An update

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Well, it’s been a spell since I’ve done the blogging thing. Do people even still blog? Do I still have readers?

I’ll be honest – I had gotten overwhelmed and exhausted being what people more and more were thinking of as a “recovery blogger.” I wasn’t feeling the fire behind it. I was certainly continuing my own recovery (I hit 18 years last June), but the idea of pulling up the ol’ WP template and being rah-rah about sobriety just….I didn’t want to do it. And maybe that was a mistake. I don’t know.

I lost someone very dear to me last week. He died a week ago this Tuesday. I won’t get into the details; that’s not for you all to know. What I will tell you is that it was terrible and unnecessary and so devastating that when his best friend called me to let me know (so that I wouldn’t have to learn of it on fucking Facebook), the floor fell out from under me. Not just because I loved him (in the romantic sense, over 25 years ago…and since then as a good friend), but because he and I had something else in common: alcoholism.

I cannot believe that I still need to say this – but alcoholism is not something to joke about. Over the past year, as the pandemic shut shit down and we were stuck in our houses, I saw plenty of jokes about day-drinking, I saw drunk-posting accompanied by lots of laughing emojis, and the usual “wine mom” humor ramped up to 11. And I would grit my teeth and try to – as politely as it is possible for my impolite ass – gently remind folks that problem drinking isn’t funny, it’s dangerous. It’s tragic. What’s it going to take to drive that home?

And then my friend died. And I KNEW. I knew deep in my soul that it got him.

A couple of days later, I blew up on Facebook about it:

If you knew me prior to 2002, I don’t know that you would have known how fucking grim my life had become, and how small my world had become. Other than a few folks (one who lived with me and could obviously see how bad I was, and a couple who – well – “game recognize game” and all), nobody would’ve known. I had a mostly good game face, and a lot of semi-believable stories. Because that’s what we addicts and alcoholics are REALLY FUCKING GOOD AT, besides destroying ourselves because we don’t know how else to manage. And let me reiterate that last bit – WE DON’T KNOW HOW ELSE TO MANAGE. We are not doing the things we do because we’re hedonists. When you are that far into the disease, drinking/using gives you absolutely no pleasure. Zero. You do it to feel “normal,” because that’s what you recognize as such and because other actual emotions are too terrifying to consider. Just so all you normal drinkers know. Cool?

I’ll continue.The fact that I am an addict is not my fault. You can say genetics loaded the gun and environment pulled the trigger. It’s not my fault, BUT – it IS my responsibility. It’s my responsibility to not drink, to not take the medication prescribed for my other issues in any way that it’s not intended. It is also my responsibility to do the things I, personally, have found I need to do to remain sober. And that’s to talk to other people like me, help when I am asked, and – I cannot stress this enough – ASK FOR HELP. Help me, I am hurting. Help me, I am crawling out of my skin and I want to drink. Help me, this is the goddamn LAST thing I should be doing but I desperately want to do it.

And you know what? That is really, brutally difficult for a lot of us. Because we’re conditioned to either A) pretend that everything is fine because we’re the people who always seemingly have it together, or B) believe in the depths of our souls that if we ask, we will be laughed at, scorned, or turned away. And a lot of times? It’s both.

Finally – none of you who love us can save us from circling the drain. I’m sorry. It sucks to hear that, and it sucks for me to say that. But it’s important to say that, because when one of us succumbs to this shitsucking disease, I want it to be abundantly clear that you’re not responsible for it, there is nothing you could have done, and you must never carry the anvil of “if only I had” on your shoulders. Don’t do that to yourself. Please take it from me.

When I was done, I felt….better. Somehow. Still angry as FUCK, but I let it out. We had both hailed from a scene where drinking was (maybe still is) de rigueur. It’s boozy bonhomie right up until closing time, and then the party moves on to someone’s living room. Guitars and whiskey come out. You pass out on someone’s couch, and sometimes you wake up in someone’s bed. But it’s all good fun.

