Tag Archives: addiction

Love The Sinner, Hate the Sin

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Today is the second anniversary of my mother’s death. I’ve written extensively here and privately about my experiences in grief. I’ve written about her death two years ago being the final somatic death which followed so many other of her deaths I felt I had grieved over my recent lifetime.

Last night, when going over photos of her, the one below in particular, I wept silently while my husband slept beside me, oblivious and recuperating from a sinus infection.

This photo was taken about six years ago in my parents’ house in Canada. A place we used to joke about having in case there was another military draft. Now it feels like a good idea to hang on to in case Donald Trump becomes president.

Mimi and the boys, summer 2009.

Mimi and the boys, summer 2009.

I wept for many reasons. I feel now / today / this moment and felt during that moment that I weep because I will never have that sweet older lady in my childrens’ lives any more.

She wanted so very much to be present in their lives. She was, in her way. I got in the way. I see that now. I sort of robbed them of her sprite-like ways because I was so hurt by it, her lack of an anchor, as a child. I wanted to protect them from that, but I see now, that by just being their mother, I was protecting them from that. They weren’t going to be with her 24/7, as I was, yet I couldn’t really unplug from those memories, at least not then. I was aware of it too. What I mean by that is that I was aware that I was in the way and yet I wanted to be out of the way, and yet, I wouldn’t be out of the way. I was and am so hell-bent on providing for them a healthy life that I suppose in some ways I’m stifling an unanchored life…? that doesn’t make sense. I sense now that I’m becoming my own judge, jury and executioner. Breathe. 

Mom used to say, “Jesus said to ‘love the sinner, hate the sin’ or something like that…” and I’m being a little flip in my treatment of that memory, but she did often say something very similar to that, depending on the tenor of our conversation and her state of mind.

As I wept last night, my throat hardened and tightened and I knew that it was because I was and have been disallowing a truth for almost all my life: that I loved her and needed her so very much and that as much as I wanted to hate the physical incarnation of her addictions: her, I know rationally that doing so limits my exposure to her, even now in her death. So I thought and mostly felt some more (even though it was reeeeeally difficult to feel the feelings) and said to myself, “I do love you, and I always did and I guess I always will, even though I hated how things went down between us.” And my throat softened.

I always have to allow that reality, that caveat (that she was messed up too). I’m not one to paint a dead rose as one in bloom: shit was hard between us. We were each others’ teachers, of this I have no doubt. I am easily able to say now, that I am grateful for her being my mother and that she taught me the most important lesson of all: to get real with yourself, because she had such a hard time doing it herself.

I realize that Mom was an instrument of God for me and my brothers and that her mission was to teach us, in one way or another, about the dangers of addiction and alcoholism. And to live as an example, as harsh as it was (and it was harsh) so that we would be able to break a cycle. So that we would be able to live consciously and as deliberately as possible.

Mom was such that there was no patois of our dynamic, after all, she was an actor and an illustrator. As good as she was at stringing words together, Mom really seemed to fail at times in speaking and writing… it sometimes devolved into a bathos and her notes to me could cut like a backhanded compliment. “It was the booze talking…” I remember her saying one time. In vino, veritas, I would hiss back. In a way, she ended up unduly sacrificing herself for our sobriety. The tenor of our relationship was mostly mistrust, which really … sucked.

If my mom existed so that I could spare my sons an alcoholic mother and hopefully influence their own lifetimes in awareness of alcoholism and their genetic predilection, then her existence and my forgiveness of her is not for nothing. That’s the lesson I feel I’m steeped in right now. That’s where I can step into forgiveness. For me, right now, forgiveness has to be or at least look like a transaction.

I have actually begged for her to appear in my dreams. She does, sometimes.

The current book I’m reading, A Manual for Cleaning Women — Selected Stories by Lucia Berlin, is an emissary of sorts for me right now. In it, Berlin writes clearly about alcoholism, witnessing her mother’s and her grandfathers’ own travails and also her own. The shakes and delirium tremens, the self-loathing and mental anguish. Through her, I have a glimpse of my mother’s struggles and demons and I am leaning toward “forgive the drinker, hate the booze.” I suppose I could’ve used this book a few years ago. But it is what it is. Mom and I were as good as we were going to be around the time she died, we’d had several real adult and womanly conversations. Berlin has also made me a little braver in my own writing. Life is too short to have to fear what other people (through their own filters) think of anything I do.

When Mom aged, she softened, as so many of us do. Gone were the harsh and defensive edges of projected self-recrimination and doubt. At least around my kids, they were softened or completely worn away. She still had her self interest, poised above all others, but her kindnesses toward my children were absolutely sincere. In a way I was envious of them, their ability to be so at ease with each other. She had no worries about failing them and they had no fears of not living up to her expectations. It was like a little team of back-patters. I am happy that they all had those moments together.

I recall a day when she wanted to be with us, but logistics made it difficult (or maybe just I did) and so we all played Monopoly with her on the speakerphone. One of the kids would roll dice for her, the other would move her token (usually the thimble) and the other one would deal with her bank (that was usually my oldest son). She just liked being on the other line, hearing us all play together. I remember wishing she’d had an computer or iPad or something so that the boys could play online Scrabble and Pictionary with her; she would have loved it.

