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

“Fallen Soldiers”

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Proving that Facebook is still good for something, I got inspired enough to return to the blog.

My friend Ben posted some pictures he took yesterday.  They weren’t of his kids, or his food.  He was documenting the sheer number of “fallen soldiers” – empty nips, beer cans, bottles of bottom shelf liquor – spotted around business parks while he was taking his lunchtime constitutional.

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We all see empties around the city.  For some reason we don’t really pick up on them the way Ben did yesterday, being that these particular empties seemed a lot more incongruous on the grounds of a business park in the suburbs.  Ben called what he documented “discarded evidence of alcoholism.”

And he’s absolutely right.

Day-drinking is fun, and funny, until it isn’t.  Until it becomes necessity.  Until it becomes the dirty secret that compels us to tell our coworkers that we’re “going for a walk,” like we’re just taking a break from the project at hand, to sneak off to the parking lot (or, in my case, the supply closet) to drink.  And we’re not sipping and savoring, wherever we are.  We’re furtively and desperately chugging, praying for that “relief” to wash over us so we can just FUNCTION.

Because as I’ve said countless times, drinking – for us – is not about pleasure.  It’s about drowning the howl we’re trying to keep from roaring up.

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Ben’s pictures broke my heart.  Because I remember what this is like.  Buying something that can be smuggled in, making excuses to sneak off somewhere to drink it, stuffing gum and mints into your mouth to mask the fumes, repeating this as many times as is needed throughout the day.

AND THEN – figuring out how to get rid of the empties.

Personally, I didn’t want to litter.  I still had enough shame around what I was doing to grasp the importance of proper disposal.  If you haven’t amassed an embarrassing number of empties in your hidey-hole, you can get away with stuffing them in your purse (arranging them against other objects to avoid the tell-tale clinking noises when you leave).  I also didn’t want to just dump them out into any old trash receptacle on the street, in plain view of everyone.  I preferred the dumpster in the alley next to a popular chain restaurant.  (You know – just sauntering down a dirty alleyway in my kitten heels and bolero jacket, like you do.)  Then a quick toss into the dumpster, and you’re good to go.  Until you have to do it again.  And again.

Can I tell you how EXHAUSTING that is?  Honest to God – it’s like a second full-time job, day-drinking is.  Except no one is supposed to know you’re doing it.  You’re pretty sure no one knows you’re doing it.  And that might be true.  For now.

And I’ll tell you something else – every last one of us knows how fucking insane this is.  But we HAVE to do it.  We tell ourselves that when things calm down a little, when there isn’t a deadline looming over us, this won’t be necessary anymore.  But when you’re an alcoholic, that time simply never arrives.  Because at this point, you ARE the crisis.  The ongoing, seemingly unsolvable crisis.  But you don’t see that.  And so the shitshow continues, with no intermission.

I saw those pictures, and said a little prayer.  Mostly of gratitude, because I haven’t lived that life in almost 16 years now.  But also for those parking lot drinkers, those smugglers of artificial solace, the people who’ve painted themselves into a corner and don’t realize that they can walk out of it at any time.

Ben put it all better than I could (unsurprising, since we were in graduate school together and he always could outwrite me):  “…addiction is never invisible, if you know where to look.”

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(All Photos courtesy Ben Kauffman.)

Now We Are Fifteen

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Usually when I hit a “soberversary,” I immediately take to the blog to recognize it.  For some reason this year, on the actual day itself (6/19), I just couldn’t figure out what to write.  I’ve been in a state lately where the words don’t come as easily as they usually do.

I’m getting my medallion this Friday.  In the past, I’d make something of a big deal about it, having it presented at a big meeting I used to attend, getting a card signed by everyone in the meeting, and getting brunch afterwards.  This year I’ve opted to get it at a very small meeting I go to on Fridays, where there are usually no more than 10 people, most of them I consider to be mentors and friends.  Greta. David. Mark.  A hilarious young woman who, for some reason, thinks I’m right for the job of walking along beside her on the often gravelly and lopsided road of recovery, will be giving it to me.  It feels right.  It’s not about splashy anymore.

