Monthly Archives: May 2013

1,344 Hours

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Sobriety medallion

Sobriety medallion (Photo credit: annrkiszt)

Sobriety

Sobriety (Photo credit: Elliot Paul Photography)

As of today, I have been sober for about 1,344 hours. Or 80,644 minutes. Or, 4,838,400 seconds. Eight weeks. There are days when I do this hour by hour, or minute by minute, or second by second, but it all works out the same. As of today, I have eight weeks of sobriety.

I have spent the better part of the last several days beating myself up for the things I can’t seem to get right. My thinking is slow. My reflexes are slow. My motor skills aren’t as fine tuned as they used to be. I am easily overwhelmed. I sometimes feel as if I can’t breathe. I’m tired. I’m wired.

I thought all of this and then some indicated that I am a colossal failure in a multitude of ways. I mean, not only did I poison my body with drugs and alcohol for years on end, but even sober, I can’t seem to do anything right. Then, at the meeting yesterday, I heard someone use the term “post-acute addiction syndrome.” Ever curious about what I don’t understand, I looked it up.

Lo and behold, I am not the only addict who has suffered from the things I’ve been ripping myself apart for the last few days! It is, in fact, a normal and expected part of the withdrawal process. As I read through the list of symptoms, I found that many of them reflect my current situation perfectly. I couldn’t understand why school was so easy for me when I was at the height of my addiction, but it became so difficult for me once I got sober. It makes sense now. A lot of things are more difficult now that I’m sober, and this part of the process is something I have to go through in order to eventually reach a place of wholeness and health. It doesn’t take away the symptoms, but somehow, knowing that I’m not the only one who has dealt with it makes it that much easier to handle. Sometimes, all it takes is knowing you’re not alone in the world to give you the strength to persevere and hang on just a little bit longer.

I am learning once again the value of being gentle with myself as I go through this recovery process. Read about post-acute withdrawal symptom reminded me to give myself the same kindness and grace that I would give to anyone else in my situation. Sometimes, it is so much easier for us to look at others with compassion and at ourselves with condemnation. There is no life in that. It is a soul-killing venture. If we, as the Bible says, prosper as our souls prosper, it only stands to reason that the demise of our souls will ultimately equal the demise of our prosperity…our health, our mental well-being, our joy, our compassion, all the things that make life wonderful and colorful.

For today, I am choosing to stay sober. I am choosing to be kind to myself. I am choosing to celebrate the things that are great about life, and accept that the not so great stuff is only temporary. All things are subject to change, whether good or bad, and there is no time to waste on worry or regret or hope for a better past. Today is all we’ve got. Today is a great day to be sober, and I am grateful for it.

 

For more information on Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome, visit here:

http://focustreatmentcenters.com/what-is-the-post-acute-withdrawal-paw-syndrome/

SERENITY NOW!

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Cover of "Alcoholics Anonymous: The Story...

Cover via Amazon

I am 55 days sober today. If you had told me 56 days ago that this was even possible, I would have rolled my eyes, laughed in your face, and popped a pill to make my frustration with your ignorance go away. However, here I am, sober. Not always loving it, but still doing it.

I attended an AA meeting today, which makes all of two meetings that I have attended since I decided to give up the dope nearly 8 weeks ago. The meeting is close to my house, and it will be an easy one for me to get to. I have known about it for awhile, but always had a reason not to go. I was tired, I wasn’t feeling well, my allergies were acting up too much…whatever. Anything to keep me from that meeting. Today, though, I decided that going to the meeting was not optional.

Lately…as in, for the last 37 years or so…I have been in an existential crisis. For the last several days, much of it has revolved around feelings of inadequacy and failure. Intellectually, I know I am none of those things, yet when those feelings rise up in my soul and I cannot pop a pill or take a drink to tamp them back down, it is supremely uncomfortable. For the last six years, I have been numbing myself any time those feelings come up, and eliminating that option has left me with no choice but to process these things and work toward healing. There are times when that is agonizing. Yesterday, the feelings were so intense, I felt like I was being ripped apart inside.

So, going to the meeting today was essential for my sobriety and my survival. It’s easy to take something to numb the pain. It’s easy to decide that going through the process isn’t worth it. It’s far more difficult to accept the things you cannot change, find the courage to change what you can, and ask for the wisdom to know the difference. The Serenity Prayer is far more than a nice prayer to artfully display. It speaks to the daily grind of life, made much more complex when dealing with recovery from addiction. As I recover, it is difficult at times to let go of what I can’t change. It is a daunting challenge to step up and change the things I can. Finding the wisdom to know the difference is incredibly hard when you’ve got a soul that’s been scrambled by years of drug and alcohol abuse. The things within us that are flexible and malleable as life’s changes happen somehow become atrophied when they are consistently numbed by substance abuse.

I am learning again how to be consciously connected to God. I am not even sure at this point who or what God is, but I am becoming more certain of who and what God isn’t. I am in a place in my life where I am examining all I ever thought I knew about God, and I am finding that it doesn’t gel with the idea of God being a loving and benevolent spirit. I am finding that I cannot and will not serve a God who is spiteful, capricious, looking for reasons to punish those who do not follow his or her code of conduct, a God who seems schizophrenic in his or her attitude toward what has been created. None of that meshes with the idea of a God who is compassionate and merciful, who looks upon those who are suffering with addiction or whatever the case may be and yearns to gracefully see them through the time of struggle. At this point in my life, I find myself casting off old ideas that do not and cannot blend with the idea of the universe having an order maintained by a loving and gracious being who spoke it all into existence.

I am also at a place of understanding that claiming a religious point of view, such as “I’ve found Jesus,” doesn’t make things all better. I am not sure I was ever directly told that such an experience/belief would make things all better, but I think the implication was there. I am findng that healing and recovery is a process, and spirituality is but one element of that process. It is perhaps the most important element, but there is also the element of personal responsibility, choices to be made, and the consequences of those choices that must be dealt with. Whoever or whatever God is, I am quite certain the he or she doesn’t operate from the premise of us being automatons who are programmed for success or failure based on a system of religious beliefs. I believe God is there to assist us, not to progam and operate us. I think God puts great store in us taking responsibility for ourselves, rather than relying on notions of things happening “according to God’s will,” or things coming into our lives through means of a satanic/demonic attack. I think that reliance on those excuses is a scapegoat, a means to eliminate the element of personal responsibility. No more scapegoating here. I am responsible for myself. God has already given me everything I need to live a healthy and whole life, a life that can make the world a better place. It is up to me to utilize the gifts I’ve already been given, to find reasons every day to be thankful, and to go forward and conquer the things which I have allowed to conquer me up to this point.

I am learning to be open. I am learning that peace and joy do not reside in something external. The external elements of life are ever in flux. Jobs disappear. Wealth dries up. Beauty fades. Children grow up and develop their own lives. The weather is sunny and warm today, cold and raining tomorrow. Reality shows are taking over television, making all tv programming almost complete garbage. Our bodies get old and tired. All the things outside of ourselves are subject to change or complete obliteration. I am learning that to be truly at peace, it must reside within my soul.

