By Angela M Giles
By Amy Gesenhues
As of tomorrow, I will have known my husband exactly 20 years, 19 of which we’ve spent married.
I thought it was so romantic, the two of us barely old enough to file taxes, marrying exactly one-year from the day we met.
Now, I know the most romantic thing about us is that we’ve stayed married. (So far.)
Last weekend, we found ourselves yelling at each at the edge of our backyard. I walked out to ask when he was going to be finished. The weed-eater he was holding was still running. He had on plastic, see-through goggles and the noise canceling earphones he wears when he mows were around his neck.
“When I’m done,” he yelled to me over the buzz of the weed-eater.
I gave him that look. My head slightly tilted, my hands on my hips, an eye-roll then a stare.
“You’ve been out here three hours.”
I wanted to play tennis later that day and was trying to determine if I needed to feed the kids before I left, or if he could take over dinner duty.
From there the conversation went from zero to 60 in about five seconds – 60 being his utter frustration over my lack of interest in the state of our landscape.
“I’ve been out here all day, and still need to weed the front, and you’re complaining because you want to go play tennis.”
Writing it all down now, I see he had a valid point.
My husband is most fulfilled with a job well-done. He’s a big proponent of prep work, and likes to start his day by listing all the things he plans on accomplishing.
I like to play. The last thing I want to hear first thing in the morning is a list of things I have to do. I have no regrets spending a day drinking coffee, reading, staying in my robe until noon. Continue Reading…
By David Lintvedt
We called him “Satellite Mike”, but I never knew his real name. I heard that at one time he had a family, house and a good job, but all of that was taken away by alcohol and drugs. For many years he’d struggled with his addictions, and had been in and out of AA, rehabs and detoxes. By the time I met him the abuse had left him with brain damage, what we in ‘the rooms’ refer to as a wet brain, which is almost like a perpetual state of drunkenness. This condition robbed him of his ability to think clearly and this left him unpredictable: it was a little scary, but could be interesting.
I would occasionally give Mike rides to and from meetings…and although this meant that we had to ride with the windows open (as personal hygiene was not high on his list) I enjoyed talking with him, hearing stories of his drunken adventures, and the fantasies created by his sodden mind. Yet these talks also left me feeling very sad, as I could see flashes of the man he once was…before the addictions took him away.
Satellite Mike had been trying to find long term sobriety for years, but every time he would get a few weeks or months of clean time together, he would feel better and decide that his problems were not that bad, and he would go on another bender. Once he told me that he regretted not taking advantage of those opportunities to find sobriety early on, when he still had a chance; but when I knew him, he was so far gone it was hard to tell whether he was drunk or not.
We put up with Mike in the program, understanding that when he disrupted a meeting, or flipped over a table at the diner, it was because his brain was pumping out bad chemicals. As a reward for accepting Mike, we learned a lot from him as Mike was a true power of example…a warning of what was waiting for us, if we became complacent, or let our guard down…if we ever came to believe we could handle (or even deserve) our next drink or drug.
When he was going to meetings and in treatment, Mike lived in transitional housing provided by a non-profit group called Project Hospitality, whose goal it was to help people who were struggling with addiction. When he was not sticking to his program Mike would just disappear; sometimes he’d be in a hospital, once he was locked up in jail for a short stretch, other times he was just off on a bender, perhaps sleeping in the Ferry Terminal or on the streets of Manhattan. Eventually however, he would come back to the meetings, looking sheepish, asking for rides, food, cigarettes and forgiveness. He came back because he knew that there was nowhere else for him to go.
Satellite Mike was living in one of these transitional housing units when he went on his final drunk. I never learned how much of what happened was due to the amount of drugs and alcohol in his system, and how much was due to the damage already done to his brain…and in the end it really did not matter, the damage was done.
One cool and damp spring night, after being kicked out of a bar, Mike began roaming the streets of Staten Island, yelling at cars, and accosting passersby. Finally, he got it into his head to play “bull fighter” with city buses, out on Victory Boulevard; he waved his coat like a cape, and was heard yelling “Toro, Toro!” Several buses missed him, but as he leaped out of the way of one bus, he landed in the path of another bus, going the other way, and he was gone!
In the years since he died, I have often wondered if Mike meant to get hit by the bus that night, if that was the only way he saw to end the misery caused by his damaged brain, and the horror of not being able to drink without pain, while not being able to get sober either.
When he was brand new and still fell asleep to the sound of my heartbeat, he had this quilt. It was red and black and green. It had cows on it. It had been hand stitched by a librarian from Texas. He lost his umbilical cord stump on it. It bunched up under his dimpled knees while he learned to crawl. He peed on it and cried into it. Threw up strained bananas on it. I laundered it daily with Dreft in a stainless steel sink. He spilled chocolate milk on it and dragged it through the mud. The way little boys do. He laid on top of it when he had mono. He left fever sweat across a cows face. He kept a corner of it pressed against his cheek while he watched “Toy Story” and listened to his father slam me into a kitchen wall. I rescued it from the dogs mouth. I wrapped his sturdy little body in it when he ran through the house in nothing but his Scooby Doo underwear. I tucked it around his restless toddler feet at 1 am.
