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Guest Posts, No Bullshit Motherhood, parenting

Airplanes

August 20, 2017
plane

By Billie Hinton

1961

I’m being held in the arms of someone while my mother and father board a plane. We’re on the tarmac and they walk away and up the steep steel stairway into what appears to be a black hole. I push away from the chest I’m held up against, straining to follow the two people I know best in this world. The stairs roll away and the black hole closes and the plane moves away, slow and then fast. The black hole opens up inside of me; everything I know slips into the distance with that plane. I stop pushing and cave in to the chest, allow myself to be held, hot tears soaking into fabric that does not smell like anything familiar.

1985

In his small office my therapist sits too close for comfort, my knees and his a few inches apart. I find solace in the large window that looks out to trees and flowering shrubs. The wash of light through blinds is an escape hatch. He asks for my earliest memory. I tell about watching my parents leave in an airplane. He asks if I felt comfort with the person I was left with and I tell him I don’t know who that person was. It seems unfathomable that my parents left me with a stranger. How did you calm yourself? he asks and I tell him, I didn’t. I still don’t.

1988

In the office of my therapist, I write the final check for the final therapy session. His office feels larger now. The check number is 2001 and he comments that it has been an odyssey. I am moving to Texas to attend graduate school in clinical social work, inconsolable at saying goodbye to a man who has sat across from me several times each week for several years, knees inches away, wearing Birkenstocks which at one point I mocked, but have come now to love. After I leave I meet friends for lunch, still bereft at the loss of my thrice-weekly sessions, tears sliding down my cheeks at random between bites of food. One gives me his wristwatch to wear while we sit in the sun with take-out containers and iced tea in plastic cups. Comfort. Continue Reading…

courage, Guest Posts, Letting Go

Ferris Wheels On The Nile

August 18, 2017
wheel

By Deonna Kelli Sayed

In  2012, I traveled to a country that had recently split into two. It was the last trip abroad I would take as a married woman, the last time I would spend with Zalmay as my husband.

I didn’t know this yet.

I arrived in Sudan with my eight-year-old son, Ibrahim; a year after South Sudan had become the world’s newest country.  Zalmay was the United Nations Resident Representative, an equivalent to an ambassador post. We were to join him in Sudan as soon as the youngest stepson graduated from high school in the spring.

The trip occurred a week after I had received the advance reading copies of my first book, a book about America’s fascination with ghosts.  The trip occurred as I was collapsing into pieces, struggling to solve my personal hauntings.

I had recently started to ache; a phantom pain, something between an itch and thick of type of heat. In efforts to ignore it, I organized closets, wrote long and insecure journal entries, and cleaned my 2500 hundred square foot home. No matter what I did, this ache was always present: like a soft spark that ignited when air made contact with my body.  The feeling was somewhat ethereal, and yet, it sat in my throat. The ache tasted like the wrong life, like I had somehow swallowed an accidental story. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, suicide

Life After My Son’s Death

August 16, 2017
suicide

CW: This essay discusses depression and suicide. If you or someone you know needs helps now, you should immediately call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or call 911. You can also text CONNECT to 74174. Every life matters.Every life matters.

By Kellie Julia

“13 Reasons Why”

My son was 31 when he left, he had suffered through some illness in the past 10+ years both physically and mentally. Sadly these things combined with life’s daily struggles led him to make the decision to end his life. I feel like the spirit does live on after physical death and I like to think he can hear me when I talk to him but there isn’t much I wouldn’t give to be able to hug him one more time.

There has been so much controversy over the series “13 reasons why”. It came out within weeks of my sons death, I watched it. My daughter watched it. We talked about it together, we talked about it with friends. It didn’t focus just on suicide it touched on some pretty real and serious issues for young adults.  Drug and alcohol use, peer pressure, bullying, date rape, homosexuality, mental illness, abuse, neglect, self esteem and so much more.  I feel that it opens the door for parents to start important conversations with their children.

I didn’t feel like it glamourized or romanticized the main character’s suicide.  Suicide is not glamorous or romantic. I saw it first hand and for me it was dark, horrifying, lonely, sad and final.

The series actually helped put some things about suicide into perspective for me.  There was nothing in particular that I solely did or did not do or anything in particular that anyone else solely did or did not do to directly cause my son to end his life. He didn’t list 13 specific reasons why he did it but I know that it was an accumulation of many things over many years packaged into his body and mind and that package became just too heavy for him to carry.  Am I saying “Hey everyone when life gets too hard just kill yourself” of course not. My life has not always been easy, your life has not always been easy and we are still here. But it did help me take a step towards not blaming myself for my sons death and neither should any of you. Continue Reading…

domestic terrorism, Guest Posts

On the Aftermath of a Homemade Bomb

August 14, 2017
bomb

By Jessica Handler

When I was in my twenties, the house I shared with roommates in Arlington, Massachusetts was vandalized with a Molotov cocktail. This was the mid-1980s. The bomb was made of a small Pepsi bottle, a washcloth, and a burning match. The incendiary fluid was probably rubbing alcohol or gasoline.