But for some of us, the fun becomes maintenance, the maintenance becomes need, and as you age everything seems that much harder. The people you used to carry on with can now take it or leave it, they drink on the weekend (and – perplexingly – only have a couple of drinks at that). The people who are still drinking the way you do egg you on. There are people who are concerned about you, and tell you as much. You keep drinking, because that’s what you DO. But you’re not in your twenties anymore; hell – you’re not even in your thirties anymore. And yet you have to keep doing it, you keep seeking out people who’ll drink with you, or at least pretend not to notice how much you drink. And unless you get desperate enough to consider that if you stop, your life just may stop being so horrifically lonely (I am here to tell you that you can drink alone even in a room full of friends), it never gets better. IT NEVER GETS BETTER.

We drank when we were a couple, we drank when we were just friends, and then I got sober. Of course he never judged me about that, never pushed a drink at me, never stopped being my friend. But as the years went on, I could tell he wasn’t…right. A few others noticed as well. He went away to get help, came back sober, seemed able and willing to do what he needed to do to stay that way.

This past year shook a lot of us in recovery to our cores. Physical meetings were no longer an option. Let me tell you – addiction loooooves isolation. If you’re not used to getting on the phone or jumping into an online meeting, it’s a goddamn invitation to disaster. If you are not asking for help, you’re asking for a world of hurt. He wasn’t able, or willing, to do any of this. And that, if I may be blunt, is choosing death. That may not be the intention, but that’s what it is.

My heart is broken. Certainly I’m not the only one feeling that; he was loved by so, so many. But there is a layer of rage on top of the grief. I am so angry I can barely speak at times. There’s no safe way for me to direct it other than what I’m currently doing. Talking about this disease. Talking about the very real ramifications of not taking it seriously. Telling my story. Telling what I know of his.

I loved him. I still love him. I have yelled at him every day since last Tuesday. I can see him receive it, process it, agree with it. Much like he would when we would meet for coffee and I’d call him out on some dumb thing. But there’s no hug at the end. I don’t know if he actually hears it. What I do know is that the words are pouring out of me again, about this very thing I wasn’t particularly into writing about when I stopped posting here. That’s something.

Me and Hugh, circa 1993-4

The Princess Is Dead. Long Live The Princess.

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Mine is but one voice in the cacophonous din of nerds expressing what it means to lose Carrie Fisher right now.  Likely I will have nothing new to contribute here, nothing of substance, nothing that won’t have been said more eloquently.

In life, Carrie Fisher had pretty much heard it all anyway (she says as much in her last memoir, The Princess Diarist).  She knew that she had brought to life a key character in what has become, for many, a personal mythos.  She knew she was our Princess, our childhood hero, our (for some, anyway) source of material by which to polish Vader’s helmet, so to speak.  She knew all this.

She probably even knew what she meant to those of us who face every day living in an Ascent Series Vitamix™ of a brain, while being recovering addicts on top of that.  She may have known that we could look to her, think “CARRIE FISHER GETS SHIT DONE,” and live accordingly.

I certainly hope she knew that.

Years ago, she came to the theatre where I work to perform Wishful Drinking.  I would stand in the back and watch her and cry.  Because I was so close to a childhood idol, and because she was everything I could maybe hope to aspire to (I mean, minus the superstar parents, the starring roles, and the marriage to Paul Simon).  I wanted not only to accept the neurochemical hand I’d been dealt, but play it to my advantage.  In watching Carrie Fisher, I felt it could be done, with dignity and humor.

That’s what she meant to me.  What she still means to me.  It’s plenty.

Godspeed, Ms. Fisher.  May the Force be with you and all that.

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I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times…

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Usually I try to post something on my actual sobriety anniversary date, but yesterday’s schedule was such that I couldn’t sit with my laptop and pound out anything close to meaningful.

So.  14 years sober as of 6/19/16.

I’m not really sure where I’m going to go with this.

This was quite possibly the hardest year I’ve had in sobriety.

That’s not to say that at any given time I was tempted to pick up.  Miraculously, when things were at the absolute nadir, mentally and emotionally, the goddamn LAST thing I wanted to do was pour whiskey all over it.