He loved that quilt into pieces while the world around him exploded with noise and cracked plaster. I packed the pieces away carefully just after his 5th birthday. They still smelled slightly like his hair and my Charlie perfume. He was our final baby. My last belief in something good. Conceived in a Pepto-Bismol pink bedroom, during a “cops” rerun. Summer rain hitting the windowsill. The dude next door whistling for his rottweiler. Chicken thawing on a kitchen counter. Sometime right before his 7th birthday, he found the pieces of that quilt in the bottom of a drawer. He was having nightmares with only his 14 year old sister to come in the middle of the night to comfort him. She poured his cereal. She washed his clothes. She did everything she could do. Everything in her tiny teenage power, while she sneaked smokes out a laundry room window before school. He loved her desperately. Clung to her like heated saran wrap. She didn’t smell like me. Sound like me. She wasn’t his version of a mother. She was what was left. Till he pulled remnants of a mother out of that drawer. Smelling his infant self. My perfume. Our moments together. Story and bath time. Chocolate and canned green beans. His tears and my warm skin. All of it woven into those worn pieces of cloth. He pulled those pieces out of the drawer. Began carrying them around with him. Falling asleep with them. While 40 minutes away I woke up screaming his name. My arms and heart useless entities. Broken, empty, ugly things. He carried the pieces around until they wore away to strings. He carried his dream of a mother until his father came across them. Screaming hot spittle and rage into his face. Calling him a faggot. Breaking his final belief in something good.
I signed him away with shaking cold hands and a leaky blue pen. The legal aid lawyer with the big boobs and popping buttons tried to talk me out of it. “You can have him”, She kept saying, like he was a trinket, a toy. “I don’t want him,” I replied in my court dress and tight pantyhose. “Not if getting him means destroying him.”
I took my frozen-self back out into a different world. The one where I wasn’t a Mom on a daily basis. Living in those early days didn’t mean feeling the sun on my face, or laughing in the shower. It meant combing my hair and eating food I didn’t want. Standing in line at Wal-Mart and smiling at someone else’s child. Walking to work when all I wanted to do was lay in the dark. With five comforters piled on me. Sweating and screaming. The kind of screaming that rips the throat and rattles the teeth. I wanted an oblivion. A blank space I could fill with the smells and sounds and feel of my children. A place where I could be their mother. A place where they never had to see my bruises. They say grief’s color is blue. This grief wasn’t blue. Blue is calm. This grief was a bright red. Loud and in my face. It was an endless thing with jagged edges. Blood and glass. Coating my soul like cotton candy.
I’m a good mother. I’m a good person. I didn’t deserve this. They didn’t deserve this. I didn’t cause this. The counselor told me to repeat it until I believed it. She said I could even say it in my head. But I said it out loud. I said it until my tongue was numb with it. Until the words didn’t feel like hostile strangers on a Boston subway. Until I could smile at other people’s children and mean it. I repeated the words when I woke up at 4:01 am with my nightgown twisted and stuck to my back with sweat. When I had to turn on every light in the house to chase away the jagged edges of grief. It takes a lot of work to undo a lie you’ve been sold marinated in cruelty. A lot of patience to love yourself, when you’re all you have left.
They found him this morning. Curled up in his leather jacket. On the cold ground. Beside the swimming pool in the back yard. Next to a pile of brown melting snow. A scowl on his beautiful face. An eight dollar bottle of whiskey clutched to his chest. Next to his scars. Where a surgeon cut into him. Breaking his ribs to insert a metal rod. Trying to protect his heart. The one that had already been broken.
They found him this morning. In a pretty suburban backyard. Three hundred feet from where his father and I began. On a suburban dead end street. Where the bay windows shine and the white curtains from Macy’s hide the unsavory stains. Where the horrible and unspeakable things are things that happen to someone else’s family.
They found him this morning. My little boy. My baby. My final belief in something good. In the fetal position with that damn whiskey. Vomit in the thick hair he inherited from me. Still drunk at 9:46 am on Easter morning.
He was slapped into consciousness over a plateful of stale cinnamon rolls. His father poured the last of the whiskey down a bathroom drain and felt like a hero.
He’s going to be 21 on Saturday. Old enough to legally drink himself to death. To ruin his beautiful body and puke away his potential with a little help from Jack Daniel’s.
One older brother dying a slow, dirty death, from pancreatitis. The other believing he can fly. He can be something better. Something prettier, with the help of a little ecstasy and a 21 year old hooker he meets at a Comfort Inn. A sister with a baby of her own and an unemployed husband old enough to be the father she still craves. A mother who still wakes up screaming his name, all their names, on the bad nights. All of us as broken, as worn, as those pieces of my youngest sons quilt. His remnants of a mother.