I am grateful that I took the steps to get to the meeting today. There are a lot of truly beautiful, amazing people who attend, and I am honored and humbled to be part of such a group. I think I have found a safe place to continue in my recovery. I have a sponsor. I have the Big Book so I can begin working the steps. I am learning to be open and in tune with …God… and I am once again on track for healing. I know that recovery is a process, and it is one that I will be working in one way or another for the rest of my life. Still, it feels good to be in a healthier place today than I was yesterday.

Each day is a gift. I am grateful to be sober today. I am grateful for what life gives me today. I am grateful that recovery happens one day, one hour, one minute, one second at a time, and I only have to do this…just for today.

Ache

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I love you

I love you (Photo credit: @Doug88888)

This day started out ordinarily enough. I believed six impossible things before breakfast, as is my custom of late. I did some writing. I made a few cards that will hopefully sell and generate a little more income for us. I contemplated extraordinary things, and all seemed right with the world.

Then, I read an article about single parenting. After reading said article, it struck me that I feel profoundly and utterly alone today. Not just alone, but lonely. There are days when the burden of single parenting weighs heavily on me, and that coupled with being a recovering addict is something that feels like it’s almost too much sometimes.

I feel like I’ve failed in many ways. Having spent the last several years addicted to pain killers, I have wrecked my body for the time being and I want so badly to give myself and my son a better life, but I am weak and tired. I’ll have 8 weeks sober as of Friday, and while it feels like a lifetime to me, I also understand that sobriety is still fairly new. I try to be gentle with myself. I try to give myself the same grace I would give to anyone else who is dealing with the things I deal with. Yet, when I look at my life, when I feel the pain of loneliness as keenly as I feel it today, all I can think of is the many ways I have failed. In the course of my addiction, my world got smaller and smaller, and now it exists almost entirely within the confines of the apartment. I wouldn’t say I’ve become agoraphobic, but close.

I am making strides toward more connections with people. I am just having difficulty finding people of like mind. I am not the person I was before cancer, before addiction, before everything in my world imploded. I have a lot more questions than answers at this point, and I am remarkably okay with the mystery. I don’t need absolutes most of the time. I have lived in a world with what appeared to be absolutes for most of my life. In 2007, I learned quickly that there are few absolutes, life holds no guarantees, and the universe is what you make of it.

In this small town, I’ve had difficulty finding people who are open to possibilites. I’ve also had difficulty finding people who are open to me. I’m weird and I’m fabuluous and I’m very comfortable with that. I have mom hair and I wear mom jeans, I don’t care about fashion trends, and I will never be as beautiful as a fashion model. I have curves. I have ideas that are kinda “out there.” I question just about everything.

I feel lonely and kinda vulnerable today. These are the kinda days that really drive home the point that I don’t have someone in my life. I don’t “need” a man, but it would be wonderful if I had someone in my life to share the journey with. And, yeah, somoene to tell me I’m beautiful, and I’m loved, and I’m cherished. I’ve never had that, not even when I was married.

Sometimes I hate days like this. There is longing for connection, for an intimacy that is beyond physical (I miss that too, though!), and it is nowhere to be found. I want flowers and moonlight and kisses and slow dances. I want to be real. I want to be held. I want to feel warm.

Willful Suspension of Disbelief

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Animal Planet logo prior to February 3, 2008.

Animal Planet logo prior to February 3, 2008. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

1959 Series Logo

1959 Series Logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Venus Project logo

The Venus Project logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Like tens of millions of other Americans, I tuned in to Animal Planet this past weekend to watch “Mermaids: The New Evidence.” Like most others who watched, I thought the acting was bad, but allowed for a willful suspension of disbelief as the tale unfolded. I was captivated by the possibility that in the vast, unexplored oceans, these gorgeous creatures may actually exist, no longer relegated to fairy tales and folklore. I watched in amazement as the computer generated images of what these marine mammals may look like danced across my screen, beckoning my imagination to dive further into the depths of possibility.

I can’t deny, I felt almost euphoric as my mind ran away with thoughts of what else might be possible. Could there really be aliens that came to Earth long ago, giving humankind and civilization its humble beginnings? Is it possible that stories of present day alien visitations are not the stuff of science fiction? Was all of “The Twilight Zone” simply Rod Serling, et al, telling us truth couched in entertainment? Maybe it is possible to eat just one Lay’s potato chip. Has anyone ever tried?

Then, it happened. Through the vehicle which delivers human thought reduced to 140 characters, I learned the unthinkable. Animal Planet’s documentary on mermaids was … a hoax. *gasp!* Now, I know that all the red flags were there, probably the most obvious being that it was about the existence of mermaids, but nothing could have prepared me for the network to admit that they had willfully deceived the faithful by presenting fiction as fact. You can read the ugly truth here:

http://insidetv.ew.com/2013/05/28/mermaids-animal-planet-ratings/

You have to understand that, of course, I knew it wasn’t real. Yet, like so many others in these troubled times, I yearn to believe in impossible things. There is a shift in the zeitgeist happening right now, and people are more and more drawn to believing that which we have been trained to accept as categorically untrue, and utterly impossible. People are exploring belief in everything from the existence of ghosts to the existence of faeries, to the possibility of extraterrestrials who make regular vists to our humble planet, and much more.

I grew up in church. I have long been told about the existence of things that are unseen in the physical realm, yet are no less real. I think many people were similarly taught, in one fashion or another. However, what I am seeing happen in the world today is a yearning not only for the impossible, but for something wholly other than what we’ve been given up to this point. Some who were raised as I was and who still hold to those beliefs would say that this is an indication that the world is spiritually anemic and rejecting truth. To which I say, bollocks! I think the world is perhaps more spiritually in tune than ever before, but are looking for something that isn’t couched in the divisiveness of religion.

What we’ve believed up to this point has left us numb and dry, parched for something to slake our spiritual thirst when we partake of it. Yet, like the persimmon fruit that grows in my back yard, what appears as a sweet and satisfying fruit, only leaves the mouth dry and thirst unquenched as the astringent goes to work. What we’ve been told up to now hasn’t worked. We are living in a world in which all systems are broken, some of them utterly beyond repair. It is insanity to think we can continue to nurture the beliefs we have up to this point, and yet have a different outcome. Time and again, the version of spirituality and truth we’ve collectively held to has failed us, and I think we are in an age when people are walking away from it in droves, searching for something completely unlike what we’ve known to this point.