But I had a series of things happen, beginning last fall, that rocked me to my psychic core.  My mental health, always on shaky ground to begin with, got pretty well battered.  I had so many rugs pulled out from under me that I began avoiding rugs altogether, for lack of a better analogy.  I had no soft spot on which to tread, it felt like.

And when my mother-in-law finally succumbed to her years-long battle with Alzheimer’s (she passed away in February), I fell apart.  I mean – I got through the wake and the burial okay.  I put together an album of photos of her when she was well.  Baby pictures.  Pictures of her clowning around with her friends.  It made me feel better to the point where I figured I might be able to pull up some memories of her from before she got sick (which has been an ongoing struggle for me, since most of what I remember about her NOW is her steady decline, and her inability to do things for herself).

But everything that had been churning since last October erupted after she died.  If I’m honest, it was everything that had happened since 2010, when we moved in to take care of her.  My mistake was in thinking my life would “get back to normal” when she moved into assisted living two years ago.  There is no “back to normal” after you’ve been a caregiver.  There is navigating a perilous fucking minefield of emotions before you arrive at a vaguely familiar terrain.  There is having your expectations dashed, restored, then dashed again.  There is the temptation to free fall.  There is the slightest sick thrill in thinking that you won’t be caught, either by loved ones or by circumstances.  There is your sense of faith being blown to bits.  There is the feeling of being small and insignificant, perpetually in the shadow of people who are younger, prettier, and not weighted down by grief and self-loathing.

It’s a giant shitshow, it really is.  And you’re beginning to suspect that there isn’t any intermission.

I didn’t drink.

I fell back into some really puerile, destructive thinking.  Because there’s honestly something quite comforting in being the WORST PERSON EVER.  I’m not sure if “normal” people can understand that.

But I didn’t drink.  And in so doing, I managed to not make things worse for myself.

So there’s that.

I’m crawling out of this, slowly, and with the help of my therapist, my psych nurse, some increased dosages, and my recovery community.  The people in my meetings remind me that I’m not the first to have gone through this – ANY of this – and I’m trying to be humble around that while also acknowledging that my pain is valid.  And it has been painful, no question about that.  I don’t like being constantly afraid.  I don’t like not trusting the people who are closest to me.  I like being happy, or at least more or less content.

Anyway.

We went to see Brian Wilson this weekend.  He performed the entire “Pet Sounds” album, accompanied by the Boston Pops.

This was a nearly transcendent occasion for more than a couple of reasons.  Brian Wilson has been through the wringer, psychologically speaking.  The drugs he was on (both recreational and prescribed) did a number on him.  Most folks know the story there, but in case you don’t, you can get a basic sense of it by watching the fairly recent film Love & Mercy.  Given all of that, it’s a miracle he can get up on that stage and play those songs.

And “Pet Sounds” is not only my favorite Beach Boys album, it’s in the top ten of my favorite albums overall.  There’s really nothing else like it.  Watching it be reproduced, as it were, with the help of a full orchestra is incredibly illuminating.  It’s directed madness.  It’s otherworldly.  It explains almost everything you need to know about the beautiful tangled mess that is Brian Wilson’s brain.  I wish my own tangled mess could produce something even 1/16th as beautiful as that goddamn album.

Brian Wilson.  He has a strange shuffle to his gait.  He has to be assisted to his piano.  Once there, sometimes he plays, and sometimes he conducts, even when there’s a conductor behind him.  And sometimes he just sits there with his eyes closed.  He made everyone sing “Row Row Row Your Boat” twice.  I got the distinct impression that he absolutely would not start playing until we sang it.  There was something so fragile about him, this 70-something year old guy singing these so very painful and gorgeous songs. His voice is broken. He’s broken, but mended in the right places.  The cracks are showing, but it’s so lovely.  My heart burst and shattered over and over again, and at one or two points I full-on sobbed.

Brian Wilson can shuffle up to his piano and sit in the middle of the crazy beauty he created 50+ years ago, and just BE.  This is what I need to remember as I go into my next year of sobriety.

He wasn’t made for these times.  Maybe I’m not, either.  But I’m glad I’m here just the same.

