Aug 072014
 

volcano-300This one’s for all the mamas and papas and sisters and brother and children of The Volcanoes. So much love and light and hope to you- G

Originally published April 15, 2011

If there is one thing I’ve learned from the writing of this blog, it is this: I don’t know anything. That might sound like a distressing discovery, but it’s okay. I think it might be the most important thing to know. It seems to be more than a lot of people know, anyway.

Knowing nothing does become tricky, however, when readers who have mentally ill loved ones ask me about it – about the whys and hows and whens of addiction and other mental conditions. I wish, so badly, that I had answers for you. When I read your messages I can actually feel your pain, and I want to heIp. I want to offer you hope, I want to give you the answers for which you are so desperate.

But the truth is that I don’t even know my own hows and whys and whens, so I can’t know yours.

But I’ve been thinking . . . I do know the who.

I can introduce you to one of the whos of addiction. I can take you into my heart and show you what is there and pray that it might build a bridge between your heart and the heart of the imploding one that you love.

These essays on this topic- I am going to continue to write and write and then publish. It seems important not to revise, not to edit. So here goes.

There are some who can sit through a movie that makes them uncomfortable. And there are some who can’t. Or won’t. Those people actually have to get up and leave the room.

We addicts, we mentally ill are the Leavers.

We just can’t stand the movie that is showing for some reason. And we are unable to fake it or tolerate it. We have to get up and walk out.

We don’t leave to hurt you. We leave because we believe that it is right to leave. And just as you wonder how we could possibly leave, we wonder how on Earth you can stay.

But please don’t blame yourself. Often, we were just watching the movie together. You didn’t make the movie. The movie is the whole world.

All of the comments after Fourteen sung to me like a lullaby. Except for one. One struck such a sour chord that is has been echoing in my mind since I read it. And I think it illustrates the chasm between the addict and the ones that love us. It shows how we misunderstand each other. How we misfire when we talk to each other. So I thought maybe we could unpack it. I would never, ever do this to a reader unless the comment was anonymous. I hope it will not cause the commenter pain. I know, absolutely, that it was meant with good intentions. I want to thank the commenter for it. It has helped me think. Here it is:

*It’s very hard to imagine where, with the idyllic childhood you had, that this emptiness originated. I hope that your relationship with Jesus healed the hole for good.*

When we are labeling other people and their life experiences, we must be very careful with our words. These words - idyllicemptiness, healed the hole for good - are not careful words. They presume knowledge. And they do not describe me or my life at all. Not at all.

I read this comment to mean: You are, are at least were, empty. And anyone with an idyllic childhood should not be empty. I hope you turned out better in the end.

First, I can’t imagine that there is anyone on Earth who is more pleased with how she turned out than I am.

Second, there is no such thing as an idyllic (picturesque, carefree) childhood. Let us not be silly. I had a good childhood. I was lucky as hell in most ways. I was the center of my parents’ worlds. But people are not mathematical equations. Love + Education does not necessarily = Smooth Sailing.

Third, I do not relate to the word empty. We addicts, we mentally ill…we are a lot of things, but empty is not one of them.

Fourth, Who On Earth is Healed For Good?

Here are some things that we are:

Some of us are born with an otherness that we feel right away . . . awareness of our otherness is often our first memory. We have this feeling that maybe we were dropped off in the wrong place, because nothing seems familiar. The people in this strange and harsh and confusing world require us to play role after exhausting role. We are afraid of things that don’t seem to scare other people. Friendship, love, commitment . . . these things seem so big, so important, so murky and confusing and dangerous…how could we dare enter into them? We decide it would safer not to.

We see that other people seem comfortable taking these risks, but we feel different. We feel more aware, and less capable. We rationalize that maybe others take all of these risks because they don’t foresee the pitfalls that we see. We decide, subconsciously or not, that we are different. And we are so full of this knowledge of our difference that we must find a way to relieve our fullness. We are like volcanoes with no exit for our hot lava.