Janine Canty is a self proclaimed word geek. She has been writing on and off for 39 years. Her work has previously appeared at Sweatpants and Coffee as well as The Manifest Station. She is a semi regular contributor to The Weeklings. She lives in Northern Maine, where she unmasks the world, one essay at a time. She can be found on Facebook. She attended Jen Pastiloff & Emily Rapp’s writing/yoga retreat in Vermont.
Brad and I met making get-out-the-vote calls for an aspiring California State Assemblyman. In the beginning, our love for each other and for the city of angels was entwined. I’d moved back to L.A. after my breakup and was happy to be home again claiming my city. Brad lived in a neighborhood I’d never known existed – a barrio recently discovered by a few hipsters from nearby Hollywood. Rival gangs tagged the apartments along his street. There was a guy we thought might be homeless who sat on a nearby wall drinking tallboys, his belly hanging over his pants. We good-morninged him and the rest of the neighbors in the determined but naïve belief that being neighborly was all it would take to get past the recent Rodney King riots.
The first time we went out was a Friday night dinner, which turned into breakfast the next morning. Saturday biking in the Santa Monica mountains turned into slow dancing in his living room that led to Sunday brunch that led to the late show of Blade Runner at the Rialto – on a school night, no less. Sunday night led us to Monday morning carpooling to work. We moved in shortly thereafter. From the start everything was easy with Brad. Even that first weekend when I’d waited for an inevitable awkwardness – when surely we would realize we needed our own space – but that moment never came.
The night he proposed, we were having dinner at one of our favorite restaurants, a kitschy Italian place on Vermont where the waiters served thin-crust pizza on tall table stands and sang opera. We were sitting in a red leather booth when he turned to me and said the very words: “Will you marry me?”
It’s all happening, I thought. Those words I’d anticipated all my life. “Yes, yes,” I said. “Of course. I love you. Yes.” Afterward, we went to the Dresden Room – a lounge next door – to toast our future over Manhattans.
But five months later, while talking with friends about our impending nuptials, he denied he’d been the one to say the words. I tried not to cry when he said it was I who’d asked him. Our friends tried to change the subject. Like a needle scratching across a record, the evening came to an abrupt halt.
Perhaps because we were so in sync about everything else, it didn’t seem to matter in the grand scheme. The proposal became like a spill of red wine on new carpet, gasp-worthy in the moment, then a fading stain you winced at only when you made yourself notice.
We planned to go to Paris for our honeymoon. We chose rings, a cake, and a wedding meal to serve to family and friends. Along with nine other couples, we went to a Making Marriage Work class that was like a version of The Newlywed Game. At one point, we were asked to switch partners and converse with the opposite-sex member of another couple. “Notice your increased heart rate with a stranger,” our teacher instructed us. “Your quickening pulse, the flirtation, the intrigue, the pressure to seduce. That’s how it was when you first met your partner, right? Remember that. Keep it alive.”
Listening to the other couples in class, we counted ourselves lucky that we didn’t have the kind of meddling parents they described. Our parents, divorced and married more than once, cast a sober eye on the whole endeavor and gave us money – an equal share from each – to do with what we wanted. By then, my mother had married and left my father for the second time. I wasn’t even telling my father about the wedding for fear he’d show up drunk.
Our class teacher, who was a marriage therapist, told us that sex, money, and not agreeing on big issues (such as having children) before the wedding were always the underlying causes of broken marriages. We wondered who would be dumb enough not to agree about the kid question before getting married? Wanting kids was something we’d talked about early. As for money, we’d already opened a joint bank account and pooled our resources. And when the teacher read (anonymously) everyone’s answers to the question of how many times we wanted sex each week, I just knew that we were the two who’d given the highest numbers. We took satisfaction in the fact that, if we’d been playing The Newlywed Game for real, we’d be winning.
On a sunny September morning, we married. Making our entrance at the same time, we descended opposite marble staircases in an historic building in the heart of downtown. I wore a dress made of vintage French lace. The candidate we’d volunteered for when we met officiated at the ceremony. We had a wedding lunch on the deck of a low-key, but trendy restaurant off Vine Street in Hollywood. Instead of rice, our friends tossed environmentally-friendly birdseed. They gave us a pair of new mountain bikes festooned with bows. And when the Chateau Marmont where we’d planned to stay for our first night of marriage – another L.A. icon – felt more like a grandmother’s dowdy guest room than the elegant suite we’d envisioned, we made our first important decision as a married couple.
The bellhop had just left. Champagne was on its way. We turned to each other and said, “Let’s leave,” in unison. We practically skipped out of the lobby, checking into the Bel Age on Sunset instead. In plushy bathrobes the next morning, enjoying breakfast on the balcony overlooking the city, we congratulated ourselves for not settling. We were elated that we each knew the other’s heart and mind so well.