The Egg In My Closet

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Night after night, I would fall asleep obsessing over an easter egg I’d left in my bedroom closet.

I bring this up because it’s ridiculous, yes, but it’s also emblematic of my…condition, I guess you’d say.

I’m not sure why I left an easter egg in my closet.  I don’t remember if I hid it there (unlikely, because easter egg hunts weren’t a thing in my family).  I probably intentionally stashed it there with my basket, because I wasn’t a fan of hard boiled eggs as a general rule.  I liked coloring them, but when it came down to enjoying the bounty within the actual basket, I focused strictly on the chocolate (although the bunnies, with their panic-stricken candy eyes fixated on me, also caused problems, to the point where my mother actually started getting me ornate hollow chocolate eggs, which didn’t freak me out nearly as much).

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Anyway, there was an easter egg in my closet.  I was aware of it, aware that it was eventually going to turn into a biological weapon of some sort if I didn’t get it out of my closet.  In the waking hours, it was easier to forget about it as I went about my 9-year-old’s day, making up mock episodes of The Donahue Show on my tape recorder with my sister and the kid across the street.  But at night, I’d lay in bed and think of all the terrible things that would happen because of that easter egg.  My mother would find it and yell at me.  It would explode, rendering my cheery yellow bedroom a hazardous waste site.

But did it ever occur to me that I could simply throw it out?  Well, yes, but somehow I’d convinced myself that I wouldn’t be able to stealthily transport it from my bedroom closet into the trash without being caught in the act (“Is that….AN EASTER EGG?  In JUNE?”).  Because this is the way my mind worked.

And this is the way my mind STILL works.

Nearly everyone I meet in recovery has similar issues.  I mean – I don’t think I know anyone else with the exact same easter egg story.  But there’s always an easter egg in there, somewhere.  A metaphorical easter egg, if you will.  Something you’re deeply ashamed of.  You know that there will be incredible relief in disposing of it, and yet you let it sit there.  And that’s where procrastination comes in.  That’s another thing that nearly all of my sober friends wrestle with.  We all know by now that doing something is pretty much never as bad as NOT doing it.  But that’s a lesson that never entirely sinks in for me, or else my closet would be 100% OLD ASS EASTER EGG FREE.

I’m dealing with this right now.  The anxiety and depression have me so simultaneously bummed and amped up that I can’t get up and get this fucking easter egg out of my closet, because I honestly don’t think I’d know what to do with myself if it wasn’t there, rotting away underneath its perky PAAS-tinted shell.  Because at a certain point, anxiety becomes almost comforting.  If it’s the only consistent thing going for you, of course it’s comforting, even as it keeps you from doing actually enjoyable things because OH MY GOD THERE’S AN EASTER EGG IN MY CLOSET AND IT’S THE ONLY THING I CAN THINK ABOUT.

I don’t even remember what I did with the original, actual easter egg.  I mean, this was over 35 years ago.  By the time we moved from that house, there was no easter egg, unless there WAS, and my mother found it, and in the rush to get everything packed didn’t think to ask her progeny “WHAT THE FUCK WITH THE EASTER EGG IN THE CLOSET YOU EVIL SPAWN?”  Or I was determined to be the culprit, and I was punished so hard I entered another dimension not of sight or sound but of mind.  I just don’t know.

But I clearly remember the panic.  I remember grasping, even at nine years of age, that this was completely insane, and that there was probably something really wrong with me, and I wasn’t sure how much longer I’d be able to pretend that I was normal before the kids in my class caught on (about two more years, as it turned out).  There would be many more closeted easter eggs in my future.

“Everywhere I turn, there you are…”

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I’m on Day Three of the “Facebook Cleanse” and I definitely think the problem now is not so much what I think I’m missing, but that people aren’t missing ME.

It’s kind of interesting.  I’m having kind of an existential crisis because I’m not on Facebook.  If a cat picture falls in an empty forest, does it meow?