But we are young, usually, and don’t know much about creative relief strategies. So we create our own little world to hide in. This world is our bulimia or alcoholism or drugging or cutting or whatehaveyou. And this little world is a relief, because it feels safer. We are directing our own personal movie now. We are in control. We are not deficient. We are not empty. We are actually quite perceptive and resourceful and creative. We are just trying to cope. We are like albinos who protect their skin by staying inside.

And the thing is that our strategy works. Our cutting or binging or drugging does relieve the lava pressure, for awhile. It just causes too much collateral damage it make it a sustainable plan, they tell us. At some point they tell us that the lava is actually burning the hell out of us on the outside, and spilling out onto you.

But please don’t call us empty. We’ve never been empty a day in our life. We are full to exploding. But we tried to implode instead of explode…because we are usually very kind. It wasn’t a perfect plan. We’d love to find a different strategy. But now we’re addicted to our original strategy. And it’s really hard to quit. Try quitting sugar and caffeine cold turkey and then multiply that feeling by one million.  It’s also really scary and risky to quit, because we don’t have another plan. So we need help. But we need respect, too.

Because here is the thing. We know we chose the wrong way to relieve our pressure. But that lava inside of us, it defines us. We love our lava. We must find a different way to relieve it, yes. We know. But that hot lava, that otherness, that awareness, that sensitivity- we were born with it and we will die with it.

The pressure of the lava is what led me to food and alcohol and semi-madness, yes, but it’s also the same lava that woke me up at 4:30 am this morning to write to you even though I’m sick and exhausted. The lava is what compels me to dig deep into myself and pour myself out here to women all over the world and to actually believe that it will make a difference. The lava inside me is what loves my children and parents and Sister and husband and YOU with a ferocity that borders on animal. My tenderheartedness, my sensitivity, my rebelliousness…my refusal to accept the world as it presents itself to me – my belief that I can change the world…it must be changed! got me in trouble for a while. It almost killed me. But it’s what keeps me ALIVE, too. It’s good now. It’s good now. It’s always been good. I just needed to learn how to use it. It’s like how nuclear energy can be used to destroy or to create. My lava is what I will use to save the world, or at least my little place in it. It’s why I walk through every day with my eyes wide with terror or awe. That lava is my fire. It’s my light. It’s the reason you return to this blog.

It’s my favorite part of myself. It is myself.

We addicts, we mentally-ill, we don’t want to lose our lava. We don’t want to lose ourselves. That’s why we fight you so hard.

I have found better ways to relieve the pressure of my lava. Yes, I have. I burn fewer people. I don’t burn myself as often. But I still feel the pressure, every single day. Thank God.

 



Carry On, Warrior
Author of the New York Times Bestselling Memoir CARRY ON, WARRIOR
Join the Momastery on-line community on Facebook, Twitter & Pinterest


Aug 062014
 
Our Messy, Beautiful Summer Week 7

A guest post by Joan Nesbitt

P & MeThe fact that Kate called me from college during the middle of a business meeting, which I was leading but which I interrupted to answer, was odd enough.

Her questions were even odder.

“I have Sunday off and I’m going to the city to have lunch with Aunt P. I was wondering if you know of a good place to eat in her neighborhood. Also, I want to go to the cemetery and place flowers on Grannie’s grave and I don’t know how to get there.”

On the surface, there are easy answers to Kate’s questions. But my sweet daughter unknowingly unleashed a hornet’s nest of angst in two simple sentences — so much so that I excused myself from the meeting to step outside, where stepping outside equals stepping into the vast wasteland of my emotion on the topic of my sister.

I’ve had what can politely be described as a “difficult” relationship with my sister. At the time of my mother’s death nearly four years ago, she and I were estranged for reasons not necessary to detail here but related to her lifetime of addiction and my lifetime of carefully cultivated anger. Right before my mother passed, Mom said very little other than she’d had a good life and she wasn’t afraid to die. But she had a final request: “Please stay close to P,” she asked quietly. “She doesn’t have anyone and she needs you.”

Let me tell you — I could write an irrefutable essay on why deathbed requests should be immediately outlawed, but that’s not the point of this story.  To those living and those departing, deathbed requests are an unfair entreaty, or at least that’s how I felt after eight weeks of being the only family member holding vigil at my mother’s side during her final illness. But faced with my mother’s last request to do the one thing I knew I couldn’t do, I did what any loving daughter would do.