I did the math, and realized that at 15 years, I’ve now been sober for as long as I drank.  That shit is CRAZY.  I started drinking as a teenager, and I stopped in my very early thirties.  The years in between?  A blur punctuated with just enough humiliation and heartbreak to get me to where I realized I had to stop, before it killed me.  And make no mistake – it absolutely would have killed me.  I suspect that there are many people who still don’t quite get that.  It’s something you can buy in the grocery store.  It’s what you pick up on the way home from work on a Friday evening, to “unwind.”  Go into any gift shop and you’re confronted with the CUTENESS of it:  “Wine improves with age; I improve with WINE.”  It’s funny….until it isn’t.

I’m truly fortunate in that I’ve made more friends than I’ve lost since I quit drinking.  There were a few people who definitely avoided me in the early months, and years, as if my alcoholism was contagious (it’s not).  And we won’t get into the ones who stopped calling because if I wasn’t going to go out and drink, what fun was that?  It made me realize just how many seemingly fundamental relationships were entirely focused on alcohol.  I still mourn people I drove away with my drinking (and untreated mental illness).  But I’d like to believe I’m better at that whole Golden Rule thing, most of the time.

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I should also talk about the vomit.  I was the sovereign vomiter of our epoch.  If you knew me back in the Nineties, chances are I puked around you.  In your car.  In your driveway.  In a stainless steel mixing bowl you hurriedly grabbed for me before I puked on your couch.  I have vomited across these United States.  I can honestly say that – mirabile dictu – I  have only vomited ONCE in the past 15 years, and that was from a breakfast sandwich.

So here it is – the annual “I Made It Another Year Without A Drink, And BOY Am I Thirsty” post.  I’m grateful.

 

Booze Vacation

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My best friend just marked her third year of sobriety.  It’s got me all in my thoughts today.

Few things are worse than watching someone you love circle the drain, knowing there’s criminally little you can do to stop it.  On the flip side, few things are better than watching someone you love get better.  Seeing the light return to her eyes.  Celebrating all of those little milestones you pass when you’re newly sober:  first set of holidays, first birthday, first wedding reception.  (I’ll tell you – when you get through that first wedding reception without drinking you feel like Ben Hur or some shit.  I swear to God.)

Perhaps not coincidentally, I’m seeing other people posting those “Here’s Why You Should Stop Drinking For A Month”-type essays again.  People who are waxing ecstatic about all the wonderful things that are coming about for them because they stopped drinking for a month, or two months.  And while I’m totally happy for them, I can’t help but feel that I didn’t get quite the payoff they’re reaping for having not imbibed for 30/60/90 days.  I didn’t magically regain focus and leap into all kinds of amazing projects because OMG THE CLARITY I HAVE NOW.

I have to remember that I had to stop not because it was cramping my style, but because it was killing me.  And that because of the way I drank, it would take years to rewire everything to the point where I could even manage doing a load of laundry without needing to anesthetize myself.  I’m still not there.  The highway system of my mind is full of potholes and I sometimes feel like I spend most of my time putting traffic cones around them instead of, you know, FIXING them.

Basically, I don’t get to “take a break” from drinking.  I have a restraining order on alcohol that has to be renewed pretty much every damn day.  And 99% of the time, I accept that.  But then there’s that occasional point where I look at Booze Vacation people virtually beaming while posting all these breakthroughs they’re having because they haven’t had a beer in two weeks, and I let it get to me.  I think, “Great, and you get to pick back up whenever you want and suffer no consequences.”  That’s the key word for me:  consequences.  I don’t actually envy you because you can have a couple of drinks and stop whenever you want to.  I envy the idea of drinking without consequences.  I never drank normally in my life.  I always drank like there was a raging brush fire in my heart and I needed an endless bucket brigade.  And I didn’t particularly want to stop drinking like that, honestly.