What happened was this: on a sunny afternoon, my roommates and I heard a thud at the front door, and then we smelled smoke. I don’t remember running to the foyer. I do remember standing by the door as the cop took our report. I felt stunned and weirdly exposed, although I was fully dressed. A synagogue in the neighborhood had been hit a few days earlier, he told us.

The cop taking the report didn’t know why we were targeted. We were the renters on the top two floors, the homeowners lived on the first. I don’t recall if all the roommates’ names were on the mailbox, and anyway, only two of the names of the seven people in the house were identifiably Jewish. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Marriage

A Good Marriage

August 11, 2017
marriage

by Marlena Fiol

We’re sitting around a Formica table at a booth in one corner of the Café in the Galesburg, Illinois train station. A faint stench of rancid grease hangs in the air. Barry Manilow’s otherwise velvety voice whines from a tinny speaker above our heads. Part of a rusty spring hangs out of a gash in the brown vinyl seat cover next to me.

Without looking up from her tray, the waitress places four tall plastic cups of water on the table in front of us.

“Can you please bring him a smaller cup?” I ask, nodding at our 4-year old. Only Stefan’s blond mop of hair and greenish-blue eyes peer over the top of the table. His sister, four years older and always his little mother, is trying to convince him to sit in a booster.

“It’s OK, Shareen, he’ll reach his food,” Steve says, gently laying a hand on our daughter’s arm.

Steve and I place our orders and ask for hamburgers and fries from the Kid’s Menu for the children.

“Look, Stefan,” Shareen says. “See how you can make airplanes with these napkins?” The two of them, heads bent over a pile of paper napkins she has ripped out of the rusty metal container, enter their own make-believe world.

I glance at my husband sitting next to me, slightly slouched, hands in his lap. The dark gray sweater, the one I gave him for Christmas four years ago – or was it six? – bags at his elbows.

In the booth next to us sits a couple carrying on an animated conversation. I watch the young woman leaning in toward her partner, laughing brightly. “I could hardly wait to tell you about …” I turn away, swallowing hard against something that remains stuck in my throat.

The waitress brings our food. Shareen breaks Stefan’s burger into little pieces. Steve cuts into his steak to check for doneness. The silence between us feels like air in a coffin, and I wonder when it was that we ran out of things to talk about. I stare into my bowl of chili, pushing the clumps of beans around with my spoon.

We met ten years earlier. I was 19, and had just arrived in the U.S. from Paraguay, South America, where my parents were Mennonite missionaries. Seven years older and wiser, Steve guided me through the strangeness of American flush toilets and traffic lights. I was safe with him.

The sixties were coming to an end, but we continued to ride the wave of their spirit. We filled our home with the sounds of Dylan and Baez, but also Brubeck and Brahms and Coltrane. Despite our relative poverty, we traveled to India, Europe, and South America. He sang opera. I studied French. Our kitchen was a favorite among our friends, always simmering with the latest gourmet recipes coming together. We made two healthy babies. Ours was a good marriage. Everyone said so.

But is good really enough? Is it asking too much to want a life partnership that provides more than safety and kindness? To want a partner who has the courage to put his hand into my heaped-up heart and, passing over all of the pathetic things that he can’t help but see there, draw out into the light all of the beautiful and radiant things that no one else has looked quite deeply enough to find?

I watch my husband now, contentedly chewing on his steak in the booth next to me; and our children who, having lost interest in their hamburgers, are back to making paper airplanes. They are my world, these three. The family I dreamed of as a child, when my parents were busy doing the Lord’s work.

My precious family.

Steve notices me looking at him and slowly raises one brow. His kind brown eyes seem to ask, “Is there something wrong?”

A shudder crawls down along my spine and I shake off the almost unthinkable, terrifying notion that in the midst of all of this serenity, something really is wrong. Almost unthinkable because, after all, ours is a good marriage. Everyone says so.

I shake my head. “How’s your steak, honey?” I ask, taking a small bite of my chili, which has grown cold.

Marlena Fiol, PhD, is a globally recognized author, scholar, and speaker specializing in personal transformation. Her significant body of published books and articles on the topic, coupled with her own raw identity-changing experiences, makes her uniquely qualified to write about deep change. For more information please go to www.marlenafiol.com

 

Join The Manifestation Retreat: Manifesting Under The Tuscan Sun. Sep 30-October 7, 2017.. Email retreats@jenniferpastiloff.com or click the picture above.

 

 

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Donate to the Aleksander Fund today. Click the photo read about Julia, who lost her baby, and what the fund is.

Guest Posts, love, Mental Health, sisters

Piece

July 28, 2017
beaten

CW: This essay discusses sexual assault. If you or someone you know has been assaulted, find help and the resources you need by calling the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-4673, or visit www.RAINN.org.

Note: most names have been changed.

By Noreen Austin

Gere’ December 1993

My sister Gere’(Jer-ray) has been missing from her North Hollywood, California group home for several days. Raoul, her counselor, a stocky man, coiled with a black belt in martial arts, has the skills to survive in this socioeconomic oppressed part of town. He cares for the mentally disabled. His home is a place of refuge in hopelessness. But he can’t keep Gere’ safe after all, and he files a missing person’s report with Los Angeles County.

My father calls me in my Northern California home from his apartment in Southern California and explains, “She was badly beaten.” The police had interviewed Gere’. They told Raoul they had never seen anyone so severely beaten and still able to walk.