* * *
Five days short of our first wedding anniversary, I’d gone to bed early. I had a big day at work the next morning – alarm clock set, my suit, shoes, and jewelry laid out. I’d left my husband in the living room watching television after bending down to kiss him goodnight.
Hours later, I remember waking with the moon shining gray-blue through the curtains. He was beside me, then over me, his randy mood obvious. He didn’t know that, in that moment, he’d reminded me of my ex—and the salty guilt I’d sometimes felt in my previous relationship when I would wake to find that other man taking off my clothes and I would go along with him just to keep the peace. Sometimes submitting timidly, victimized. Sometimes responding fiercely as if I could get back at him through sex. My husband also didn’t know how relieved I was that, in the dark of our room, I didn’t feel fear as I had with my ex. That I knew I could tell him I needed to sleep, and he would still love me.
The next morning, we were standing in the kitchen dressed and ready to go our separate ways, when I said, “I didn’t know who you were last night.”
In his starched white shirt and navy tie with the little green squares that I liked, he looked at me, startled. He’d been about to take a sip of coffee but stopped. “Why, what do you mean?”
“You know,” I said. “It was just kind of weird. You knew I had to get up early to get ready for my meeting.”
Through gold-rimmed glasses that always struck me as a Clark Kent disguise, his blue eyes searched me. He didn’t tell me then – coffee cup in hand, me on my way out the door – but he had no idea what I was talking about.
* * *
It wasn’t until after work that evening, sitting in our living room, that he told me his version of what had happened the night before. He had no recollection of coming to our room. He didn’t remember waking me. He didn’t remember me pushing him away or telling him no. I learned that morning had been like many other mornings we’d shared: him asking me questions, gathering intel, trying to piece together the previous night’s blackout. Only this time, I’d said something that scared him: I didn’t know who you were.
Then he confessed that he’d thought it would be different with me. That from that first weekend we’d stayed together, I’d become the talisman he held up to an addiction he’d been hiding since he was fifteen. He told me that after I’d gone to bed, he’d finished the wine we’d opened at dinner and then he’d finished another bottle. And then he wasn’t himself. And for the first time, I’d seen him that way.
As we sat on our Sven couch from Ikea, I looked at our wedding picture on a nearby shelf. I stared at my stupid smiling face and bouquet of gardenias. I’d been duped. I didn’t really know my husband at all. How had the child of an alcoholic, gambling, pill-popping family ignored the clues? Why hadn’t I noticed these morning interrogations as he tried to reconstruct our activities together?
Or had I? Continue Reading…
By Tammy Perlmutter.
Doll Houses. Ghetto houses. Foster homes. Group homes. Children’s homes. So many houses. So few homes.
I stand in front of a dilapidated building in an urban neighborhood. Its porch is sagging to the right, the railing on the stoop has long been broken off, leaving a jagged, rusted stump jutting up from the crumbling concrete step. The lattice work covering the basement window is leaning forward as if trying to get away while everything is quiet. The paint on the siding is slowly bubbling up and stripping off, it had long since given up trying to conceal the imperfections.
This is where my mother lives. Or rather, lived. She died a year ago, lasting longer than anyone ever thought, and longer than most of us wanted her to. The bar fights, drunken falls, car accidents, decades of liver damage, none of it had been fatal. It was pneumonia that got her in the end. It was not the dramatic demise we were all expecting.
The narrow row home was barely habitable when my mother lived there, and now it’s been condemned. I don’t know exactly why I am here, standing in front of the porch. I never lived in this house with her, just visited here a handful of times as a teen and young adult.
My mother left us with sitters to go looking for an apartment and didn’t return for days. When she finally returned, after what most people thought was a “lost weekend,” my brother and I were placed in foster care. I was not quite 5. It was a lost weekend, because I lost everything. My home, my family, what little sense of stability an alcoholic parent could provide.
By Sally Howe.
Callie finally shipped you your things in July. When we opened the boxes we saw she’d written fuck you on almost everything.
You believed that it was your mom’s fault that your sisters were not speaking to you.
On my twentieth birthday, I locked myself in the bathroom and read Emotional Vampires: Dealing with People Who Drain You Dry. You tried to coax me out, first conciliatory, then sharp, then with your fists on the door. I sat silently on the bathmat with the book tucked into my lap, nodding to myself, pretending that someone sympathetic was watching.
You kissed me on a beach at night. I took off my shoes to walk with you and the wind filled them with sand.
The year before we met I bought a tiny cactus for my dorm room. I thought, here is something I can’t possibly kill. But I did; it turned brown and tipped over and I had to throw it away. I saved the story, though, carrying it around with me like an ID: here I am, destroyer of all things.