I lied.

“Okay,” I whispered. “I will.”

Six months later, I moved out of state. I moved for a lot of reasons, but being five hours away from my sister was surely at the top of the list.

And, now, here was my daughter, away at college and willing to drive two hours to have lunch with her aunt, whose calls I mostly don’t answer and whose texts I only occasionally return. I’ve always believed the universe sends people signals when they most need them. On this day, I thought the universe must be drunk, too. I didn’t like this signal and it surely was nothing more than a kind of cosmic glitch, an errant sign that had nothing to do with me.

But I took a deep breath and answered my daughter’s questions amid the traffic noise outside my office. I was surprisingly composed but unsurprisingly terse. I told her my sister lives in a terrible neighborhood and there’s no decent place to eat within miles of her house. But don’t take her anywhere fancy, I cautioned, because she looks like a homeless person. And don’t bother going to the cemetery because the grave is still unmarked and you won’t be able to find it. It’s a long story, I said, with the kind of exasperated tone that made it clear the failure to buy a headstone had everything to do with my sister’s broken promises.

It was the worst kind of explanation a mother could give a daughter, especially one as good-hearted as mine. It was shameful, really, but it was all I had. Love didn’t exactly win at that moment.

You know — those of us who are fans of Glennon would break a leg to meet her. I adore Glennon, but you know who I really want to meet? I want to meet Glennon’s Sister. I want to pull Sister aside and ask how she managed to be Sister to the Drunk all those years. Because during my sister’s awful, horrible years when she stole my car and my money and my jewelry and found every way humanly possibly to hurt my mother and nearly got herself killed, more than once by a drunken male companion — I stayed the hell away.

I made sure P knew she was not invited to my wedding. I made my mother promise not to take my children around her. When she was sent to jail, many times, I never bothered to ask where or why or for how long. I refused to visit her in the hospital after she was nearly beaten to death with a steel pipe until my mother tearfully begged me to go, after which I stood in the doorway of her dingy hospital room because I wasn’t brave enough to cross the linoleum abyss between my anger and her pain.

You know, for as hard as it must be to be Drunk — and Glennon has given me so many insights into that experience — it’s also hard to be Sister. I’m not making excuses, I’m just saying sobriety, especially my kind of protective sobriety which looks a lot like furious disapproval, is hard, too. The addicted and the sober — we’re like two jagged stones tumbling down a dirt road, crashing into each other and knocking off our smooth edges, unintentionally making each other sharper and scarring up the soft earth around us. We might be doing the best we can, the only ways we know how — and for Pete’s sake we ought to give each other a break given the circumstances — but it’s so ugly and so painful we don’t know what to do so we just keep tumbling.

Surprisingly, though, after my mother died the anger I had nurtured about my sister over so many years began to fray in a way that startled me. The unraveling of what had safeguarded and sustained me, the tattering that had moved beyond the edges into the center of my tightly woven gall, left me unsteady, as if I had lost the only emotional compass that worked for me with P. I sought a counselor’s assistance because the problem with losing your anger is that it’s not immediately replaced with an emotion you know how to work with.  The absence of fury doesn’t create compassion.  It’s something more like benign forbearance, which isn’t particularly conducive to family reconciliations. The counselor advised me to set the boundaries I needed to protect myself, but to commit to taking action in keeping with my values. Apparently the boundary I needed was 300 miles wide.

I figured I’d think about the values part later.

You know, my husband has this theory that the incarcerated aren’t the only ones in prison. He believes the wardens — and the System that retains them — are locked in the same dreadful dynamic, and the keepers aren’t any more free to leave than the criminals. Who’s to say which side of the bars is more subjugating, he asks?

His insight resonates with me because I haven’t known for a long time who’s on what side of what jail, P and me. She’s paid a steep price, including her health, a good bit of her sanity, and an unbreakable tether to her daily dose at the methadone clinic.

But I’ve paid a price too, one I’m just beginning to calculate. I’ve never believed in a literal hell but I can tell you hell away is a torturous place, maybe exactly what God warned us about, but so close to our noses that we humans couldn’t see it and instead we told stories of fire and brimstone because, you know, speck in her eye.