“She wasn’t taken to the hospital?” I ask.

“She bolted before the ambulance got there.” My father says.

Gere’ is 29-years old, has Tuberous Sclerosis, a gene mutation that causes tiny benign tuber-like tumors to grow onto the ends of the synapses in her brain. Autism, learning disabilities, hyperactivity, anger and defiance behavioral problems, ash-leaf shaped skin pigmentations, and seizures are a few of the symptoms of this condition. Some people with TS don’t have seizures. But Gere’s started when she was eighteen months. Each seizure causes brain lesions, which contributes to her cognitive decline. It’s easy for me to understand her confusion. The police are there to arrest bad people. The police are talking to her. It’s when the police leave the room to get some information from Raoul that Gere’ runs. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, memories, Sexual Assault/Rape

Freshman Orientation

July 26, 2017
memory

CW: This essay discusses sexual assault. If you or someone you know has been assaulted, find help and the resources you need by calling the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-4673, or visit www.RAINN.org.

By Shannon Brazil

All those parenting cliches you hear, it goes by in the blink of an eye and its over before you know it. I hate to tell you, but they’re all true. Five minutes ago our firstborn stood between my husband and me holding our hands and we swung her into the air. One, two, three, wee. Now, the oldest of four, fourteen years old, she walked in front of us wearing my old Doc Martins. From the actual 90s. Her hair, long bleached blonde. Day-glo blue at the tips. The three of us pushed through the double doors of her high school and the sign that read, Freshman Orientation Night.

Inside the building there were glossy linoleum floors. Florescent lights overhead. And the bright, boundless energy of teen volunteers. We handed maps. Maps that were highlighted in pink to mark popular sites like the caf and the gym. My stomach pulled into tight twisted knots. Knots that made sense. The grief of babyhood to childhood to adulthood. All wrapped up in my daughter. Except not.

Except a hard something clogged the back of my throat somewhere near the cafeteria. I fished a cough drop out of the bottom of my bag. Told myself to get a grip. On the down-low I joked with my husband about how much I hated high school. My husband was an A student. Me, I barely made it through. Head in the clouds, my grade school teachers said. Doesnt apply herself, they said in high school. Late-bloomer, the guidance counselor had hoped. But she wasn’t making any promises. Lucky for my kids, I was a mom who defended the dreamy late bloomers of the world. I would help teach each one of them how to apply themselves in their own good time. Continue Reading…

Grief, Guest Posts

Instructions

July 24, 2017
wait

By Meg Weber

I. Before

Wait for the elevator to open, the green one in the lobby of the hospital where she gave birth to you. Wait for the doors to close, buttons to light up, the soft rise of the lift and the faint ding of arrival. On the sixth floor, walk the sterile hallway to the same room she was in last time. Brace yourself to see her, frail and exhausted, curled up in her hospital bed.

Wait for her eyes to peek open just long enough to notice you before she returns to fitful sleep. Feel your veins pulse with more emotion than you want to swim through. Wait for her to wake up again or for the shift change. Wait until you can’t bear to wait anymore.

Turn your attention to the view: forested hills to the north, evergreens for miles. Watch cumulous clouds drift across the bluest blue sky. Notice contrast and light. Feel hope and despair. Take photos of the clouds to add to this week’s study of darkness and light strewn across the spring skies of Portland.

Send a photo of the slightest wisp of a cloud to the person who carries you through your grief. Tell her it reminds you of your last time together. Wait for her text reply. Hope that this one won’t be swallowed in the ether but will arrive like an arrow of compassion sent directly to your heart. Continue Reading…

Grief, Guest Posts, Letting Go

The Seven Stages of Alone

July 23, 2017
alone

By Jenna Tico

Like most roads to hell, it is paved with vision boards. Watered with four-dollar wine, and the metaphorical blood of the men who have “wronged you.” There is at least one volume of sad poetry; probably bought on impulse while waiting in line at the bookstore, impossibly dense text in one hand (“I’ll finally have time to read Kafka!”) and a cheap spiral notebook in the other. Later, you will label this your “INTENTION JOURNAL,” and stare at it each night before going to bed; with every intention of cataloging your intentions, but instead, watching four hours of Lifetime original movies. Which like most roads to hell, are paved with vision boards.

Stage One: Shock

It’s a Nicholas Sparks world, and we’re all just buying tampons in it; and at some point, you probably meant to be here. You probably caught a movie (or twelve) that taught you that, to live the life of your dreams, you must have one of two things:

  1. an easily accessible window, should John Cusack arrive with a boombox, or
  2. a self-induced period of solitude in your twenties; preferably in a rent-controlled apartment; preferably one with exposed brick.