This is a story you told me about the time you lived with Callie, then your fiancé. You were in your car, with a hooker in the passenger’s seat, driving through wintery Minneapolis at two or three in the morning. Callie heard the beep of your seatbelt being unbuckled over the phone line and asked you where you were. You shot a frozen glance at Destiny or Chastity or whatever, and into your phone, you swore that it was the microwave and that you were on your way to bed.
We met in rehab. You should have known better.
I should have known better, too. I had finally, recently, truly become one with my self-loathing. You smiled at me and it was as if no one had ever been kind to me before.
You need someone on your arm. You like having a sidekick.
I am not pretty. I am damn funny, silly and a bit quirky. Those things make me too cute, as my friends would say. I tried being pretty, but the cost was my soul. I’m fine, really fine, where I am.
My Dad, Paul Draper, is handsome. He is a classic “Steve McQueen” type. He has a sculpted chin, dark hair and green eyes. My brother David is handsome. He was a model in college. The fact that my brother was a model probably added 5 years onto the time I will spend in therapy. My mom is pretty, She has red hair and sky blue eyes. Her skin is so china bisque fair, dotted with a freckle or two.
My earliest memory of my father is him beating me till I urinated on myself. I was four, and he caught me chewing on a doll’s foot. I was in my Pj’s. He struck me until the floor was soaked in urine. He then made me mop my urine up. Continue Reading…
Hello Jen, I follow you on Facebook.
I know you are a writer and I had something that I wanted to share with people without them actually knowing it was me. I would be interested in hearing people’s opinions on my topic. I love your “don’t be an asshole” and your amazing quotes. Please do not post my name or anything, I am one of your followers but don’t want this on my page.
Okay, here it is…it probably sucks because I am not a writer but I think it just may help someone not get to this scary place…
Why Am I an Alcoholic?
I don’t know where to begin. I always use the phrase “did the chicken come before the egg or the egg before the chicken?” I know, I know…cliché right? Well I find that I feel the most insightful when I am drinking and everything seems to make complete sense or no sense at all while I am intoxicated. And, honestly, I have no idea when an easy “fun time” became this crazy journey that I am on. I am under the grips of something so incredibly powerful yet so incredibly benign in the eyes of some.
I find myself listening to comments such as “why don’t you just stop?” and “you can stop whenever you want to, but you just don’t want to.”
Truth be told…it’s not even just listening to those comments, but believing them and eventually making myself feel more guilty and miserable and partaking of my alcohol nightmare even more than the day before just to quash the guilt.
By Janine Canty
I was five or six the day I let my mother’s jade necklace fall out of a window. One minute it was there. The next it disappeared into thin air. Like a cheap magic trick It was early evening right before the streetlights come on. Homework was being cleared off of dining room tables. The ugly landing outside smelled like sausage and Del Monte carrots. Inside of apt.3, on the second floor, I was bored. Frightened and angry. Emotions cooked inside of me like soup. I couldn’t name them. I couldn’t control them. I hadn’t asked for them.
The rest of the world was getting ready for dinner. Mothers were burning palms on gravy steam. Fathers were arriving home with shirt collars loosened. Armpits an oval of sweat.
The Poop of Life or: When Guilt Masks Shame. By Debra Cusick.
When Jen asked me to write something, I thought I’d scribble about guilt because her post on that topic inspired our meeting. So, I did what any good teacher would do, and I went to see what one of my gurus, John Bradshaw, has to say on the subject. His book, Healing the Shame that Binds You, taught me that shame, disguised as toxic guilt, ruled my life. He says, “people will readily admit guilt, hurt or fear before they will admit shame.” So I’ve decided to examine the girl behind the curtain of guilt and expose my toxic shame. I’m free writing, so I have no idea how this will go.
For as far back as I can remember, I had nightmares about a boogieman in the basement closet, who’d appear out of nowhere and slowly come to get me. I could see the evil in his eyes and ran like crazy, to the foot of the stairs. As I’d get about half way to the top, everything would go into slow motion, my feet would turn into sandbags, and I’d stare in horror as his hand came closer to grasping my ankle. I’d awaken–dripping with sweat, heart pounding, ears ringing– and run to my parents bed, only to be further terrorized by my dad’s snoring that soon became the gruff voice of the boogieman, as I into and out of sleep. I couldn’t find what I needed.
Years later, as I recounted that story in group, my therapist told me “The first memory you have becomes your life script. What do you think yours is?” After thinking about it, I concluded that I had erected a “no win” agenda. If I tried to be a “big girl,” the boogieman would come for me, but seeking comfort from my parents (whom I instinctively knew not to awaken—more food for thought) just lead to more misery.