I have to remind myself not take this personally.  I have to remind myself that if someone is doing something that’s improving their quality of life, the correct – and only – reaction is to be happy for them.  Self-care takes on many forms, and it’s not my place to begrudge anyone their methodology, or be an underpaid tour guide in Miseryland.  And we all have our a-ha moments around alcohol.  For some, it’s “Wow!  I have so much more money at the end of the week!”  For me, it was “Wow! So this is what it’s like to wake up rather than come to.”  It’s all worth celebrating.

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.

As if.

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My aunt recently posted a picture of a letter written by my (patenal) grandmother 36 years ago. In it, she says she’s been “like a big fat frog sitting on a lilypad letting everything swirl around me.”

That’s me, right now. I have been feeling very stuck, very “less than,” watching things happen and not making much of anything happen for myself.

I’ve committed to writing something here once a week, no matter how vapid and/or disorganized it is.  I go to the gym three times a week.  I go hang out with other drunks and talk about not being drunk.  I make a concerted effort to put on makeup and look “professional” every day.  But it’s all by rote, almost.  I’m going through the motions, but there is very little joy in Mudville.

I realize that this is depression.  And what I am doing is staving it off somewhat.  These things at least distract me to the degree where I’m not spending ALL of my time weeping on the couch and believing the terrible stories my brain is telling me:

My husband is going to leave me for his cute perky coworker.

My new boss is going to see right through me for the fraud that I am and fire me.

I’m not going to lose the 15 pounds my doctor told me I needed to lose last summer.

I’m going to wind up living in a refrigerator box, or at least in a terrible apartment with three other roommates who are at least 20 years younger than me.

I’m going to be a bitter, lonely old woman and my nieces and nephews are going to resent having to buy me Jean Nate gift sets at Christmas.

And on and on.  And the thing that people who don’t have chronic depression and anxiety don’t understand is that I absolutely, 100% BELIEVE that all these things are going to happen.  I’m going to be jettisoned for the perky coworker, and be unemployed, 15 pounds overweight, and living in a refrigerator box with 18 Jean Nate gift sets.  This is going to happen, and I am helpless to stop it.

When I write it all out, it of course sounds fucking ridiculous.  I need healthy distractions, but since I spent the last 6 years distracting myself from the reality of being a caregiver by engaging in UN-healthy things (the one thing I can say for myself here is that I never once thought of drinking in the midst of that horror show), it has proven incredibly difficult to break away from the “comfort” of bad food and bad television.

A thing I was taught in early sobriety is to act “as if.”  This is actually hard for me, even with a B.A. in Theatre.  I want to act as if I’m a confident Woman Of A Certain Age who is absolutely not threatened by my husband’s cute coworker, the new dynamic in my office, or the stubborn blubbery ring around my middle.  I want to act as if I have faith in something bigger than myself and that this something has my best interests at heart.  But that’s really difficult sometimes.  Actually, that’s difficult MOST of the time.  But yet I get up three mornings a week at Stupid Fucking O’Clock and I work out.  I put on makeup and try to look like an adult.  And here I am writing something and posting it, knowing it’s whiny and gross.

But oh well.  Guess I should start making room in this box for this Christmas’s Jean Nate gift sets.

“Gymtimidation”

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In an effort to mitigate the depressive episode I’ve been in for a while (and to try and take off a few pounds if I can), I’ve committed myself to going to the gym every other day.  Nothing excessive; I’m hardly a gym rat, and I have to start with small, realistic goals here.

I go with Coombsie.  In the morning.  Pre-dawn.  It’s really the only time that fits for us and our schedules.  This is dreadful for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that I am an angry beastie in the morning.  When I wake up and get out of bed, I usually have to go sit on the couch for at least 10 minutes, contemplating the horror of being awake.  Then it takes me two cups of coffee before I can even handle putting on my makeup and getting dressed.  It is a process for me, “waking up.”  It is not that way for Coombsie.  He is relentlessly, unpleasantly cheerful.

To manage this “every other day” thing, I absolutely have to have my sneakers and my gym clothes at the foot of the bed.  If they are in the dryer, that is too much effort.  If they are in a drawer 10 feet away from the bed, that is also too much effort.