I was talking with a friend yesterday about but one of our many broken systems, that being the economic system. We have all been fed this lie which states that the way to a fulfilling life is to go to college …and, at the same time, likely incur tens of thousands of dollars in debt… graduate with a degree, work like a dog for the most vital years of your life in order that you may accumlate things, and then, when you’re too old to enjoy it, retire and live out the rest of your years with regrets about what you might have done differently if you had stepped off the hamster wheel, shut down the machine, and pursued what was really in your heart to do. While much of America’s manufacturing has been outsourced, there still exists a core belief that working in a manufacturing job, whether it is making parts that will be used to make vehicles, or making the myriad models of computers and tablets and cell phones, or whatever the case may be, is the way to a secure future. In the meantime, the stuff that’s already in the car lots and on the store shelves isn’t selling, but we need more and more and more of it, because that’s the American way. Excess equal success.

By the time I’ve finished paying off this laptop, it is already obsolete. There’s a new operating system now. There are all kinds of bells and whistles that make the newer laptops not only faster, but streamlined and more affordable than ever. Yet, all the old laptops and desktops that weren’t sold under the old operating system sit on the store shelves waiting to go on clearance, because they are already obsolete in the ever changing market of technology. With all our advances in the field, it seems that nobody has the inclination to figure out a way to make computers adaptable to the changes, in such a away that even a dodo like me could figure out how to make the changes in only a few easy, AFFORDABLE steps. The major components remain the same, and the minor changes that often constitute an upgrade are easily implemented. Less waste. And, of course, less jobs.

Which brings me back to my initial point regarding the hamster wheel. We’ve been fed a line, we’re hooked, and we’ve created an entire structure based on false beliefs. Our most recent economic meltdown shows just how vulnerable this system is, and continuing in the illusion that simply keeping the machines running in order to turn out products and services that nobody is buying isn’t enough to save us.

People are hungry to the deepest part of their being for something close to magic. People are aching to believe in something other than the temporal, tangible, vulnerable world we’re living in. Some people are learning how to make their own magic and create a new history for themselves and their part of the world. There are moneyless tribes springing up all over the country, where people learn how to bartar for goods and services, how to grow their own food, how to live within minimal means so as not to be indebted to anyone and, thus, no longer be tied to the machine of pseudo-success. People are following the stories of individuals like Daniel Suelo, and groups like The Venus Project, looking for new ways of doing things which are sustainable and within the reach of everyone, regardless of wealth. The idea of interdependence is once again growing as people abandon old notions of truth and how things “should be,” and choose to rewrite the book.

In this way, I think people are choosing to willfully suspend disbelief in order to move forward into uncharted territory. It is not so different from the people who settled our physical nation (although, perhaps with far less savage displacement of those perceived to be in the way of progress), People are believing for impossible things, and they are making those impossible things possible. People are learning to suspend disbelief long enough for myth to become reality, and in doing so, are creating a new history for the world, present and future, to learn from.

I am all for it. It doesn’t threaten my core beliefs in the least, and I think that evaluating what we believe and why we believe it is an essential step toward true development. I also think there comes a point when faith, no matter what you’re putting your faith in, is a matter of choice, in that we don’t always have immutable evidence for the thing in which we believe, but we have a preponderance of evidence which suggests that belief makes some level of sense. I think this is where humanity is at this point. What we’ve collectively believed and made valuable up to this point hasn’t worked. We need to believe in something more and wholly other than what we’ve held to this long. While we may not know exactly what that “other” is, we are each faced with enough evidence to convince us personally that the other is there, and we choose to believe.

For the record, I believe in mermaids.

Lessons from Peter Pan

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Public art - Peter Pan, Queens Gardens, Perth

Public art – Peter Pan, Queens Gardens, Perth (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Cover of 1915 edition of J. M. Barrie's novel,...

Cover of 1915 edition of J. M. Barrie’s novel, first published in 1911, illustrated by F. D. Bedford. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Over the last few weeks, I have been working hard on my sobriety, guarding it with my very life, and trying to move my life into a more positive and healthy place. I haven’t been exactly certain of what’s coming next for me, and consequently, my son, but I knew that my life was heading in a more vibrant direction than it has ever been. I knew good things were coming. I also realized that I had to take steps to bring those good things into reality, and I was fully prepared to do that.

Like many people do when thinking of taking their life in a new direction, I began to seek educational opportunities. I am an avid reader so I am far from being uneducated, but I thought continuing in my formal education and finally earning a degree was the ticket out of this hallway I’ve been stuck in since God shut several doors but hadn’t yet opened any windows. I thought perhaps I needed to pry them open myself, so I got out the crowbar of my indomitable will and set to work!

Initially, I felt good about the decision to go back to school. I enjoy learning. I maintained a nearly perfect GPA when I was school a couple of years ago. College has always come easily for me. Yet, my enthusiasm waned after …oh, I dunno… 24 hours or so. I began to feel stifled, choked,squashed, silenced, and generally unenthusiastic about the idea of returning to school, because the further along I got in the process, I realized my heart just wasn’t in it. I want to be a writer. I want to tell stories. I want people to read my stories and, hopefully, feel inspired by them.

But, I thought, I need to provide a better life for my son, and the best way to do that is to get a degree and move us up a notch in the world! So, I put my head down and powered through the enrollment process, and started classes a couple weeks go. I thought that once I delved into my studies and began learning new things, I would once again fall in love with the college experience and my anxieties would fade.

That turned out not to be the case. Over the last several weeks, I have dealt with anxiety of such immense proportions that I have slept very little, I cannot concentrate, and I feel like a rubberband stretched to the point of being ready to snap. It has impacted everything in my life, including my most important relationship, that being the one I have with my beloved 4 year old boy. He is my world. I am the only parent he has, so when I am at a point when the choices I’ve made have left me with little patience or energy to give to him, I know something isn’t right.

Still, I thought, I needed to tamp down the uncomfortable feelings and do what I “should” do. I’ve spent most of my life “shoulding” all over the place, and I can’t say it has gained me much more than a lot of complications. Even as I began the process to get back into school, I felt like it was more “should” I was dealing with, and I began to wonder why I was willing to deal with all the “should” when it had just made a mess of things. At what point do we get to say that we’re not going to do what we “should” do just because it is what people expect of us, and we’re going to do what is in our heart to do?

I’ve studied little in the past few days, other than doing my required reading. Last night, instead of working on the writing that needs to be done for classes this week, I decided to read for pleasure. I have had an annotated copy of “Peter Pan” that I have been wanting to sink my metaphoric teeth into, and I decided last night was a great time to do that.

I have always loved Peter Pan. He represents to me everything that is wonderful and carefree and playful in childhood, and is a touchstone for me when I am feeling entirely too grown up and need to be reminded that there is a playfulness and childlike awe that still exists somewhere within every adult. I think J.M. Barrie’s writing is genius, and the story is just as enjoyable for grown ups as it is for kids, albeit for different reasons. Neverland, which you may reach by taking the second star to the right and straight on ’til morning, is a place that is ever shifting and changing, depending upon the whims of Peter Pan and the Lost Boys and any children who are fortunate enough to visit…and we’ve all been guests at Neverland at some point in our lives. Perhaps the only real spectre that haunts Neverland is the knowledge that it is only Peter Pan who will never grow up. The rest of us eventually do, and Neverland gets further and further away until it is but a distant memory, something left to children and their imaginations.