Forget it.  I’m delirious.  The panic attacks have abated, I seem to be figuring out what’s working for me, pharmaceutically and otherwise, but I’m still tired.  It’s like I’ve suppressed this “fight or flight” instinct that has been raging under the surface for so long that it just started boiling over.  I’m not entirely sure if the contents completely boiled off, or if I’m just sedated to the point where I’m physically unable to panic.  If ravenous lions tore through the office just now, I’d probably just sit here and be like, “Whoa. Lions.” before being torn to bits.

The “vacation” from Facebook is forcing me to do other things in the evening, like read.  Write.  Remember what I used to do before my mind got wiped out by caregiver stress.  I used to do Mortified shows.  I’d read from my high school diaries in front of total strangers.  One of my favorite “threads” that came about from working with Karen Corday and Sara Faith Alterman (the producers of the Boston show) was a series of passages in which I go full-blown Norma Desmond over my high school drama club happenings.

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The entries I read from span from around 1985 to 1988, and include my very mature and measured musings on not only the high school endeavors, but those of the musicals I did every summer with a teen theatre troupe.

When I initially showed Karen and Sara this stuff, one name jumped out at them.  “Sue Tedeschi?  You mean Susan Tedeschi?”

Indeed.  Susan was the bright star of my Summer of ’86.  That was the summer we did Joseph & The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.  Even then, that girl could BELT.  I was at turns awed by and insanely jealous of her.

We got older, aged out of that particular group; I went on to get some rather silly degrees and spent my twenties running around in my underwear in booze-soaked experimental theatre productions in the basements of bars.  And, well, Susan won a Grammy award.  But listen – if there was an awards show for being insanely drunk and wrapped in chains while doing a cover of a David J. song, I would have won ALL OF THE THINGS BY GOD.

Listen – this all ties together, I swear.

My mother-in-law died in February, after fighting that goddamned fucking Alzheimer’s for so long. My husband and I left the hospital to begin the process of making calls and arrangements.  And as we drove down Route 1 in Saugus, this song came on:

I don’t know if there could have been anything more oddly comforting to me in that moment.  I haven’t talked to Susan in decades.  But I know that voice in my bones.  And I sat in the car and just let it wash over me.  It didn’t stop the grief, of course not.  But it let me be in the moment for a few minutes.  I remember the grey clouds hanging over Route 1, I remember thinking that I was eventually going to need to eat something, and I remember Susan Tedeschi singing.

I’d like to thank her for that.

 

Pulling Plugs.

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I’m not quite sure what it says about the culture, or just about me, that I’m sitting here writing a “thinkpiece” about why I pulled the plug on Facebook this morning.  A Google search will yield all kinds of posts like this.  Why I Left Tumblr.  Why I Left Twitter.  And I’m not even 100% certain I’m going to permanently scrap my Facebook page.  What I do know is that it’s not helping matters right now.

I have clinical depression, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, PTSD, and a host of other things simmering away in the janky old crockpot that is my head.  The medication that was recommended I take backfired, horribly. So I’m back to the drawing board.  And I am trying to think of what needless stressors I can jettison while I am trying to get well.

And I had to come to the conclusion that a big one was Facebook.

It’s not just because we’re in an election year, although that has something to do with it.  There’s an epic fuckton of negativity going around there, from all sides.

And issues.  So many issues.  So many people all of a sudden terrified that the “transgendereds” (sic) are demanding too much special treatment, treatment that is evidently going to throw wide the bathroom doors and usher in a terrible new epoch where molesters in dresses will lurk in stalls and under sinks.  And no amount of common fucking sense will quell the hysteria.

But then there’s just me.  Me being the obsessive, perpetually panic-stricken weirdo that I am.  Second-guessing every last goddamn thing I post, because I know that SOMEONE is going to take it the wrong way and launch some passive-aggressive ickiness my way.  I don’t like to make people mad.  But I also don’t like being pelted with “Well, actually…” when I’m trying to just work something out in my own space.  That happened fairly recently.  I also have had to deal with former friends creating fake accounts specifically to harass me after I terminated the original connection.  There’s something about the place that encourages disrespect, and brings out some nasty things in people, myself included.