Once I am dressed, I sit on the couch with my iPhone, my Kindle, and my headphones, because I also will not go to the gym if I don’t have these totems with me.  I need music to blunt the savagery of being up this early.  I need words to keep me from obsessing over how many calories I’m burning.

In the car, Coombsie makes small talk.  To himself.  Because he knows I’m not listening.

We arrive at our local Planet Fitness, where allegedly one can work out sans Judgement and with no fear of being “Gymtimidated.”  Indeed, at Planet Fitness, “you belong!”  I mutter terrible things about where I’d like Planet Fitness to “belong” while Coombsie bounds across the dark parking lot like a Labrador puppy, yelping “DUDEBROGUY!” while giving the thumbs-up to imaginary dudebroguys.  The only thing that would make me happy, besides being back in bed, would be a sinkhole developing out of nowhere and taking the Planet Fitness down into its gravelly depths.  “You Belong,” indeed.

Once I’m there, though, and fully resigned to my fate, it’s….just as fucking terrible.  IT’S STILL DARK OUTSIDE.  I heave myself onto an elliptical machine facing the bank of television sets.  I can watch old-ass episodes of “Charmed,” the local news, ESPN…pretty much everything except what I’d LIKE to watch, which would be my cats slumbering peacefully at my feet WHILE I’M STILL IN BED.

Fuckthisshitfuckthisshitfuckthisshit.

I glance over at Coombsie, who’s already several minutes into his workout, and happily watching an old-ass episode of “Charmed.”  There is no way I can convince him to take me back home.  So I put on my headphones and prepare to grunt and lurch while simultaneously listening to my Pandora station and attempting to retain what I’m reading.

When I’m not reading utter trash (and Kindles are FAN-FUCKING-TASTIC for that sort of thing, because then nobody can see that I’m reading true crime), I’m currently shoring up my theological expertise, which I abandoned – oh – probably  shortly after I graduated college and stopped studying religion for fun, because drinking my weight in skunky Rolling Rocks and engaging in “experimental theatre” became more interesting.  And that was all rather liturgical in a boozy, rancid sort of way, if I really try and remember it.  Anyway, I’ve plowed through all three of Nadia Bolz-Weber’s books, which were really good, and now I’m on to a couple of books that she recommended:  The Year Of Living Biblically, and Meeting Jesus Again For The First Time.  The latter has been promising so far; I’m hoping it won’t fall flat the way Rabbi Jesus did, because I really had to force myself to finish reading that mess of fantastical speculative…um…mess.  “Historical Jesus” and the synoptic gospels were subjects I got really into as an undergrad.  Historical Jesus & The Synoptic Gospels would be a good band name.  Christ, I’m delirious.

So I’m reading about Historical Jesus, and listening to Alien Sex Fiend, and I’m still so pissed about being here at stupid o’clock that I don’t even think to be amused by this.

I watch the sun rise over the new police station they’re building right across the street.  I wonder if, when construction is completed, there will be a coterie of hunky cops among our sweaty ranks here.  Probably.  As it stands, the Dawn Patrol here at Planet Fitness is mostly people like me and Coombsie, getting that cardio in before going to work.  There’s a woman who is always here well before we arrive, and puts in at least 90 minutes.  She works out with a ferocity that I think I might have had, at some point, between the Skunky Rolling Rock Theatre years and when I moved to this town to help take care of Coombsie’s mother.  There were a couple of years where I was pretty fit.  How did I do that?  Can I do it again?  I don’t know.  I’m in my forties, I’m fighting this depression like it’s my job, and at this point I really kind of have to settle for “pretty good.”  On all fronts.

I finish up, and go sit in the giant yellow hand chair, and contemplate the horror of not only being awake, but having been awake since before dawn, AND having worked out.  Who am I?

I’m still working that out.

Drugstore (Makeup) Cowboy

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Long time no write, wot.

I’ve been struggling with how to “re-enter” the world of blogging.  When I originally started this in ‘99 (on Diaryland – remember THAT, oldsters?), I wrote about pop culture, and my drunken escapades.  When I got sober, I wrote about pop culture, and my Adventures In Recovery.