As I read last night, it occurred to me that life is all too fleeting. Every phase of life eventually comes to its natural end, until we are ultimately food for worms. Peter Pan reminded me that we are to make each day an awfully big adventure, and life is too short and unpredictable to spend it anxiously working toward a goal we already know we don’t want to achieve. In my heart of hearts, I know that pursuing a degree in human services is not where I will find my greatest joy. And isn’t life too fleeting to be spent on anything but joyful living?

It is my belief that the universe is such a vast, generous, and diverse place that there really is a place for all of us to pursue our joy. “Follow your bliss” is a common phrase when discussing these things, and I believe that is something that we can all do. Perhaps we may have to do less blissful things in order to facilitate the funding and opportunities for the bliss we ultimately want, but the pursuit of long held dreams is not out of the question for any of us. For too long, we have collectively held to this notion of what defines success: Money, power, fame, and possessions. In our collective way of thinking, the lack of these things indicates a lack of success. Yet, the happiest people I know are those who have pursued what they would like to do without making the attainment of wealth the goal. They have chosen not to operate from a mentality of scarcity and want, but from a conviction that the universe is a generous and benevolent place, and all their needs will be met. They may never drive the nicest vehicles or live in the nicest house, but they are fulfilled and happy. They make every day a great adventure, and do not lay down at night and agonize over the things they wish they would have done but didn’t do because they were too busy doing what they “had to” do in order to achieve what is defined as success.

After reading a few pages regarding J.M. Barrie and the evolution of Peter Pan, I put the book down and decided it was time to accept that my heart just is not in going back to school. At least, not for the degree I am currently pursuing. I want to write. I would love to take courses in creative writing and literature. I would love to be part of a community of writers with whom I can develop my craft. But, going back to school to earn a degree in human services is not something I am at all at peace with doing. So, I emailed my academic advisor and told her that I wanted to withdraw from my classes. After I did that, I felt such a weight lifted off my shoulders, because I could now access the creativity that keeps me sane and sober and spend my energy in those pursuits. For the first time in weeks, I felt like I could breathe.

The reality is, I am in a place in life where I can “follow my bliss” for awhile. I am on disability, so I do have income that provides well enough for what my son and I need right now. There is no pressure to continue down a path that I know is not right for me, because I am in the unique position of having a lot of my needs met due to an unfortunate bout with cancer a few years ago. I do not wish to stay in this position for the rest of my life, because I do want to get to a place where I can be independent of government assistance and provide a life for my son through my own efforts. However, as I do have this benefit of time right now, I see no reason not to allow myself to have peace and pursue what is in my heart to do.

I think there are a lot of us who are alive but not really living. We’re the walking dead because we have been trained to stifle the desires and feelings that make us most alive. We’ve been conditioned to tamp down the dreams that arise within us, and instead trade the impossible for the easily obtainable. We have been taught that there is a sort of moral obligation to do what we “should,” and those who instead opt to pursue their dreams are deemed to be on the fringe of acceptable society. Why should this be? Who decided it was better for people to cash in the very things tha make us most unique and alive for something as fleeting and easily destroyed as money and possessions? To do so is, in my mind, to choose a little death every day. I am tired of dying. I want to live.

I don’t know what comes next, but I do know that to live will be an awfully great adventure! Oh, the cleverness of me!

Plus Sizes, Poverty, and Pscandal

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A chart showing average monthly welfare benefi...

A chart showing average monthly welfare benefits (AFDC then TANF) per recipient in constant 2006 dollars. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My return to academia is now 8 days old. I don’t know if I am getting smarter or simply more frustrated with my choice to return to school, but I am staying the course nonetheless. I don’t know that I will complete my degree, or even that I will use it if I do complete it, but anything that expands my knowledge base and awareness isn’t wasted. As a writer of at least mediocre caliber, I consider everything I encounter in life to be potential material for A-MAZ-ING (or not) future blog posts. Prepare to be ASTOUNDED!

The world needs more human services workers, that’s certain. Or, better said, the world needs more humanity. This week, we got a glimpse of what can happen when people forget basic human decency and decide to catergorize people’s worth based on their size. The CEO of Abercrombie and Fitch stated that his stores would not carry anything larger than women’s size 10, essentially because he only wanted the thin, beautiful, “cool” kids to shop there. I quote Ellen Degeneres when I say, “Oh please, Fitch.”

I remember well my turbulent adolescent years, and I was a fat chick. I had a slew of other problems, which we may discuss at a later date, but perhaps one problem that stayed with me as the other problems went away was the fact that I was fat. I would never be able to fit into the cute clothes my thinner peers wore, and for that reason I never felt like I was quite as good as them. It is difficult enough to be a kid growing up in a society that puts so much value on image, but when the CEO of a major corporation that caters to teen fashion says that you are so fat that he doesn’t even want you shopping at their stores, it puts a fine point on how shallow we have collectively become. I couldn’t be more pleased with the backlash Abercrombie & Fitch has had, and I hope people will make them eat their words in the weeks and months to come. They can grow fat on their own pompous, paramasturbatory sense of greatness, meanwhile their bank account can become sleeker as informed and compassionate consumers make better choices regarding where they buy their clothes.

I think this incident is an excellent opportunity to teach society at large, especially the teen crowd that the store supposedly caters to, a thing or two about loving and accepting people based on the simple fact that we are all human, we are all made from the same stuff, we are all a lot more alike than we are different, physical appearances are fleeting, but the heart of who you are … your character, your decency, your humanity, your compassion, your passions, and all the other aspects that make up who you really are … will last. Whether your true self is made of something beautiful or something hideously ugly, that will be the thing people remember most about you as time goes on. I am sure the CEO of Abercrombie & Fitch is a well dressed, well spoken, well manicured man who makes a lot of money and lives a flash life, but a lot of people right now think he’s pretty much an ass because of the sentiments he expressed regarding having plus size teens as customers. See what I mean about the things that really matter? I rest my case.