And as I’m trying to deal with this latest, near-crippling, depressive episode, I’m finding that I just don’t want to be anyone’s court jester right now.  That’s pretty much always been my role, ever since I was a kid.  But jesters need a break, too.  But when I try to get serious, I’m apparently not serious enough. Or I’m exclusionary. I’m deliberately trying to make people feel bad. Can’t win.  Tired of trying.

The thing is – I love Facebook.  God help me.  I do.  I reconnected with a lot of old friends there.  Very few platforms are easier to share one’s writing on, and for that reason, I’m wary of completely walking away from it.

What I need to figure out is just how important it is for me, really.  How much I am really going to be missing by not being able to click in every 20 minutes?  And then that brings up the more uncomfortable question:  how much are people really going to miss ME?  I have to admit that, as I sit here writing this, Facebook is rolling along perfectly fine without my wiseassery and Peter Murphy videos.

I won’t lie – today it’s been embarrassingly difficult to not log back on, reactivate shit, and pretend like I never announced I was leaving.  I’ve seen that plenty of times, and I get it.  It’s like being in junior high again and knowing in my heart of hearts that everyone is having a slumber party, complete with a rousing game of “Light As A Feather Stiff As A Board,” without me.  And I desperately want to make sure that’s not true.  But for my own sanity, I can’t.  I’ve committed to being off this particular grid for at least seven days.  I suspect I am going to be happier for it, but right now, I am jonesing hard.

Pass The Trazodone

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So, after a really gnarly anxiety attack yesterday, we’re on a new regimen.  We’ve added a med, readjusted another med, and – hopefully – in tandem with the regular exercise and recovery meetings, I’m going to get this shit under control again.

The last few years dumped a whole lot of awful on me.  I thought that I could handle it just doing what I was doing.  I was horribly, laughably wrong.  I’ve been in a depressive, paranoiac swirl (sounds like a good ice cream flavor, if you’re totally losing your shit) since October, when I got badly triggered by a series of events (and anyone who thinks that “triggers” are bullshit can have all of these seats, and should remain in them until further notice).  A lot of the time I was able to manage, but I shouldn’t just be “managing.”  It’s a joyless way to go about your days, boy fucking howdy.

So I’m on this new medication now.  I can’t say for certain what it’s doing.  I feel a little less like running down the street screaming, but that’s probably psychosomatic.  There’s a lot of behavioral stuff that I need to incorporate over the next weeks and months as well.

I’m in this place where the worst case scenarios in my head are intruding into my actual reality.  RUDE.  I can stave that off at work, because cold, hard data is something I understand and take comfort in extracting and manipulating.  The SQL Management Studio and Excel are my boon companions.  But being at home invites aaallllll the neurochemical uglies.  And it’s become increasingly hard to keep them down in the root cellar where they belong.

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I know how a lot of people feel about medication.  I’ll just say that I’m not here for anyone who wants to scream BIG PHARMA at me right now.  I’ve been worn down to an emotional nub since moving into my mother-in-law’s house in 2010, and if you don’t believe that caregiving can actually mess with someone’s brain, well, Google is your friend, but here’s a good start.

Even with my mother-in-law gone, I’m struggling to put myself back together.  I’m still afraid to make plans.  And I can’t keep the panic at bay anymore, not without help.  Take an imaginary stroll in my stacked heels before you judge me or how I’m choosing to get my life back.

Sorry.  I’m tired.  I’m angry.  I’m angry at my brain for, you know, not being able to DEAL.

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We’re heading into summer soon.  I want to have a nice summer.  I want to go to Maine like we do every July and not be a panicky mess.  I want to take day trips to Salem and New Bedford.  I want to go to my annual Database Nerd conference and be a poised, knowledgeable nerd.  I want to be someone that Coombsie doesn’t have to walk on eggshells around. And damn it, I got Walker Stalker Con to go to.  The Governor is going to be there.  No, not Charlie Baker, because fuck that guy.  THE GOVERNOR.

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So, here’s hoping I’m going to stomp this down for a while.  Pass the Trazodone.