And at some point, the sea of boyfriends inevitably parts; in its place, their echoey chorus of “I’m just not ready” and the expanse of that which you always thought you thought you wanted: Alone. With no end in sight. A space that, while sanctioned by sitcom, remains exhaustingly absent from the cultural consensus on womanhood. Everyone tells you to spend time alone. No one seems to understand, nor believe, that you are.  That the beast of your life leading up to this point, every dream you had for the people you’d loved, has sunk its teeth into your apartment. Noticeably absent of exposed brick. Likely missing several essential qualities, such as street parking, and glue. Continue Reading…

Forgiveness, Guest Posts

Not Quite Forgiveness, a Yoga Story

July 21, 2017
forgiveness

“I have lost friends, some by death…others by sheer inability to cross the street.”
― Virginia Woolf

By Nina Gaby

It was with the best of intentions that I shut down my old life as a Clinical Nurse Specialist in upstate New York and packed up my family and got a quick prescription for Paxil and clonazepam and became an innkeeper in a small village in Vermont. Let it now be known that if you need two prescriptions to convince yourself that what you’re doing is right you might want to take another glance at it. Instead I went to a psychic in a strip mall and interpreted her words as confirmation (what she really said was light some white candles, take a bath with herbs, and think on it.) And while I fully understand I’m using this as a seductive hook here–after all who hasn’t at one time considered the cliché of running away to a simpler life of baking scones and turning down crisp bed sheets and not only smelling the roses but actually having time to grow them–that isn’t really the story.

The story is that for the past fifteen years I have been angry that the story fell apart. As it unraveled into petty interpersonal and not so petty financial conflicts, the small community we had moved to took sides. Think wrong table in junior high school cafeteria. We were not only collateral damage from 911 and eventually lost the inn, our life savings in one of the tech industry debacles, my mom, my dog and the old friend who lived across the road in our new village dismissed me in a way that felt cruel and confuses me to this day. I still feel shame for sounding like such a victim, as it was likely the victimhood that put us at disadvantage in our community in the first place.

Forgiveness has never been a consideration, anger being my stronger suit. Sometimes forgiveness is not even an option, even though we want to believe it is, as if we have more control than we really do. And that’s the real story. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Young Voices

The Lonely Soda Can

July 19, 2017
soda

Note from Jen Pastiloff, founder of The Manifest-Station. This is part of our Young Voices Series for Girl Power: You Are Enough. We are always looking for more writing from YOU! Make sure you follow us on instagram at @GirlPowerYouAreEnough and on Facebook here.

By Daniella Pozo

The other day I was waiting for the train, minding my own business and worrying about my hair. It was puffy and frizzy and I was convinced that everyone was judging me for me. Hell, I was judging myself for it. After I gave up on trying to make it seem like I didn’t just wake up, I started looking at the people around me on the platform as I usually do.

There was a man in a colorful jacket, glasses and short cropped salt and pepper hair. He looked lively even in his old age and I guessed that he was listening to jazz in his ear buds. There was a little boy and a woman with him. He had on a black coat and a hat with cartoon characters on it. I could tell he was a sweet boy because he kept smiling and going on about how much he loved the women accompanying him. There was a woman with wet curly hair and a black bag in her hand, concentrating hard on her Snapchat stories and selfies.

When the train came I sat next to the Snapchat-crazed women and her annoyingly loud videos. I popped in my headphones and started listening to The Killers. I stared at the nose piercing of the women in front of me. Mentally comparing the nose ring size and shape to that of my sister’s. Continue Reading…

Addiction, Guest Posts, No Bullshit Motherhood, parenting

Poison In My Home

July 16, 2017
poison

By Kirsten Wasson

There is poison in my home. And the poison is my son.  My one and only child—Jonah, my soulful-eyed, shy-smiling son who paints landscapes of rocks that seem to have opinions, empty shimmering roads, and mounds of land floating in green fields rippling on the canvas. My son, an actor-hopeful who, with no help from anyone managed to get himself a manager for acting, a contract with L.A. Models. Jonah, my only living family–only child of an only child of only children, my blood, heart, and soul. My poisoned and poisonous son.

Maybe the poison is the reason my hands are shaking. Maybe it’s the reason I walk around and around my apartment like an addict looking for where he hid his last pill. Maybe the poison is the reason I keep wanting to get to CVS to buy bleach and then wash my son’s dingy gray-white  shirts; I want to make something clean.

It is the week of Thanksgiving.

It’s been exactly a year since Jonah came to the full realization that all the memories and dreams about his father touching him when he was about 3 are accurate. A year ago, Jonah flew to Syracuse, New York for Thanksgiving at his dad and stepmom’s house. He spent three days there. Then he got back on the plane, and ordered a drink–after having been stone cold sober for two years and eight months. Working the steps in a rehab, and then a sober living community, and then moving on, out into a relationship with Anna, and working in a rehab. After all that, he just got on the plane and ordered a drink.

Jonah didn’t tell me about the drink on the plane; he told Anna, and said that he thought he was able to have a drink with her now and then. She was naïve; she didn’t understand addiction. She loved Jonah. He said he wanted to be able to have the occasional drink with her, that he’d decided he could drink like a “regular person.”  And so, Anna drank like the regular person she was, while he drank like an addict, keeping bottles in his backpack and on the grounds of their apartment complex. He was also consuming pot most of the day, though she didn’t know.

One night Jonah got furiously angry at something small and then furiously sad at something small and, Anna told me later, he said in a wild, quiet voice that he’d realized in Syracuse that his dad had molested him. “I knew it when I got in the car with him at the airport.  When I looked in his eyes.”

Anna repeated this to me a month and a half later; she called me just as I was getting into the elevator at school in Westwood where I taught English as a Second Language.