I don’t have a tidy answer today. I know P loves me, because she never fails to tell me. I know I love her too, because I am starting to let myself feel it, no matter how hard I try to resist and how few times I say it. I know we are sisters because we are breathtakingly imperfect in our sameness and because a million years ago, when she was 16 and I was 6, we rode around in the car together, the windows rolled down and the am radio playing Janis Joplin, who taught us “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.”

The lyrics held true for her and I suddenly think they have held true for me, too.  Maybe we were destined to spiral downward together, to plumb the depths of our souls in tandem until she hit the rock bottom of reckless addiction and I hit the rock bottom of hardened sobriety.  The landing always hurts, I suddenly realize, but there’s comfort in finding hard ground, in stopping the free fall.

Who knew we would be emancipated together 45 years later?

With gratitude {for daughters, sisters, and second chances},
Joan, but, like my sister, you can call me JM

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Joan Nesbitt is a hopeless existentialist, relentless gratitude seeker, little-known blogger, and recent empty nester. She spends her days working in philanthropy and her evenings pursuing crack-pot domestic obsessions such as rendering lard for the perfect pie crust. Joan spent four years of her youth performing in a local Clown Troupe and believes learning at an early age to juggle and entertain finicky audiences was the best possible training for a working mother. You can find Joan on her blog, Debt of Gratitude, and on Twitter and Instagram.

This post is part of Momastery’s Our Messy, Beautiful Summer series.

Our Messy, Beautiful Summer



Carry On, Warrior
Author of the New York Times Bestselling Memoir CARRY ON, WARRIOR
Join the Momastery on-line community on Facebook, Twitter & Pinterest


Aug 042014
 
Our Messy, Beautiful Summer Week 7

A guest post by Dana Bowman

GlitterThere is glitter in my biscuits. I realize this sounds like Southern code for some sort of personality disorder, but actually, there really ARE speckles of glitter in my biscuit dough. There is also glitter on the cat, and I am pretty sure I spotted some in the commode earlier. I didn’t investigate too closely on that one.

My life is messy. But, if one is going to for mess, at least glitter is festive-messy. Mess with flair.

There was a time when this glitter incident would have sent me spinning. I think we could safely say that time was yesterday, sometime around 5 pm.

But I have evolved a lot since then.

You see, my brother died. It’s been over two months now, but still, I am saying this to myself because I forgetOr I remember all day. This might be some sort of party foul – the dead brother card can only be used for one month and then it expires, and then you are politely asked to sit on the bench and think about unicorns and bunnies. And perhaps, glitter.

But I miss him. I miss that he doesn’t answer the phone when I call my dad’s office. I miss his voice. I miss how he would call me “Snagglepuss” and how he seemed so Big and Big Brotherish. In a good, non-1984 way.

And I just miss him.

He died because he couldn’t stop drinking. He took his liver past its point of “I’ll heal if you will please stop.”  He just kept going from there. And I can’t for the life of me understand how he could do it.

Except, every day at about 5 pm.

Because there is catch.

I am an alcoholic.

No – I don’t drink too much sometimes, or have a problem with drinking, or need to cut back, or have issues, or sometimes seem to party just a little too hard. 
I am a straight up, no chaser, strong and no ice, please, alcoholic.

Just like my brother.

That is the story I have not given you, for all these posts for all these months. It’s the hollow part of me. I am working on filling it.

When I first stopped drinking, I filled it with prayer about every 20 seconds, and a lot of tears, and non-stop whining, and numerous meetings with other people like me, and endless bags of Reese’s Peanut Butter cups.

And now, almost two years later, I fill my hollow with prayer about every 39 seconds, and some tears, but tears that wash away pain and rough edges. And yes, still snarf too many of those Reese’s cups. The Easter egg ones are out, and if you eat one while you read Matthew 28, you WILL transcend a bit. I tell you. At least long enough before one of your toddlers comes and pushes his jelly-breath up against your face and bleats, “What eatin? Can I have sum?”