I am still fat, though I am much thinner than I used to be. I am closer to an average size than I’ve been in a long time, and certainly much closer to an average size than I ever was in high school. At 37 years old, I am only just beginning to accept that I will never be one of those ultra-thin, willowy women that looks as if she could grace the cover of a fashion magazine and look like she really belongs there. I have curves. I am have breasts. I have hips that don’t lie, in that, they speak loud and clear that I have carried a baby to full term and my birthin’ hips will never recovery from that. I have “bingo arms,” which, truth be told, I would have surgery to fix if I could because it bothers me and I can’t stand looking at it. It’s the same with my thighs. Gaining and losing weight over the years has left me with skin that isn’t quite as elastic as it should be, and I jiggle when I wiggle. That being said, I am learning to accept my body as it is. I don’t have a belly button. I have a scar that spans from hip to hip after a surgery last year. My body is marked up from years of self-injury, to such a degree that my 4 year old son asks me where I got my “stripes” from, and I’m not sure what to say. My body will never be airbrushed-perfect. And, I won’t deny, I find some comfort in knowing that many of the women who grace the covers of magazines are not airbrushed-perfect, either. When I see “Here’s What They Look Like In Real Life” photo spread, I do feel just a smidgen of mean-girl-ness when I see cellulite and belly rolls on women who are made up to look like the personification of perfection when they are doing a photo shoot, which is then photoshopped, to make them look photo-flippin’-tastic.

Before this week, I had some hopes that we were evolving past the ideas that are so destructive, the ideas that tell us we have to fit into a certain notion of what is beautiful and glamourous before we are deemed acceptable. The more I see, though, the more I wonder how true that is.

This week in school, we are learning about the genesis of America’s ideas regarding poverty and social welfare. I wish I could tell you that the things I read surprised me, but they didn’t. Not in the least. I live these things every day.

Once upon a time, before the United States of America was even a twinkle in our forefathers’ eyes, our ancestors lived in the far away land of England. During the Middle Ages, the care for the poor was addressed through what was called a feudal system. In this system, well-to-do families would parcel of their land and have it farmed by the poor, called serfs. In this way, the poor were taken care of, which worked out well for everyone except the poor, who were considered the legal property of the landowners and could, therefore, be sold or given away as the landowner, or “lords,” saw fit.

As time went on, natural disasters, economic downturn, and the Industrial Revolution called for a sweeping reform in how England dealt with those living in poverty. As the poor left the countryside and moved to the cities for the industrial jobs so widely available, it created a major problem with how the care for the poor was managed. Whereas the feudal system consisted of helping people within your own small community, whose circumstances you were familiar with and you, therefore, knew that their poverty was the result of difficult circumstances, the idea of helping people who moved into your community without having their own resources for support was far less palatable.

Reforms took place, and eventually the Elizabethan Poor Laws went into effect in 1601, which provided nicely for the care of the poor, as well as provided a foundation for our contemporary social welfare policies. Long live the Queen (until she didn’t live anymore, God rest her soul)!

The dark underbelly of social welfare policies is not, in my opinion, the policies themselves, but the attitudes that people have regarding the poor. While the earliest Americans brought with them the ideas set forth by Elizabethan Poor Laws, Protestant Reformation would help shape a whole new way of looking at the poor. Rather than seeing the poor as people deserving of compassion and help, the poor would come to be considered morally corrupt, lazy, and undeserving of help for fear that it would make the poor yet lazier and more corrupt.

While these ideas took hold long ago, these notions are still prevelant today. The idea created and perpetuated in the 1980s about the “welfare queen” still runs rampant throughout our culture. The notion that women have babies in order to collect the welfare benefits, all the while driving a Cadillac, is something that far too many people still believe. Those in poverty are looked at as choosing that for themselves, with the idea being that if they would just work harder, they could overcome their poverty and live a better life. Preferably, a life that doesn’t drain the public coffers.

It is worth noting that all of us, regardless of our financial situation, “drain the public coffers” to some extent. Any time you use a public service, you are spending taxpayer dollars. Whenever you drive on a road that is maintained by the road commission, you are spending taxpayer dollars. The police and the fire department are also funded with taxpayer dollars. Businesses large and small use myriad services that are funded with taxpayer dollars. The sidewalk you walk on so you don’t have to travel by foot on a busy road was built and is maintained with taxpayer dollars. So, let’s just stop right now with this idea that it is only the poor who are living a life that is dependent on money from the government. We all, in more ways than perhaps we realize, benefit from government funded projects in our communities. If you would rather not be party to that, you are welcome to move to the desert or perhaps a remote mountain peak, so long as you don’t use any roads, rely on the power grid, or any other system that is maintained through taxpayer dollars to get there and maintain your life there.

As a nation, we have moved from the ideas of showing compassion and care for the poor, and are closer to embracing Social Darwinism. Even in these immensely difficult economic times, I have heard more than a few people say that those who are doing well are successful because they are, in a word, better than those who are struggling to get by. Those who are struggling are of less value to the economic fabric of our national and global economy, and offering help to them by way of what is now often referred to as “entitlements” will only serve to prolong their inevitable failure. The pre-visitation Ebenezer Scrooge would be rather proud of that notion, I think, and the reality of the notion is just as hideous and ugly as the characterization of Scrooge himself.

I think what is most alarming about the growing fondness for Social Darwinism is that there are those who would use their religion, primarily Christianity if you’re talking to an American, as a means of justifying this attitude. It is as if they believe they have been given the divine right to judge who is worthy of help and who is not based on stereotypes and assumptions that do not hold weight when the burden of proof is put on them, but which continue to flourish nontheless. There are entire sects of political parties who believe it is their right and purpose to be God’s mouthpiece in the government, and one of first orders of business is to make sure that the poor do not continue on their “free ride.”

I have had conversations with people who refer to those on government benefits as “moochers,” “freeloaders,” and “lazy,” but when I remind them that I am none of those things, yet I use government benefits, they quickly add the addendum, “Oh, I didn’t mean YOU! I meant other people!”. How it is that they know what these “other people” are doing is beyond me.

Let me tell you something about living in poverty, though. It is hardly a free ride, even with the government benefits. I am a single mother with a four year old son. I pay for his preschool out of the little bit we get from Social Security every month, as I do not qualify for help with that since I don’t work outside of my home. We get food benefits every month in the form of WIC, which most families with young children qualify for, as well as a whopping $16 a month on our Bridge card.I pay the rent out of our Social Security money, as well as the car insurance, the purchase of the groceries that WIC and $16 can’t buy, household items, clothing and shoes when needed, and any other expenses that may come up. I am not complaining. I am grateful for what we get. However, it is hardly the lush life that people seem to think it is, and my situation is not unique.

I didn’t ask for the things that happened in my life that led me to this place, and I am ever so gradually working on improving life for myself and my son. It is worth noting, though, that a good number of people living in poverty are in sitatutions they never thought they would be in. I didn’t ask for cancer. I didn’t ask for the health problems I’ve had since having cancer. I didn’t ask to become an addict, even though the initial choice to use the drugs was definitely mine. I didn’t think to myself, “If all goes well, then by the time I am 37 years old, I’ll be a single mother renting the apartment in my parents’ basement, because THAT is living!”. Life handed me a crapload of stuff to deal with in a relatively short amount of time, and it stripped away everything I thought was certain in my life, leaving me to pick up the pieces.