“I have to talk to you.” Anna’s usually low, gravelly voice was squeaking.

“Hold on. I’m getting into the elevator. Is Jonah OK?”

“Not really. Call me back.”

I rode the elevator down, imagining he’d lost his job as an R.A. at the rehab, or they’d gotten into a bad fight. I walked out of the building and across the alley to the Westwood Village Memorial Cemetery where there were benches for me to sit, and where no one but the dead could hear the conversation. Anna started with some background, about having been at her wit’s end with his recent behavior–mood swings, violent nightmares, and general erratic behavior.

“And he’s drinking. All the time.”

“What?! When?” I was shocked. He was, as far as I knew, completely sober.

“Since Thanksgiving.  Since Syracuse.”

“What?!”

“Kirsten, that’s not even the point. Jonah told me something. Those nightmares he’s having…they’re about something…that happened to him.”

It was about 4:30 on a hot L.A. February afternoon, and the graveyard was just getting cool, as the sun lowered and the sprinklers came on. I stood up and walked to a spot near the wall of famous dead, Marilyn Monroe among them. It had surprised me that Marilyn didn’t have a mausoleum in the cemetery; just one square in a bank of lost lives. But she did, every day, have fresh flowers, jammed into the alabaster cup by her name and dates.

“I don’t know what you are saying.”

“Jonah made me promise not to tell you.”

“I’m sure he did, but I need you to tell me.” I could feel that she wanted to tell me but felt loyal to Jonah. Anna and I did like each other and, to some extent, trusted one another.

“The dreams about being hurt. When he was little. Those are real.”

I remembered an awkward conversation with Anna a few months earlier; Jonah was working the night shift at the rehab center, and she and I went to a movie and had Chinese food.  She seemed both listless and worried, not like her usual tough, lively self.  She told me that Jonah had bad dreams about being chased or attacked, and would wake up flailing his arms, even trying to hit her. I listened but couldn’t really hear it, and I shelved it in some drawer of my brain. But now I remembered the conversation, my own uncomfortable-ness, and my thinking Anna was whining.

“Someone hurt him?” That made sense. Nine years of wondering why my son was so troubled, so angry, and a drug addict in and out of four rehabs. I had a cold, clarifying feeling I’d just been slipped a piece of paper with an essential clue. I got off the bench and started to stride across the graves, their wet, glistening grass.

“Was he…abused? Like, molested?”

“Yes. And he knows who.”

For a second I thought. “His dad. Is it Art?” A bizarre conclusion, but I was spinning, and reaching toward what made no sense, and what might just make perfect sense.

She was quiet.

“If it was his dad, Anna, then say nothing.”

Anna said nothing.

It felt like a thin, silver snake slithered inside my bloodstream, moving from my head, down my neck, into my heart cavity. Around me, the sprinklers were shuddering, rhythmically spraying into the air. The bottom 4 inches of my slacks were soaked. I was shocked, but not that surprised that Art had molested our son. I couldn’t have known back when it was happening because it didn’t happen when Art and I were still in the house together. I realized that, tried assuring myself with the idea that because I didn’t know, this was not as horrible as it was.

Here’s the “sense” it made: my ex-husband had been emotionally sadistic to me, and our sex life consisted of me tolerating a number of things I hated. I never once climaxed with him in ten years, and he didn’t care; I was, he told me, “frigid.”  There was also the glaring fact that Jonah had had a lot of intense tantrums from three to four whenever Art came to pick him up. I had thought the tantrums were about the divorce and separation anxiety. My therapist said it was normal. More things fell into place, including the baby talk Jonah used after returning to my house.

Three weeks after Anna told me, I brought it up with Jonah, despite Anna’s request that I not. I had to hear it from my son’s mouth, and know what he was feeling. We were in Woodland Hills, sitting on a bench outside of Trader Joe’s.

“Please don’t be mad at Anna, but she told me what you remembered. Or realized. About your childhood. When you were little.”

Jonah stood up, walked stiffly and swiftly around the bench. “I can’t fucking believe she told you that.” Then he threw himself on the bench. He looked away from me, down Ventura Boulevard, his long legs crossed at the ankles, his arms folded in a white t-shirt, his profile so defined: large forehead, long eye-lashes, full lips, and strong jaw. So like my mother’s, I often thought.  Without turning toward me, he said,

“Well so now that you know. Can you imagine that Dad would do that?”

“I can.”

He asked me a few questions about why I could, and I told him, without too many details. Still not looking at me, Jonah commanded: “Do not say a single word to Dad. Not a word. I would lose it. And become crazy.”

“Okay, Jonah,” I nodded.

A few days later, I found a therapist specializing in trauma, and Jonah saw her for a few visits and then stopped. She’d told him she needed him to be sober. Jonah was drinking, and also—although Anna didn’t know nor did I, imbibing pot all day.  By May, he’d lost his job at the rehab, and Anna had thrown him out. I didn’t blame her; he was yelling all the time, and punched a few holes in their walls. He was driving drunk.  He was poisoned and poisonous.