Bradshaw says, “Shame is internalized when one is abandoned. Abandonment is the precise term to describe how one loses one’s authentic self and ceases to exist psychologically.” I lost my authentic self on Sunday, September 25, 1965, when I was 10. The day my mother died. The day before, an ambulance came to our house and took her away. I had been playing in the front yard, when it arrived. I ran inside and hid behind a couch. I could see paramedics wheeling the gurney to the front door with her on it. She saw me peeking though the cushions and in a drug-induced stupor whispered, “Good-bye, Debbie.” Little did I know it would be the last time I’d ever see her.
When the hospital called that morning, I answered the phone. A voice I didn’t recognize asked to speak to my father. Shortly thereafter, he and my oldest sister left in a fury. Two hours later, when they returned, I was practicing my future cheerleader moves in the front picture window. The moment I laid eyes on my father’s face, I knew. Mother’s dead. I had no idea what death meant, but I knew she was dead.
She had explicitly requested that my seven-year-old brother and I not see her dead. She knew she was dying. She knew she had metastatic breast cancer. But I didn’t. People who are sick get better. Even if they go to the hospital, they get better and come home. But she didn’t. I never saw her again. So I sent a part of me with her. Some might say she abandoned me that day. But she didn’t. I abandoned me that day.
Something else happened that day. I decided that—upon seeing my father’s stricken face—I had to save him. I had always been a daddy’s girl, and I couldn’t have a sad dad. Right then and there, I decided I had to be perfect, so he’d have something to take the place of his grief over the loss of my mother. From that moment on, I vowed to myself that I’d make him proud and never disappoint him. Little did I know that within hours of my mother’s death, which completed the fracturing of my family of origin, I’d create two roles for myself, to mask my shame.
The next few days are all a blur, but at the party which normally follows a funeral, when everyone of Irish descent drinks away his pain and laments the dearly departed with laughter and tears, I could only imitate the adults and must have spoken too loudly or merrily because my dad leaned over to whisper for me to “knock it off,” reminding me that “we just buried your mother.”
In this one sentence, I further cemented my no-win script. If I’m happy at an inappropriate moment, I have no heart, but if I express sadness, I’m a baby (later Drama Queen or Depresso). I had disappointed my dad on the very day I had vowed to be his rescuer! SHAME ON ME!
And the shame—too terrifying to admit—turned into guilt. And the guilt reinforced my no-win script. In becoming an overachiever, to make my dad proud—and hide my toxic shame from the world—I set myself up to experience the wrath from peers who wanted what I got. When I made cheerleading, I felt guilty about beating out other girls. Girls whose mothers didn’t want them hanging around with me, because “she doesn’t have a mother.” When there was a competition, I had to win—to make dad proud—but when I did, my peers accused me of thinking I was better than they were.
Society does an excellent job of telling us how to meet its unreal expectations, but I wasn’t going to fail. By god, I had failed to keep my mother from dying; I couldn’t let my father down, too. So, I earned straight A’s, participated in sports and music and honor societies and went to Girl’s State and dated the captain of the football team (which really made my dad happy) and was a homecoming princess and won the staring role of Maria in The Sound of Music, and earned a 1st in State in vocal competitions, got accepted to Northwestern University’s Music School. And felt guilty every step of the way.
If there were ten reasons to feel proud of myself and one reason to feel guilty based on something I heard other’s say, I listened to the voices that accused. I no longer felt guilty. I personified guilt. And I allowed it to wreak havoc in my life. I had no idea who I was or what I wanted (other than love) because I wasn’t a self. I had no idea what “going within” meant because I had no within to go. I operated as an overachieving shell, who won the cookie after a backflip and the accolades that accompany success. And, as long as it worked, I didn’t have to contemplate the shame I felt, if ever there were a quite moment in my world.
I finally crashed at the age of 40, when I couldn’t get my alcoholic husband to quit drinking (and all the other things that go with it). Admitting I’m powerless over the alcoholic? Inconceivable. In my own world of denial, there was nothing I couldn’t achieve. So, I cracked. But—unlike Humpty Dumpty, whose horses and men couldn’t put him back together—I took all the energy I had spent on others (and avoiding my fractured self) and used it to uncover, discover and recover my abandoned self. And while guilt and overachieving alarms still ring, when I stop working my program, I have my tool belt on at all times and know where to go, when I’m tempted to check out over the poop of life.
Jennifer Pastiloff, the founder of The Manifest-Station. Her work has been featured on The Rumpus, The Nervous Breakdown, Jezebel, Salon, among others. Jen’s leading one of her signature retreats to Ojai, Calif over Labor Day in Ojai, Calif and over New Years. Check out jenniferpastiloff.com for all retreat listings and workshops to attend one in a city near you. Next up: Seattle, London, Atlanta, South Dakota, NYC, Dallas, Tucson, Vancouver. She tweets/instagrams at @jenpastiloff. Join a retreat/workshop by emailing email@example.com. If you want to attend the July 6th London workshop sign up now as it’s almost full.
My Thank You Letter. By Ingrid Cohen. *trigger warning. Mention of rape.
