, if I ever was completely capable of taking care of her in the first place.

How do I feel? Generally speaking – stunned. I put on the cheerful mask for Facebook, but on occasion I have to crack and say, “You know what? I am still really struggling.”

I am still really struggling.

I put on thirty-five pounds in the 3 ½ years I was a primary caregiver. THIRTY-FIVE. And it’s been remarkably difficult to even get ten of those off, thanks (in part) to peri-menopause, but also because I acquired a lot of lousy eating habits that have proven hard to break. Make no mistake about the effects stress can have on every part of your body. I’ve got TMJ, digestive problems, headaches, and nervous tics that cause me to pick obsessively at my scalp. And I realize that all of this is nothing compared to what my mother-in-law is going through (especially when she was still more or less cognizant of the fact that she was losing her mind). I get that. But I think it’s important for me to speak up about what caregivers go through. We’re not always in the position to “buck up” and summon a little perspective, because we’re fucking exhausted. Mental illness, neurological disorders…these impact everyone in contact with the affected person in some way, and it’s necessary to point that out, and I think we should be able to without being made to feel ashamed or selfish.

So as all of this was happening, I kept moving the goal post ahead. I’ll deal with it once Mom’s in assisted living. I’ll deal with it once I get her apartment emptied and cleaned. I’ll deal with it once we’re moved upstairs and our friends are moved in downstairs.

And now I have to deal with it – the “comfort eating” and the lack of physical activity and the rewiring of my emotional circuitry so I’ll stop injuring myself. It’s not as if I don’t know how to rein in my various and sundry addictive behaviors. I just let myself fall back into some of them, because “at least I wasn’t drinking,” and – to be quite honest – at the time it HELPED, if only for a little bit. I wasn’t thinking long-term when I just wanted to get through another evening of trying to get my mother-in-law ready for bed. I was thinking, “Once I do this I’m going to sit in front of the television and eat cookies.”

I know, intellectually, that things are much better. But with nothing left to distract me, I have to face all the things I let happen to myself. And I will.

I have plans for this summer. I’m going to my cousin’s wedding. I’m presenting at a software conference in Orlando, and I hope to be able to see some of my friends from college. I’m playing at least one show with my B-52s tribute band. We’re going to Maine. We’re going to the Witch Museum. My niece is graduating from high school. I want to throw a big party. I want to do stuff with our yard. I want to feel as though all the shoes have stopped dropping, at least for a little while.