Then I became a caregiver, and I feel like everything got swallowed up in that.  I felt like I had a responsibility to tell this story, not only to preserve my dwindling sanity, but to let people know what a fucking godawful shitsucking disease Alzheimer’s is.  Because until you’re actually living that reality, you really have no idea.  You have a vague understanding that it involves losing your memory (hence the “jokes” I invariably hear from people when they misplace their keys or something stupid like that), but you really can’t grasp the day-to-day horror of what it actually does to someone.

And so I wrote about caregiving and Alzheimer’s, and not a lot much else.  Now my mother-in-law is gone, and I feel stripped of my identity.  I feel like I’ve lost my voice.  I’m exhausted, even now.  Marcia passed away before my very eyes a little less than two months ago.  I hadn’t been an active, daily caregiver for her for a year-and-a-half before that.  But I’m still so tired.  I’m trying to undo the physical damage that the depression and anxiety wrought, and that’s been tough.  The TMJ symptoms have abated somewhat.  But I’m 45 now, and the weight I gained during those years just isn’t going to come off so easily.   A lot of mornings I look at myself in the mirror and the mental beatings immediately take place.  Things I wouldn’t say to my dearest friends and loved ones are perfectly okay to say to myself.

I’m trying.  I’m getting up at Stupid O’Clock some mornings and dragging my ass to the gym.  I’m wearing clothes that I enjoy.  And I’m buying crap tons of makeup.

This is my new thing.  Makeup.  I’ve always worn it before, but now I’m going out and buying brushes and palettes and primer like my face is a blank canvas, or a weather-worn beach house.  I’m mainly hitting places like Sephora, but sometimes I feel the siren call of the CVS.

I “came of age” in the Eighties.  I began trying to make informed beauty purchases (beyond the tinny/fruity fragrances that my mom would get me from Avon) in ’83 or so, when I was junior high.

Lipgloss was the gateway drug.  I was learning the very complicated rules for budding womanhood via studying the more popular girls in my class.  We all had to carry an itty-bitty Jordache purse.  I had this one:

jordache

These flimsy-ass things could accommodate a comb, a pen that wrote in at least three different colors, a pack of Now & Laters, and not much else.  But we crammed them full of crap anyway, to the point where the strap would fray and break.  And then you had to be the loser with a safety pin keeping the strap on.  I digress.  You of course also had to have lipgloss in this bag.  Maybe several.  Kissing Potion, which gobbed up in a shiny, sticky mess and made you look like you were fellating a jar of rubber cement.  Lip Smackers, which went on much smoother and tasted pretty good.  And if you were really fancy, you got that shit in the olde-tyme-looking tin.  I had them all, although I wouldn’t actually be kissed by a boy until after I graduated high school.  But HOPE SPRINGS ETERNAL, OKAY.

I’d peruse the cosmetic aisle of the local drugstore, and purchase things that would make me a little more “adult,” when really what I looked like was a gobby-lipped clown with orange streaked hair (from all the Sun-In I’d pour on my head and then fry into infinity with the blowdryer).

Sun-In

And then, to top it all off, you had to drown yourself in perfume.  The obvious choice, for me, would have been Love’s Baby Soft (“because innocence is sexier than you think”) but I sought a more sophisticated signature scent.  Giorgio seemed fancy, but who could afford Giorgio on an infrequent babysitter’s salary?  PROBLEM SOLVED.

designer primo
THEY STILL MAKE THIS SHIT.  My perfume tastes are considerably more refined these days (although I will admit a fondness for J.Lo’s Glow), but every time I go to CVS now, I feel like I should revisit my young-teen-self and blast this all over my naked person, and go around smelling like an aluminum-tinged fruit salad.  SAVOR ME.

So what’s to be had at the drugstore these days?  The usual brands (Revlon still makes “Cherries In The Snow” and “Toast Of New York”), the usual cheap stuff.  But I must now sing the praises of the ELIXIR OF LIFE that is micellar water.