Share your Reese’s. It’s What Jesus Would Do.

I started drinking in the least imaginative way possible – in college. I partied, but I also loved school, did well, and had, I thought, a “handle” on the drinking. “I am smarter than this,” I thought. “I got straight A’s, even in chemistry. I got this.” And on it went. Drinking gave me a kind of magic shell that I could wear that would frost over all the sharp edges I felt.

But there were red flags, hiccups on the way, about the booze. In my twenties, my sweet roommate once came home to me, a nearly empty bottle of wine, and the clacking T.V. “Why are you drinking alone?” she asked amazed. “That’s not healthy. You know that, don’t you?”

I don’t remember my answer, but I filed her comment away. And for twenty some years I would pull it out and think about what she said, then put it away, and continue working steadily on my relationship with alcohol. Recently, I gave her a call and thanked her.  Long ago she spoke up and I listened. I’m slow, but I finally listened.

My affair with alcohol hit its lowest point when I had children. And this is a common story, I think, amongst moms. The monotony, the chaos, the mess – a glass of wine smoothed all that out and tucked my babies in just fine.

Until, of course, it didn’t anymore. And I was trapped.

So now, here I am. I am no longer a hollow. I am a follower of Jesus. I am a wife. A mom. A daughter. A sister. A friend. I go to sleep at night and say, “Thank you for this day.” I wake up, and ask, “Please.” I could try to tell you, in this one post, the hows and whys of why I drank too much and who I am now that I don’t drink at all, but it would be a book, ya’ll. A HUGE book, like, Gone With the Wind huge, – a lot of drama, and a lot of petulant behavior, and a lot of hurt, without the foo-foo dresses.  I do think, at some point, I did shout, “As God is my witness, I will never drink boxed wine again!” There was real recovery there. And hard truth. But no southern accent.

In short, I drank too much because I had one hell of a civil war going on inside my own head.  I didn’t like me, but I also thought I was the most important person to breathe air.  That kind of crazy stuff. I couldn’t ever get over wanting more of everything. To fill up the less-ness that was my dried-out soul. I didn’t want to walk around inside of me anymore. Vodka fixed that. For a while. I had hooked myself up to an IV of constant numb. And so I lived my coma-life, for years and years.

But mainly? I drank too much because I am an alcoholic.

The broken things in me are mending. Sometimes I have to sit with pain a lot longer than I think is nice. But, I sit with it now. Sometimes I feel other things like anger, or intense irritation, or even, joy. I slowly click through feelings and I actually survive.  Even when I miss my brother.

The most when I miss my brother.

And so, now, when my life becomes messy and chaotic or there’s a glitter tsunami, and something inside me starts ticking, ticking, I can do two things:

1. Rage against the glitter.

2. Laugh. And use the cat as a duster.

For right now, I am having some tea and slathering some butter on my shiny biscuit.  I should start a rockabilly band called The Glitter Biscuits. I can thwack a mean tambourine, and I can sing really, really loud, with no concept of key.  It will be epic.

Why in the world I waited until I was 45 to face this, I don’t know. But when I look back at the canyon of my past, I don’t feel sorry. I take a deep breath and shout at it. Know why? I get an echo back, and the echo roars that I am here, on the other side, with a big fat voice. When I look back at that sad and empty landscape, I can only shout and wait to hear back:

“I AM STILL HERE.”

Boys

This is for my sons. They will read it one day and tell me sorry about the glitter. And I will tell them sorry about the drinking.

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Dana Bowman is a wife, a mother, a teacher, a writer, and a runner, all simultaneously. This is only possible because her family donates loads of material. She has been published in Substance.com, The Huffington Post, Today’s Christian Woman, Covenant Home Companion, and is the proud author of Momsieblog.com. She feels that most parenting books would be vastly improved by reading aloud paired with interpretive dance. You can also find Dana on Facebook, Twitter and Google+.

This post is part of Momastery’s Our Messy, Beautiful Summer series.

Our Messy, Beautiful Summer



Carry On, Warrior
Author of the New York Times Bestselling Memoir CARRY ON, WARRIOR
Join the Momastery on-line community on Facebook, Twitter & Pinterest