A funny thing about Jonah is that he always gets work, and always works hard. So, he got a certificate as a security guard, faked the drug test somehow, and got a job at L’Hermitage, a luxury hotel in Beverly Hills.  For four months, he lived in air b’ and b’s with four beds in a room or hostels, and worked nights at the L’Hermitage. When he spotted a celebrity, he’d text me. Escorted Tom Cruise and crew down elevator. Seemed nice. A lot of fillers in that face.” I’d get messages on my phone under my pillow as I was falling asleep. “Saw Cher fall down in the hall. Completely drunk. Pretty like a ghost.” I’d squeeze the phone in my palm until it started to sweat. My boy. At least he’s in touch. He is working. My son was damaged and in pain and I could do nothing.

Jonah was twenty-four years old, financially self-sufficient. I couldn’t make him go back to rehab, and he wasn’t even admitting that the drinking and pot were a problem.  I thought about Jonah all the time during that summer and saw him every few weeks. His affect ranged from forced smiles, “It’s all good, Mom,” to raging about Anna to crying about her. He shut me down when I brought up the molestation. He lost his contract with his modeling agency, and his acting manager was clearly almost done with Jonah because he missed appointments, and probably his auditions were lousy.

After years and years of therapy and Al-Anon, I know I can’t guide my son. I kept mumbling to myself the one Al-Anon slogan I could almost stomach, “Let Go and Let God.” Sometimes I prayed. Sometimes I hoped he’d get caught driving high and go to jail. Sometimes I thought about buying a gun and getting on a plane to Syracuse. I mean really thought about it. I looked up gun shops and the rules about purchasing a weapon in California.

In October I went to Chicago for a work conference, and let Jonah stay in my apartment and use my car; I was still thinking I should do things to help him. I was still in denial.  When I called to see how things were going, he screamed at me for checking up on him.

“What the fuck is wrong with you?! Leave me alone, Mom!”

“I’m worried about you driving when you’re tired and…maybe high?”

“I have a life, Mom. Or I’m trying to. Leave me the fuck alone.” He hung up.

I realized I’d made a mistake by letting him stay in my place and use my car, but all I could do was to ask God, who I wasn’t sure I believed in, to not let Jonah die.

When I returned, my apartment was a mess. Mad, worried, but not yet aware that Jonah’s life was close to imploding, I swept and swabbed and folded laundry. And then I found the piece of paper stuck in the couch that listed the drugs he’d bought, how much they cost, and the days he’d bought them. I recognized “Ox” for Oxycotin, but didn’t know “Roxies,” “Norco,” or “Girlfriend.”  He was doing opiates and cocaine.

***

Lucky to be alive, my son. Jonah does not feel lucky. He feels, he told me recently, “tainted.” I never heard him use that word before, and it’s not one I’d imagine him using. “I never feel clean, Mom. No one knows what I really look like–on the inside.”  I wanted to tell him he was beautiful and clean and good on the inside, but I don’t know what it feels like to be molested by a parent when you’re three years old. I don’t know how you carry a secret—one that you don’t even know the meaning of—for years, then find it inside dark dreams and feel it within yourself like a heavy, aching weight that will not let you go.

***

When, in late October after my Chicago trip, I told him I had found the scrap of paper, he shut me down. Into my cell phone I spoke sharply but still trying to sound like a person who understood him, telling him I knew he was doing pills and cocaine.

“I think you probably want me to know, Jonah. You left that paper for me to find…don’t you think?

“I fucking did not. You think you are so fucking smart. Have me all figured out. You don’t even know what that paper meant.”

“I looked up the things I didn’t know.”

“Aren’t you a genius, Mother.”  I don’t know who hung up first.

Every day I worried. Every day I tried to lead the life of the normal. I succeeded about twenty percent of the time. Most days I floated blankly through my new job as a counselor at a high school, then grocery shopping, yoga, talking to friends on the phone, making dinner, lying on the couch for hours watching tv. I got especially attached to “American Horror Story,” where the evil spirits, self-mutilation, and toxicity resonated.

Then in the middle of November, we had a conversation about his “tapering off.” Jonah called around ten one night from L’Hermitage on his cigarette break. I was still up, very alert, as I’d been waiting for months for this call.

“I know I can’t do this any longer, Mom.  I want to stop the opiates. I know I can; I did it before, right?! I’ll taper off. I am tapering off, actually.”

“Right. But before–you were in rehab, taking suboxone, that helped with the cravings, and you had around-the-clock professional care.”

“I want to quit, Mom. I’m already down to half of what I was using the last few months.”

Wanting to believe him, I said he could stay at my house the week of Thanksgiving—for 6 nights. During that time he would decide if he were going to go to rehab again or not. Monday he’d have to leave—for rehab or back to one of crappy hostels where he’d been staying.

The first few days I cleaned up his addled messes around my apartment after he left for work at noon, and then watched my favorite show. Scenes of carnage and violence—a decapitated witch spewing racist epithets, a couple having sex in a filthy hotel room, both aware of a stinking corpse in the bathtub, a woman gouging out her own eyes with a kitchen knife—these scenes kept me steady.

On Thanksgiving, Jonah and I went out to dinner. We both dressed up.