Living in poverty creates obstacles. I have been on disability benefits since I had cancer in 2007. There is a lot of shame that comes with that. I had always been a hardworker prior to becoming sick. I would like to go back to work now. However, having been out of work for so long, no one is likely to hire me when there are people with more recent work experience than me who are clamoring for what few jobs are available. Additionally, the stigma of being on government assistance runs thick, even in areas that are economically depressed like the entire state of Michigan is right now. For the person living in poverty, unemployed for a length of time, and using government benefits, it is an extraordinarily difficult set of obstacles to overcome.

These obstacles are in no way made easier by the current swell of anger toward our government and anyone who has ever been supportive of the Obama administration and its efforts towards creating a more level playing field for all Americans, which brings me to my final topic: Pscandal. The “P” is silent.

Over the last couple of weeks, we have seen contraversy unfold rapidly, with a lot of people looking to our President and to those holding office in his administration with demands for answers. And what answer to we keep getting from everyone who is asked? “I don’t know.” “I wasn’t aware.” “I didn’t do anything wrong.” “Nobody told me.”

How does this final topic tie in with the first two? It’s all about human decency and treating each othe with dignity. Do not insult my intelligence as a person and an American citizen by pretending that nobody in Washington D.C. had any idea that the IRS was targeting conservative groups, or that the Department of Justice was siezing documents from the press, or that there may be some suspicious activity in Benghazi that deems, at the very least, looking into before denying the request for greater security. If we are to respect our government, the government needs to, at minimum, respect the intelligence of those it serves.

This isn’t a new thing. We’ve had spin put on anything of national interest ever since the earliest days of our government, and it has worked well to promote the agendas of whomever holds office at the time (See “welfare queen,” an idea that began with Ronald Reagan in his effort to turn people against the welfare policies of the day and embrace reforms he wanted). However, what makes this so different is, I believe, the advent of that ever-reliable, never-wrong medium known as “the Internet,” which is peppered with twitters and tweets and status updates that guarantee nearly anything can go viral within a matter of minutes, thus make it much more difficult to feign ignorance when it’s convenient.

Today’s post has been about boiling down the issues to basic human decency. We don’t tell people they are not worthy of shopping in our stores simply because we personally think they could stand to lose a few pounds. We don’t tell people we don’t see them as worthy of being helped simply because it is our personal fear that helping them might make them dependent and lazy. And, we don’t lie to people when the excrement hits the air conditioning simply because telling the truth might cost us something. If we are to be respected, we must be respectful. If we are to live in a world that prizes humanity and decency as something to be protected, then we must treat others with humanity and decency. If we want our beliefs to be regarded as worthy of consideration, we must be considerate of what others believe.

It is becoming far too acceptable in the American zeitgeist to promote one way of thinking as being superior to others, which, by implication, means those who believe themselves superior find others, well … inferior. Whether it’s plus sizes, poverty, or pscandal, if we are to have better outcomes, we have to have a better starting point. All of these things that we believe are so important in this world are ever so fleeting, and if we don’t invest in the things that truly matter, the stuff that makes us all more alike than we are different, the fabric that can hold a society together when things become the most difficult, then we don’t stand a chance. Societies greater than ours have fallen, and we’re not immune. It’s time to get to the things that really matter, and I plan to do that while wearing clothes purchased at Dollar General, with money I got from Social Security, so I can look smart while taking classes paid for with loans from the federal government, and never lying to you about it no matter how much it might cost me.

…And A Child Shall Lead Them

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http://www.upworthy.com/this-is-the-worst-thing-i-have-ever-heard-a-child-say-3?c=fea

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Martin Luther King, Jr. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As I began watching this video and it became apparent which direction it was heading, my heart was shattered. I saw these beautiful children who had been made to believe that because of their race, they were inferior. Time and again, these children said that the doll who looked like them was ugly and bad, where as the other doll was beautiful, nice, and good.

It was almost too difficult to watch. I wondered why these children would think such things about themselves. Who told them they were ugly? Who told them they were bad? Who told them that people with white skin and blue eyes are better and prettier than them? I was struck by how far we like to think we’ve come, and the reality of how far we have yet to go in love and acceptance, equality, respect, and doing away with outmoded, antiquated roles that each race still lives with in our allegedly progressive world. When a small child already believes that she looks like the doll she just described as bad and ugly, there is something terribly, terribly wrong.

The kids in this video are preschoolers. They are my son’s age. As I watched these children time and again identify with the doll they considered the less desirable of the two offered, I thought about my son. I thought about how it would utterly crush my heart if, at his tender age, he already believed he was inherently inferior to those around him simply for the color of his skin, his eyes, and his hair. Children are not born feeling inferior. If they feel that way, it is because they have received myriad messages from their environment which told them they were somehow less worthy of love and acceptance than their peers.

These issues of race run deep, and they are prevalent even today, although perhaps not as obviously as they were during the monumental battles that were fought for civil rights during the days of Medgar Evers, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, and so many others. The issues are far more subtle now, and this video sends a message loud and clear that the ideas that caused so much anguish for so many are still present in today’s culture, and it is systemic. The children in the video clip already believe they are unworthy of success, incapable of possessing character of the same caliber they used to describe the “pretty” doll.  Somehow, as evolved as our society may seem, there are obviously still attitudes that instill in children of color the idea that they are inferior to the white children they share the classroom with.

I’m not sure what the answers are. I think we are living in a country that is still very much divided by race, creed, color, gender, and sexual orientation. I don’t know how to teach my son to love, accept, and respect others, except to talk with him and play with him in such a way as to acknowledge that while we are all different, we are all still very much the same. We live in an area that is lacking in diversity, so it is more difficult for me to teach him these things here. Yet, it is vitally important to me to instill in him the truth, which is that we are all made from the same stuff, we are all equally valuable, and we are all deserving of mutual respect and love. In these turbulent times, it is especially important for me to teach him these things.

I remember an encounter I had with another little girl, back when I was about eight years old or so. She and I were at the school playground, and it was just the two of us. She was African American. As we talked, somehow it came around to the issue of race, and I remember expressing to her that some people think white people are better than black people. Now, my parents had never said that to me. Nobody told me that white people are supreme. Yet, somehow, that was the message I had received from the world around me. When I think about it now, it’s embarrassing to think that I said such an awful thing. However, I was a child, and children often mirror the messages they receive from their environment.  Somehow, despite the fact that nobody in my house had said it, the world around me in Warren, Michigan had taught me, ever so subtly, that white people are better than black people.

When I was in high school and began learning about the civil rights movement, it coincided with a time when there were many television sitcoms that celebrated African American history and culture. There was “The Cosby Show,” “Family Matters,” “Fresh Prince of Bel Air,” “227,” and “A Different World,” all of which focused on African American families and communities. I remember during this time, I felt a little ashamed to be white. I felt that people of my race had done so much to hurt people of other races, my lily white skin was nothing to be proud of. Whereas I had received a message of white superiority in the environment of my early childhood, the environment of my youth was one of white shame.