The day she died is different from today. Two years ago, it was Labor Day. Everyone in my family was with their own families, no one was alone to have to hear the news. I remember, clear as it happening right now, that when my father called that day, I was on my deck with my husband. I just knew. You know — how you just know? I just knew. Dad’s voice was unsure, but upbeat, like he was calling me to tell me that he’d cracked up my car but that everyone was ok… “Your mother has collapsed in the driveway. She’s in an ambulance now… the officer here wanted me to call you…”

….  ‘Officer…?’ …. 

We went over to their house as soon as we could. I’ll never forget it. The angle of the sun. The heat of the day. The wait in their front hall for an update. Then the update from the officer, “Mary didn’t survive…” and I thought he had the wrong person… “Mary? Who is Mary… ” … “Your mother, I’m sorry… she didn’t survive…”

Oh.

Then the drive to the hospital. And the phone calls and texts to brothers — where was my younger brother?? — and cousins and in-laws and close friends from the back seat of my own car as my husband drove and my father sat, granitic, in the front passenger seat. It was about 4:30pm at that point.

So tonight, I will have another root beer float, as I did that evening when I’d found out she’d died. She was on her way to get one that day. I got mine from the Baskin-Robbins down the street from the hospital. I remember for weeks after that, just telling people that my mother had died. I told my cleaning ladies. I told people I barely knew. I always got a hug for it. The freshness is still there, of that moment. I feel like that’s the greatest gift of being sober and in touch with your feelings: that joy and pain and all the others in between are right there, just beneath the surface teeming to leak out. We should let them every once in a while, it keeps us real. If your mom is still around, give her a hug for me. If she is not, think softly of her for yourself.

Thank you.

Let Me Clear Up Something — Addiction and Compassion

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Hi.

I hope to never approach on my blog again, the Phillip Seymour Hoffman situation.

Sadly, myriad other similar situations, I assure you, abound for one to approach it. I checked my blog’s spam filter today and I had 20 offers for “_name benzo here_ without a prescription.” Drug abuse, prescription drug abuse and addiction run rampant; our mental health system is overtaxed and people want a quick fix to their pain. Let’s get something straight: often pain can happen in an instant: car accident, or another trauma — those can happen super fast; the other kind of pain takes a long time to ramp up and thus, can take a very long time to unwind. Regardless of the pain, a pill or a tweak might be the easiest way to deal with it, but that ease comes with a price… for everyone.

I first wrote about Philip Seymour Hoffman simply because someone I know expressed an opinion I found so vile that I couldn’t not write about it. The person who expressed that opinion later sincerely recanted and apologized. The opinion was generated, and I feel this is apt, due to the tremendous amount of play this situation has gotten, simply because PSH was a tragic and talented movie star who embodied “the everyman.”

Thanks to the glory of addiction and the romanticization of its travails, easy access to drugs and a basic ignorance of the countless cues our bodies and minds and spirits give us to express one simple thing: HELP, I CAN’T TAKE THIS PAIN!, addiction runs rampant and the legion bodies and hearts and souls left in its wake are bobbing in a sea of sadness, frustration, self-loathing, blame and obvious destruction.

As for Philip Seymour Hoffman: may God rest his soul. May his children find comfort knowing that their father is finally at peace and may his beloved survivors go on without worrying for his welfare AND, might I add, may they feel NOT ONE SHRED of guilt for any of it.

I will see these seemingly endless future writing about [popular] addiction a la blog opportunities and I will raise them with all my available apathy and indifference to ignore them. I will do my utmost to be like Captain Jack Sparrow as he waxed philosophically with Elizabeth Swann about the opportunities to do the right thing:

I know that sounds curt, but I truly can’t constantly wallow in the sadnesses generated by other people. I have my own world and its ups and downs with which to contend.

So, all this said, for one last time, let me clear up something:

I do not glorify or honor addicts. Not in the least. The last two sentences of that post I wrote about PSH hit a nerve and brought people to their feet to agree with me:

Compassion is not enabling. All I know is that compassion just isn’t hate.

I stand by that ending. Hate and anger do nothing. Anger is a necessary and important reaction (not state of being) though, I can assure you, and it helps you get through things and to the heart of matters efficiently.

Those 13 words struck a chord with many readers who graced my blog to indulge in my blathering. I appreciate their visits very much. Normally, as I said in that post, I don’t touch current affairs. I like to believe fantasize they have nothing to do with me; also, tarrying in them can generate static, something I wish to avoid. I didn’t start a blog because I wanted fame; I started it to give my sons a window into how I see the world and a place to express myself, no matter how inane the verbiage.

A reader of that post took the time to suggest in her comment that instead of using “compassion” that perhaps “empathy” would be a better word. I nodded in silent agreement upon reading the comment, but my inner editor canted its head. She made a good point, but I stood by “compassion.”