His pants wouldn’t stay up because he’d lost so much weight. I gave him my belt. I drove us  to a place I’d seen in a local magazine that looked classy and funky. The waitress flirted with him–as every waitress has ever done since Jonah was around nineteen. Jonah was warm and funny and sweet to me. He asked me about work, and whether I ever thought I’d meet the right man and how much that mattered to me. I didn’t flinch when he ordered a beer. And then I ordered a glass of wine. My salmon was perfectly grilled. On the way out, I asked the flirty waitress to take a photo of us.

It was like getting to see the sunlight after months inside somewhere cold and dark. I bathed in the strange grace of our being out to dinner together–a mother and son on a holiday–a bath made of milk and honey and normalcy. For the hour and a half we were out together, I did not think about whether Jonah would choose to go to rehab. I did not think about the fact that this was the anniversary of his recognizing that his father had molested him, and his starting to use again.

He had the couch, and I went to sleep in my bed for a few hours. I woke to hear the TV blaring.  I came out, and Jonah had fallen sleep in his clothes on the top of the sheets and blanket I’d left for him. His phone was right by my foot. I turned off the TV, and unlocked his phone; his password was his birthday. So I saw then, that earlier the same day he’d contacted someone to buy “chrissy.” That, I found out online–back in my bedroom–was crystal meth. And from what I could see on his phone, he’d been doing it for months.

I should have known: the weight loss, the staying up all night driving around after the hotel job, a certain hollow look in his eye. I should have noticed that hollow look. But he’d had not that look before, because he’d never done meth before. I pulled the covers off my bed and lay down in a hard nest on the floor next to my son. He was completely still on the couch.  I listened  to him breathe, thought of him breathing in his crib at two. Sometimes I slept on the floor next to him back then. His breathing calmed me, and I didn’t want to sleep next to Art. Now Jonah was sweating, and occasionally moaning. Eventually I went back to my bed because I saw we were both ghosts of our former selves, and if I were going to be the parent I better get sleep.

And although I intended to confront him in the morning. I could not. I thought he might run away if he knew I’d discovered the crystal meth. I needed time to think, to talk to someone else. There were three days until Monday. So I let him sleep late, shower, go to work. “Bye, Mom. See you tonight.”

Jonah leaves my apartment with a furtiveness that makes me nauseous. I feel the wet heat coming out my eyes. Then I pick up Jonah’s clothes, turn his pockets inside out. I look in his toiletry bag but find only toothpaste and floss. There is poison in my house, and the poison is my son, his pain, his attempt to numb his pain. My blood, my heart and soul. Now I know: My meth-addicted son. I walk around and around my apartment like an addict looking for his last bit of dope, last sources of known relief. My poisoned and poisonous boy.

Kirsten Wasson works as a college counselor at a high school in Los Angeles; four years ago she left a job as an English professor in Ithaca, New York, to move to LA and begin her life over at the age of 50. For many years she wrote a blog about the experience (www.lostandlaughinginla.wordpress.com), and she is now finishing a memoir on the subject. Kirsten has previously published a book of poetry with Antrim House Press, and her non-fiction pieces appeared in The Ithaca Times for ten years. Active in the L.A. storytelling scene, she recently won a “Best Of 2016” at the SHINE storytelling venue in Santa Monica.

Join The Manifestation Retreat: Manifesting Under The Tuscan Sun. Sep 30-October 7, 2017.. Email retreats@jenniferpastiloff.com or click the picture above.

 

 

Join Jen Pastiloff at her signature workshop in Atlanta at Form Yoga on Aug 26 by clicking the picture.

 

Donate to the Aleksander Fund today. Click the photo read about Julia, who lost her baby, and what the fund is.

Abuse, Guest Posts

Fool Me Twice

July 14, 2017
fool

CW: This essay discusses domestic violence.

By Zoë Brigley Thompson

So a student e-mails me. She works at a domestic violence shelter, and she has a question.

Many of the women I meet, she writes, have been abused not once but multiple times by different people. But why?

I think about the problem logically. I see what she is thinking – how perhaps without realizing it, she is shifting the blame from the abusers to the women. I send her a study from the Department of Justice on “repeat victimization.” I point out the victim-blaming. I do not say that I know repeat victimization very well. I keep the personal to myself.

There is a well-known saying: Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me, and it applies so well to what people think about repeat victimization. But this framing of victims as masochistic is just another way for abusers to excuse responsibility. People often ask about victims of intimate partner violence, Why didn’t they just leave? But they don’t understand the emotional and psychological power that abusers have over their victims, especially in repeat victimization. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Self Image, Self Love

Loveless at 34

July 12, 2017
garbage

By Shauna Lange

The day I found out I was having a heart attack, was a day like any other.  Other than the radiating pain in my arm and chest every time I moved, it was a fairly average day.  I smoked my two cigarettes on the way to work.  I typed my spreadsheets, drank my coffee, enjoyed some laughs with friends, binged at every meal, and smoked my last 2 cigarettes on the way to my second job.  Most importantly, I spent a good portion of the day internally bullying myself for every calorie, every mistake and bullshit excuse, with the good old stand-by “I’ll just try again tomorrow” – rationalizing every ugly moment.