When I look back, I see how tender I was during those years, and I don’t think I was so different from others in that regard. Children receive messages about themselves and their world, whether we give them that message directly or it comes through the zeitgeist of the time. Either way, children are absorbing messages and translating those messages into truths about who they are, who others are, what the world is, and how it all fits together. Seeing the children in this video puts a fine point on the reality of these messages.

So what is a parent to do, other than make a point of including and celebrating diversity in play time, conversations, choice of toys purchased for the child, and so on? I am not sure. All I know is, I cannot fathom how the beautiful children in this video, or any child, could ever believe that they are intrinsically flawed, bad, and ugly for any reason, but especially the color of their skin.

We have come far since the days of the epic civil rights battles of the 20th century, but we haven’t come far enough when preschool aged children still believe, in the year 2013, that they are “less than” their fair skinned peers. We can do better than this. We have to do better than this.

I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead

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It’s 3:30 a.m. as I write this. Sleep has been elusive since I stopped filling up on a nice cocktail of morphine and Benadryl right before bed. On average, I sleep about three hours a night these days. This has been going on for weeks. I am told by others who have been through it that patience is key, and it is going to take time for my body to adjust to being drug-free. I have been on heavy duty painkillers for the last six years. I’ve only been free of them for six weeks. This will take time.

But, oh, I am so tired…

Yet, even with that, I am finding that I have more joy, more awareness, more presence as I go through my day. My mind isn’t clouded by a morphine haze. When I play with my son, I am fully present in the moment with him, creating happy and healthy memories that I will actually REMEMBER. Those moments, and so many more things, make this whole journey worth it, regardless of how bumpy the road may be right now.

I think I need to work on how I pass the time on these sleepless nights, though. YouTube is as addictive as any drug I’ve ever taken. I just spent about three hours watching videos purporting that Micahel Jackson’s death is a hoax. Three. Hours. Is it a hoax? Who knows. Maybe. I don’t know. Could be. But the bigger question is, why did I spend three hours watching videos about Michael Jackson’s death being a hoax?!

I often get stuck in these ruts when I can’t sleep. I get obsessive. I’ve spent at least three hours looking up Mighty Boosh videos on YouTube, as well as reveling in every discovery of music/music videos from the 1990s. Fleming and John. Spooky Tuesday. The 77s. Steve Taylor. Hansen.

Not Hansen. I was kidding. Come on, people.

Looking up things on Wikipedia is another way to spend a sleepless night. Anything and everything that pops into your head, you can do a search and find something on Wikipedia that will satisfy your curiousity. The thing is, when I read a Wikipedia article, I see links to dozens of other articles, which I also read. Then, once again, I find myself entrenched in an cycle of obsession that may have started as innocently as wondering about the author of one of my favorite books, and meandering through all the minutiae that is deemed worthy of hyperlinks throughout the article. The next thing I know, I have spent two hours on Wikipedia, in the middle of the night, reading articles on everything from various whale species to the finer details of what happened to the Donner party. Indeed, a curious mind can be a vicious trap when rest is what is chiefly needed at the moment.

Like a good addict, I have eyes that are rimmed in red, cheeks that are flushed, and a growing anxiety as I anticipate just shutting off the computer and laying in bed without distractions, bidding sleep to finally come to me.  It is at this point that I go to Netflix and watch “Arrested Development.” I know it won’t put me to sleep, but it makes me feel better about my life, which can be a soothing balm in and of itself.

Where To Go From Here

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Alice’s Abenteuer im Wunderland Übersetzer: An...

Alice’s Abenteuer im Wunderland Übersetzer: Antonie Zimmermann Orginal Titel: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland Illustrationen: John Tenniel Divided from the original into two separate images for use on Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland/Chapter 6 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to walk from here?”

“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.

” I don’t much care where –,” said Alice.

“Then it doesn’t matter which way you walk,” said the Cat.

” — so long as I get somewhere,” Alice added as an explanation.

“Oh, you’re sure to do that,” said the Cat, “if only you walk long enough.”

-from “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” by Lewis Carroll

In 2005, I started the original Garden Variety Neurosis blog, which can be found here: http://www.stefaniesthoughts.blogspot.com . Having lost the password to the blog, and unable to convince Google that I am who I say I am, I have decided it’s time to move on and start over. So, here I am.

I think the Cheshire Cat’s advice to Alice is profound. We are always moving down the road to somewhere. Where we end up is entirely a matter of which way we are going. The most sure way to get to where we want to go is to have at least some notion of where it is we want to get to, and to move in that direction. It’s a simple concept, yet so complex when applied to the messiness that sometimes occurs in the course of life.

My life over the last several years has been in a state of crisis, or near crisis, almost all the time. To describe the last few years as turbulent would be an understatement.

In 2oo6, at the age of 31, I finally moved out of my parents’ house. It was a monumental achievement, because I had been struggling with severe depression for years which had left me unable to feel safe living by myself. After a lot of hard work, I had finally come to a place of feeling confident and secure, ready to move out and try standing on my own two feet. I found a job where I was able to help people in a practical, hands-on way, making a difference in the lives of people who needed to know that their situations weren’t hopeless. I loved my job. I loved my apartment. I loved the friendships I was developing. For the first time ever in my adult life, I felt stable. I felt like I was moving forward and doing the things a thirty-something woman should be doing, and I felt stronger than ever.

Until I didn’t. Early in 2007, I began having health problems I hadn’t experienced before. As it turned out, I had cancer. I had a tumor growing right in the middle of my left kidney, and it was situated in such a way that simply cutting out the tumor wasn’t possible. So, I had major surgery to remove the kidney and the surrounding tissue, and also fix a major hernia while they were at it. Suddenly, everything in my life began to fall apart. All the things I had worked so hard to achieve, the things which may seem so minimal to others but were tremendous accomplishments for me, I felt were suddenly and cruelly ripped away from me. Less than a year after I was finally able to leave my parents’ house, I was back where I started from.

It was devastating. After the surgery, a ct scan showed that another tumor was growing, this time in the lymph nodes, which is highly unusual for the type of cancer I had (renal carcinoid), and it was determined that radiation therapy would be the best option to stop the growth of tumors that aren’t supposed to be metestatic.  So, the next round of fun began.

I moved in with my sister and her daughter, and spiraled into an ever deepening depression. I was so sick, I couldn’t keep food down. I was getting so thin that the doctor told me I needed to stop losing weight. Sleep was difficult because of the pressure points an old mattress puts on a skin and bones body. I felt utterly and irrevocably hopeless. To put it mildly, I had a complete crisis of faith. I didn’t understand why God was allowing these things to happen to me. Perhaps He didn’t cause it, but He certainly allowed it. It seemed cruel. I saw God as a capricious character who found some perverse delight in seeing people suffer, and I would maintain that belief for a long time to come.