This is inspired by a piece written by Jen Pastiloff and is now an exercise in her signature Manifestation Workshop: On Being Human®. Click here to read.
I’d been on retreat with Jen before. She’ll read some of a “Thank you, Fuck you” piece she wrote (it’s brilliant). She’ll walk, as she reads aloud, through the space between the yoga mats where we’ll sit. Most will sit in frozen appreciation of her work while some will continue their own letter she’d already have asked us to write. Her voice, the way her hearing loss affects her annunciation (making her words more pure, almost as if they come directly from her soul), will ring in my head days later, long after the retreat has ended. I’ll be sitting at my desk on Wednesday morning at 10am, striving to be productive at a job I hate, but her voice will play on repeat. The part about thanking the women, the ones whose voices got real high when asking for more salad dressing, will almost scream. You’ll be pulled back to that room. Lindsay Lohan. Organic eggs. Jackson Hole, Wyoming.
Normally I wouldn’t write a letter to the good and bad stuff in my life. Especially the bad. I’ve spent the better part of my life numbing out the bad stuff (it doesn’t work). But, when the person asking is Jen Pastiloff you take a leap of faith. You trust her. You want more of what she has. She’s got an aura of amazingness. Anything is possible when she’s around. I hate trying to give her a title. While she’s a teacher, yogi, writer, retreat leader, creator of Manifestation Yoga™ and a host of other things, she does each with such an unorthodox approach. It’s this unorthodoxy that speaks so loudly to her tribe. She manifests, or “Makes Shit Happen” (as she calls it), magic. This petite, yet silently strong, woman with thick dark hair to her lower back, porcelain perfect skin and a contagious laugh, is a magician.
Recovery Is a Choice. By Jennifer Lake.
You might not know it but I have it. I have the same thing that Corey Monteith died of. I have what Marilyn Monroe, Jim Morison, Amy Winehouse, Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, and Heath Ledger to name a few died of. That thing that we DON’T GET as a society, family, pop-culture. I have it. The same exact thing.
That thing that Jennifer, Mathew, Evan and Christy died of. But they weren’t famous, so it might not appear to be as glamorous or horrible or sad or tragic.
When I hear about the deaths of the famous and we see the headline: “Talented (fill in the blank, actress, actor, musician) found dead at “X” am in the morning, past known history of drug addiction and alcoholism, cause of death unknown.” I go…really? Cause of death unknown? Maybe the (official) toxicology report says “cause of death unknown” but I am pretty sure it is clear when this story hits, to me anyway, I GET IT INSTANTLY. A hit of high octane reality check yourself at the door. They died of their untreated diseases, alcoholism and drug addiction. I get it. It is a HARD thing to wrap so many parts of your mind, body and soul around. It is a disease. NOT a moral choice. Not a matter of will power. Not a matter of I can have ONE and just be ok, walk away and live an enlightening meaningful existence. Not possible. If it were do you really think there would be SO many people suffering from this? I am one. I am a recovering alcoholic and drug addict. 12 years. AA found me when I was 20. I got sober a month before my 21st birthday. I am 32. 12 years in recovery WORKING a program based on spiritual principals that guide me through my day. I pause when agitated or doubtful. I make amends if I have caused harm I show up, I make mistakes, and I hit the retry button. I never let a day go by without feeling fully grateful for where I am today even though it might not look exactly how I want…yet. That is up to god, it’s my life, unfolding in its own way and my REAL purpose beyond all the career hoo haaa is to be of maximum service to others. How can I show up and help you? How can I smile and be genuinely me so that you might have a brighter day? Sound too Anne of Green Gables for you?
I used to snort cocaine off of toilet seats at the restaurant I worked at in Times Square and guzzle the cheap pink house wine we served you out of a kid’s Sippy cup mixed with sprite. Yeah, I mixed cheap wine with sprite. You know? to cover it up. It tasted good, it felt good and it was my only way I knew how to live with myself. MESSED UP. It worked. It’s what got me to that place of utter oblivion where I wanted to live most of the time because what was the point of living if you had to be “sober” un-bearable. It was un-bearable to live with the noise that lived between my ears and deep rooted emptiness that inhabited my soul. Judgment, fear, self doubt, resentment, blame, VICTIM, I am a victim. Alcohol is just a symptom of the disease. The world is doing to me. I’m way better, I suck way more. Everything is amplified times a million. A feeling is not just a feeling but a mad rush of concrete reality and it will never get better unless you get the fix to take YOU away from you. People love you? You don’t care. You are hurting people and loved ones around you? Impossible to fully accept or see it because you are too wrapped up in you… what YOU need. ME YOU ME YOU ME I. ME. I begged to die. I wanted to die. I tried to die. It had me by the throat, the ballz, the ovaries, my cells. Every cell in my body was consumed with it. Toxic to the core. And yet on the outside I was this beautiful, intelligent, talented aspiring professional dancer.