Since complete self-loathing accompanies the decision to eat a few too many McDonald’s french fries, sans ketchup (to save some calories) you can only imagine my emotional state when the ER doctor came to me later that evening.  With a look of shock on her face, she told me that I was having a heart attack. As the tears streamed down my face, with a gaggle of hospital staff staring at me, paralyzed by my meltdown, I realized how truly broken I was.

I felt rejected by my own body.  How could it do this to me?  Stupid heart.  Lazy ass.  Ugly idiot. Fucking food addict.  I stayed up all night in the hospital in this state of anger and loss. I cried or I berated myself.  I sat there for hours and tried to figure out all the things I had done that lead me to that moment.  The years of poor eating and binging, the avoidance of exercise over the last year, the decision to take myself off my diabetes meds while putting myself on birth control to avoid my fear of pregnancy, all the way to the final cigarette I tried to have in the car as I drove myself to the hospital with pain shooting from my chest to my arm.

March 22, 2017 was my day of reckoning.  It was time to pay for my sins.  At 34 years of age, I was now confronted with the reality that all aspects of my life needed to change.  Each health issue needed to be addressed; each coping mechanism needed to be taken away and replaced with something healthy.  And while I had spent the last four years of my life making some healthy strides emotionally and physically, it was time to take off the kid gloves and dig into the mess.  Quit smoking, control my diabetes, exercise, and most importantly, finally deal with my compulsive eating.

I spent the first few weeks after getting out of the hospital lost.  For me, it’s been difficult not to blame my own actions for my heart attack.  “If only.”  The words circled around in my brain every day. While I was able to quit smoking and start exercising fairly easily, the food continues to be a struggle.  For the last 15 years, binging has been a way of life.  Food is used to celebrate or mask all emotion.  Hating myself for eating is an automatic response.  Choosing to eat poorly is easy, and frankly, safe and comforting.  Once that food is shoved into my mouth, an insult immediately follows.  With each bite I take, I berate myself, and imagine years of fast food piled on top of each other, an impenetrable wall in my stomach while the self-hate has created a wall around my heart so I feel loveless.  No love can get in, and no love will come out.

Where did my love go?  I don’t have problems expressing love, or cheering people up.  In fact, making people laugh is my favorite thing about life.  Making someone truly laugh is powerful.  So, why do I stop the love from penetrating my heart?  Where is my self-compassion, my patience, my own truth?  Even when people asked me how I was doing, I replied very upbeat and excited and made sure to reassure them that I was good.

I finally admitted to myself that I failed.  Not at losing the weight, or taking care of myself, or listening to the experts, or any of the shit the world throws at you.  I failed at loving my body, inside and out.  I became loveless at 34. “You gotta love yourself first” they say, right?  Fuck that. You have to love period. I realized that so often, I’m not actually sad or mad or angry.  I THINK I need to feel this way.  That my life should have some drama in it, or it’s not worthy.  But when I asked myself – “Worthy of what?”  – I came up with a lot of bullshit and decided enough was enough.  I admitted that while I can enlist the help of family, friends, doctors, nurses, nutritionists and therapists, they can’t do the work for me.  They can love me, and I can love them, but I still need to love myself.  This is starting to sound like an ad for masturbation….Let’s move on.

I admitted that regardless of the number on the scale, size of my boobs, the strength of my arms, the color of my nails, or the shininess of my hair, what is actually important to me are the beating organs that keep me alive. The gifts of the senses.  The ability to sleep and dream and wake up rested and ready to take life by the proverbial lady balls.  My body is not a garbage disposal, a punching bag, or a broken piece of glass. It’s fucking beautiful, in all its messy, fatty, sexy glory.

I may have a stent in my artery, but that just means I’m one piece closer to being bionic! I’ve got amazing bedhead.  I love my eyes, and sometimes I look at them in the mirror because the color is so unique.  If you ask me, my boobs are perfect.  I hate wearing a bra, and thankfully, my breasts are still a little perky!  My brain never stops, and while sometimes it’s exhausting, I love the constant state of randomness it’s in.

I’m learning to love the bloody, messy bleeding heart inside me.  I want to tear the wall down and build a nice soft pillow to protect it and keep it safe.  My heart is my queen, and she’s getting stronger every day.

I am beautiful, and I am fat. I have heart disease, and I am a diabetic. I am both complicated and simple.  I am love, and I am pain. I am loud and shy. We are all these amazing dichotomies and creations of our own choosing, and I am learning to embrace all the good and the bad, because I no longer want to be perfect.  I just want to be me, and as corny and cheesy as it sounds, it took breaking my heart to find the courage to accept that I want to live a life full of love.

Shauna Lange was born and raised in the Berkshires of Massachusetts. She has a BA in Psychology from Lemoyne College in Syracuse NY. While she dreamed of being a writer since she was a kid, it’s only been recently that she has allowed myself to write, and share it with the world. Shauna can be found on facebook and on instagram. She also loves photography, comedies, and the beach.

 

Join The Manifestation Retreat: Manifesting Under The Tuscan Sun. Sep 30-October 7, 2017.. Email retreats@jenniferpastiloff.com or click the picture above.

 

 

Join Jen Pastiloff at her signature workshop in Atlanta at Form Yoga on Aug 26 by clicking the picture.

 

Donate to the Aleksander Fund today. Click the photo read about Julia, who lost her baby, and what the fund is.