Unable to cope with the turbulant changes that had blindsided me, I began to drink. At first, it wasn’t much. Just something to help me get to sleep at night. Then, I wanted to drink while watching TV before bed. Then, I also wanted to drink during the day if I was home by myself. I kept rum stashed in my bedroom so nobody ever knew how much I was actually drinking. The numbing calm that came with slamming down Vicodin with a few swallows of rum was exactly what I wanted during the darkest days. I remember well the feeling of anger that would wash over me when I woke up in the morning, realizing I was about to face another day. I asked God if He would just stop playing with me like a cat plays with a mouse, and just finish me off.  It seemed so cold to continue prolonging a life that, from my point of view, seemed marked with one catastrophic failure after another.

Still, I held on. I read a lot of books during this time. I read all the Donald Miller and Anne Lamott books I could get my hands on. I found it comforting to know that I wasn’t the only person who was raised in a Christian household and doubted everything they’d ever been told about God, nor was I the only one who had ever felt like they were barely hangin’ on to the thin thread of hope they had left, just hoping this Jesus they believe in will ultimately come through. I read “Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation” by Parker Palmer, and learned I wasn’t the only Christian who had ever suffered with severe depression and had to wait out the darkness before they would see the light again. I discovered a community on beliefnet called Beyond Blue, and I learned that the struggle with severe depression, and all the issues that come with it, were nothing to be ashamed of. I read. I prayed. I held on.

And I drank. Every night. Until I couldn’t anymore. When I woke up choking on my own vomit, I knew it was time to get help. So, I got help, and I stopped drinking.

In early 2008, I met the man I would marry. We had a whirlwind romance, to say the least. Looking back on it, I can see that I made a lot of mistakes and ignored a lot of red flags. No, not red flags. More like blazing red billboards that offered a multimedia presentation specifically made for me that said, “Run! Run for your life!”.  I didn’t run. Or, I did, but in the wrong direction.

The man I married was a drinker. Soon, I was drinking, too, and still taking pain medication. I hadn’t been in recovery from the radiation therapy for very long, and my body still hurt from the damage caused by the cure. Once again, I was mixing pain medication and alcohol. This time, though, I had come to a point of truly not caring at all about what happened. It hadn’t taken me long to realize I had married a rage-filled, combative, violence-prone, cruel man, and I came to a point of not caring if I lived or died. I would take my pain medication, drink my alcohol, and think that maybe I would luck out and this would be the end of things for me. I found myself once again cursing the daylight that greeted me every morning, wondering why I was still alive.

I remember very well the morning I knew something had to give, and it would be either me or my circumstances, because I could not live with the man I had married any more. His daily cruelties had killed whatever confidence I had left after the events of the previous year, and I couldn’t fathom spending a lifetime allowing him to humilate, criticize, and deeply wound me with his calloused words and actions. I remember waking up as he was getting ready for work, feeling overwhelmed with a desire for everything to just be over, and saying to God, “You have to give me a reason to want to live, because I am DONE with all of this. I am ready to check out!”.

Shortly thereafter, I learned I was pregnant. Not long after that, I left my husband, going back only to gather the rest of my things and then saying goodbye to him forever. Knowing I had a life growing inside of me gave me the courage to do what I couldn’t do for myself, and I got away. I had concluded that being a single mother, as hard as that would be, was infinitely better than raising a child with a man who had told me himself that I had married a monster.

I prepared for my baby’s arrival, and my son was born on December 27, 2008. It was the happiest day of my life, and as we got to know each other and understand each other better, I realized that my baby was teaching me some wonderful lessons in what it is to really love someone. He wasn’t capable of giving me anything in return for what I gave him except for the satisfaction I felt in loving him, and that was enough. I was happy to be able to love him.

Yet, once again, my old foe, Major Depressive Disorder, returned. This time, with a vengence. When my son was about three months old, I fell into a deep despair. Drinking once again became part of my daily routine, and was the first thing I wanted to do after I put my son to bed for the night. I was still on pain medication at the time, as well. The despair was overwhelming at times, and looking back on it, I am not sure how I got through that except with a lot of grace. And Zoloft.

The drinking reached its peak when my son was about a year old. At the time, I was also taking college courses, and somehow managing to maintain a nearly perfect GPA, receiving academic honors evey term. I don’t think people had any idea what was going on with me. They didn’t know that the walls closed in on me every night, and that I felt the need to drink in order to feel free from the mental, emotional, and physical pain the previous few years had rendered. One night, I had way too much wine, and spent the next three days quickly voiding anything and everything that I put into my body. That was the end of drinking for me.

I continued with the pain medication for the next few years, only realizing earlier this year that I was in fact an addict who needed help. I stopped taking the pain medication. As of today, I have been clean and sober for six weeks and one day. Some days are better than others, and there are days when I miss the comfort and calm that a dose of morphine sulphate can bring.  However, I know now that the price is too high, and I am no longer willing to pay it.

However, I am also at a place of asking, “Which way should I go from here?”. I am taking courses again, this time with an aim toward a degree in human services. I am 37 years old and I’m still hacking away at completing an associate’s degree. I won’t lie. It’s a bit discouraging to realize that this is only the beginning of my career as a student, if I am to earn a degree I can actually do something with. I am not entirely sure this is the direction I should be heading, but as there isn’t a specific road map for life, I am doing the best I can to navigate through the wreckage that my life became and find ways to rebuild. I know I want a better future for my son than what I am able to offer him right now. I know I want to show him that Mom isn’t weak and sick, and I am capable of earning a degree that I can ultimately use to earn a living, getting us off of government assistance. Even as I walk forward down this path, though, I am still not sure I am going the right way.

If I walk long enough, though, I am bound to end up somewhere. I know that no experiences in life are in vain. I know from walking through those painfully dark passages that eventually one will see the light again. I am not one who believes that everything happens for a reason. I think sometimes things happen in life and there is just no explaining them. Horrible things happen to good people. Good things happen to horrible people. I don’t believe it’s a divinely orchestrated plan. I believe it’s just life happening. I think it is our job to take what happens and give it purpose. I am still learning every day that I can choose to look at the experiences of the last several years as things that have utterly ripped apart everything I thought I knew and which left nothing but destruction in its wake, or I can look at the experiences as being painful lessons in what it is to be human, and I can find beauty in them as I see the grace that covered even the most desperate of moments.

It is my intention to use these experiences as a catalyst for growth, and a means by which to better understand the suffering of others so I may offer them comfort and hope…even if it’s just enough to hang on for one more day. We’re all in this together. As winding as the road may be, I know that I want to end up in a place where I am in the position to help those that many have given up on. The drug addict who has relapsed after multiple interventions. The alcoholic who can’t see that their $11 bottle of whiskey is costing them their entire family. The young woman who gives herself up far too easily, not because she’s cheap but because she’s wounded. The homeless person who has burned all their bridges and now has nowhere to go. It is my intention that nothing I have gone through will be wasted.

That’s the road I’m traveling.