Here is the ONLY thing that worked for me. I had to accept help. For an addict or alcoholic accepting help is like garlic to a vampire, silver to a wer wolf and crosses to ward off demons ( did I get my gross misinterpretations about Folklore correct? Great). I had to accept help. Alcoholism and drug addiction is a serious disease of mind, body, and spirit. You cannot cure one without the other and expect phenomenal results. GET IT? It is not just as simple as handing someone a thirty day stint in rehab where they might show improvement for that time and then say “HEY look you have a really big band-aid on your body. You should be fine going out into the real world now.” It is not as easy as a fix of taking some Percocet and wishing them well. Talk therapy is a beginning and can aide in recovery, but it won’t fix it. There is NO quick FIX. That is why SO many of us DON’T make it. YOU CANNOT TREAT THE PROBLEM WITH THE PROBLEM. It sounds SO simple and really quite obvious; YOU CANNOT TREAT THE PROBLEM with the problem. Rehab is a beginning. The first phone call for help, a beginning, the second stint at rehab a beginning. The real solution is something that can’t be packaged or sold, health insurance companies can’t make money off of it and drug companies can’t either. The real solution, something that has been working with all its perfect flaws lies in this magical book and program of action; The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous as well as AA meetings. If you read it and you are not an alcoholic guess what? It won’t turn you into an alcoholic, but it might give you a better understanding of what people are dealing with. If you read it and you are an alcoholic? Guess what? You might actually have a chance of finding a solution to what MODERN MEDICINE has failed to solve and actually, probably never will. Because the solution lies in the addict or alcoholic actually doing some DEEP soul digging mind blowing work: WORK. ACTION. PROCCESS. A process that is in and of itself PAINFUL. Like a good detox or hangover. You want it to hurt so you grow so far away from it that when times get tough you KNOW to your core you never want to go through that ever again.
Yes, it talks about god. Yes it does. You know what it says about god though? That YOU get to define what that looks like and means to you. YOU get to create that. My solution was in the big book of alcoholics anonymous. It is not ALL unicorns and fairytales. It is a long hard process and journey. There is a lot of joy in the whole deal. I get to be a parent of a beautiful gift of a daughter who is brilliant in every divine cell of her being. Her smile melts any despair or self doubt I may have and brings me right back to the moment. TOO many bright souls fall from the starlight and sink into the pit of the destiny of their disease. Alcoholism and addiction want to annihilate you. Obliterate you. Take you out. It is a serious, life threatening disease, one never to be taken lightly or for granted or judged.
Here are some things I have learned and put into practice since doing the 12 steps as they are outlined in the big book of alcoholics anonymous with a sponsor (someone that has been through it and can guide you through the process as well) This took me 6 years, it can take shorter amounts of time it can take longer, it just depends on how much time you give it. It is but a beginning to the process of living the rest of my life one day at a time as a useful, meaningful, inspired being who can actually participate in life instead of hide in a corner in the middle of her own self created hell.
- The whole point of the process is for me to create a clearing so I can be connected to…GOD, Buddha, the universe, a light bulb, the air conditioning, stars (a power greater than myself, and KNOW that I am NOT IT)
- I show up to life NO MATTER HOW I FEEL
- I have beautiful divine gifts and it is my responsibility to work with them and be of service to others
- I have a past, it is my past. It’s been dealt with. I do my best to in live in the present to create a better future.
- I have tools, a literal process to utilize in order to “turn around” any current resentments that might pop up in my day to day activity
- I own my mistakes, take responsibility for my actions and make amends for any harm I have caused
- To the core of who I am I know I am loved, valuable, matter, belong here and have a divine purpose
May everyone find the help that they need so their voices may be heard and lives lived with purpose truth and meaning. If you do go to a meeting and don’t like what you hear…go find another one. Keep looking until you find your solution. NEVER give up. Recovery is a choice. Alcoholism is not.
Jennifer Lake: Is a divine gift and inspiration straight from the heavens upon this earth. People collect in masses just to kiss the ground she has touched as it has special, spiritual properties that have been known to transform you instantly into a unicorn that lives just beyond the end of the rainbow. And they dance happily in the thick of the meadow and play the banjo and of course all are welcome. She is also an experienced Kick A$% Yoga Teacher, and A.C.E Certified Personal Trainer. She is a riot to be with for real and enjoys making her clients laugh so hard they pee. She specializes in helping herself and others ENJOY this thing called life ( I mean really, we live on a sphere that is whirling through space, and we just relatively recently accepted it is round). More JOY please. She has known great suffering and despair and equally great joy and inner space freedom. She is fascinated by how our minds work and perceive things and even more fascinated by overcoming the negative pull of frustration, self doubt, judgment, and ego in order to truly, really, honestly be at peace and be happy. Find her at: www.be-one-yoga.com