Garnier-Micellar-Cleansing-Water-Waterproof

I want to have a bottle of this in every room in my house.  I want to always have it within arm’s reach.  It is that miraculous.  My makeup just SLIDES OFF MY FACE every night when I use this GIFT FROM THE GODS.  Bow to the micellar water.  ALL HAIL.

I’ve also become fascinated with the NYX brand, which is not quite Maybelline, but not quite Wet-n-Wild.  Their “Butter” lipstick is really good.

I’ve been getting an odd sense of comfort just wandering that cosmetic aisle these days.  It’s taking me back to a more innocent version of myself.  Am I “filling a hole” with stuff?  Possibly.  I won’t lie and say that buying a little tube of something doesn’t give me a little stab of pleasure.  Having something small and shiny that promises to make me prettier.  But it’s helping me somehow.  Having a morning ritual in which I’m highlighting and primping makes me feel a little more part of the world again.  I won’t apologize for that.

Plans & Provisions

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Ever have a UTI?

Yeah, this is a great way to kick off a post, I know. Bear with me.

I used to get them a lot in my twenties. They’re horrible. They’re painful, and they can absolutely ruin your day, for days.

I also have to accept that as I get older, they’re going to make a return. They’re common in the elderly.

And when an elderly person with Alzheimer’s gets a UTI, it’s a whole other level of awful.

My mother-in-law is back in the hospital recovering from a UTI. We’d dealt with this before, when she was living with us, but we’d never seen her this wiped out from it. On Sunday, we honestly thought this was the end. As of today, she’s doing remarkably better.

This is yet another layer of the reality that is Alzheimer’s. And this is, yet again, why I’ve come to have ZERO patience with people making jokes about it (“Lost my keys again! Damn Alzheimer’s! Eh heh heh heh HEH…”). You don’t just forget where you put stuff. You don’t just blank out on names. You forget people entirely. You forget how to use utensils. You forget how to speak. You no longer have the means to communicate when something is wrong. And once all the cognitive stuff is wiped out, the disease attacks the rest of the brain, the parts that regulate things like swallowing, breathing, and fending off illness. I could break it down further, and paint quite a vivid picture of just how fucking horrible this disease is, but I’ll spare you. Just – THINK before you make an Alzheimer’s joke. Please.

And so while my mother-in-law is bouncing back from this infection, these emergencies will become more and more a part of our reality. Eventually, Aviv is not going to be able to accommodate her. Eventually, she is going to require around-the-clock nursing care. Thus, we start our next round of plans and provisions. She no longer lives with us, but the caregiving continues.

I’m tired. I’m sad. I know in my heart that this is not the life she would have wanted for herself, even as I still struggle to remember who she was before the diagnosis. The IV fluids and antibiotics have roused her. She’s sitting up, she’s cheerful, she even ate a little pasta last night. In all probability, she’ll be back at Aviv by the end of the week, having her nails done and watching Family Feud in the dayroom. I’m relieved that this wasn’t more serious, and yet I know I have to gird myself for the battles which most certainly lay ahead. Because “more serious” IS coming. Maybe not tomorrow, or next month. But it’s coming, boy howdy.

Natch, this isn’t exactly helping with my depression. But I’m managing. Trying to give myself a break here and there, by not clobbering myself over my weight gain, my periodically wanting to retreat into hours of crap television, my not being at Aviv 24/7 to make sure Marcia doesn’t get another UTI. I’m wired to feel guilty for just about everything. I can still rattle off an Act Of Contrition like nobody’s business. Your candidate doesn’t make the ballot? Hell, that’s my fault, too. Working on that.

More than ever, I’ve got to lean on that “one day at a time” thing. Because while drinking is not anywhere on the agenda today, I’ve got to do the thing that I’m constantly telling other people in recovery to do, and that’s to look down and see where my feet are. Because when I don’t do that, I’m mentally living in moments that haven’t even happened, and they’re mostly pretty grim. And they FEEL 100% real. I’m not sure that people who don’t experience anxiety like this entirely understand that last point. I can be utterly convinced the horror show in my head is totally going to happen.

In the meantime, I’m staying hydrated. *I* don’t need a UTI on top of all of this.