Let’s look at “compassion” shall we?

compassion |kəmˈpaSHən| noun. Sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others: the victims should be treated with compassion. ORIGIN Middle English: via Old French from ecclesiastical Latin compassio(n-), from compati ‘suffer with.’

The etymology of “compassion” is Latin, meaning “co-suffering.” More involved than simple empathy, compassion commonly gives rise to an active desire to alleviate another’s suffering.[2]

Here’s my simple point: anyone who’s a hair’s breadth away from someone suffering from addiction is — I KID YOU NOT — already co-suffering. Anyone who’s feeling compassion, who is co-suffering, is actively involved in trying to fix things; trying to, and full-on experiencing an active desire to alleviate another’s suffering; and their own, I might add, because in the final analysis, let’s be honest: we’re all a bit selfish.

Fixing things becomes their Number One priority, more important than self-care. People who are in love with, the child of, the best friend of, the relative of an addict and who are deeply concerned about the welfare of that addict are, absolutely Not Putting Themselves First. Because the addict is at the forefront of the mind.

What is the use of eating when your loved one is strung out on the floor, panting in a shallow bath of her own frothy spit, eyes wild with fear and paranoia, speaking of hearing voices? What is the point of working hard when your daughter is inebriated or out of it for days on end? What is the point of showering and sleep when your husband stays out for days and nights? What about the son who comes home after a 3-day bender tattered, bruised, strung-out and evasive, begging for money or just wants to sleep?

Tell me. What is the use?

Welcome to the world of the silent and unseen victims; the innocent victims of addiction. The haggard, worried, sleepless and OBSESSED loved ones who bob in that sea of destruction. Waiting for their addicted to take the fucking lifeline and pull themselves out of the sea. Who cares for the innocent?

It’s a systemic problem. Addiction does not hurt just the addicted. It upsets the entire family system; like a mobile hanging from a thin thread, each disturbance upsets the balance and eventually takes it over. Addiction destroys the faith, trust, life and hope of the people who did nothing wrong. Who just happened to love the person with the problem.

I do not ever want anyone to think I am super-OK with addiction. Addiction to me, stems from obsession with escape, an inability to feel safe in the world in which we inhabit, so we take up ways of coping. Those ways of coping can manifest in unfettered indulgence in: the internet, food, gambling, sports, religion, television, distraction, driving, rules, running, biking, sex, ethics, drugs, anger, shopping, worry, alcohol, reading, writing, exercise, work, artistry, performing, codependency … you name it: whatever takes the heat off. And whatever gives the illusion of being controlled or controllable.

The point of addiction is to upset of that mobile’s balance, and to blur boundaries; to make that which at once seemed totally unhealthy, healthy, normal and sane. The other guy? The one who wants you to step away from your smartphone, the one who wants you to put down the book or the bottle, that guy is the crazy guy. That guy is the problem.

Trust me: there is plenty of compassion, co-suffering, going on in the hearts of the beloved in an addict’s life.

And guess what? It never ends. The innocent’s worry and concern? It never ends. We might estrange ourselves, we might write off the addict, but to pretend that we don’t care? That’s bullshit. The pain, the fear, the disruption — it is always looming, as much for the innocent as it is for the addict. It is a life-long vigil for everyone.

If you know someone who is trying to keep it together for the addict in his or her life, give your ear or your shoulder. Just listen and nod because you know pain, you know what disappointment and fear feel like; you don’t have to dig that deep.

Over and OUT.

Thank you.

Want more? Here: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/11/us/heroins-small-town-toll-and-a-mothers-pain.html?nl=health&emc=edit_hh_20140211&_r=0

Why Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Death Matters to Me

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I recently received a note from someone important to me stating that Philip Seymour Hoffman was a self-interested bum.

Immediately, I could feel my heart pump harder and faster; I felt my throat thicken in defense and anger against the indictment. I don’t normally touch current events or popular culture news; it often gets me into trouble, but this one … I can’t step away from it. His death touched me profoundly, probably because I am still grieving the death of my own mother, and her epic battle with addiction, just five months ago yesterday.

My reaction is primitive; I can’t explain why it was so strong other than to plainly state that PSH was not a bum. He was a depressed, misunderstood and addicted man whose talent knew no bounds and whose demons were equally limitless.

He was an addict. After 22 years of sobriety, he relapsed in May 2013. He was working on getting cleaned up. He was a father of three kids; he did not marry his long-time lover and I suppose to this person who wrote me that note, this means he was a bum. Because he didn’t marry her. I can’t speak to his morality and the choices he made; maybe Ms. O’Donnell, his lover and the mother of his three young children didn’t want to marry him; maybe she saw his temperamental side; maybe she was afraid he would be unreliable and unsafe, so instead of imposing his whims and moods on his children, she chose to protect them and love them by putting them first while allowing her beloved to pursue his craft and live how he chose. She is devastated by this news.

We can’t sit here in judgment and throw horribly weighted and lopsided stones from our glass castles. Let me be clear about this, because this post is getting a lot of traffic: my feelings have nothing to do with his celebrity status. I will miss him because he made every film he was in better, but this has nothing to do with “star power.”

Addiction is a horrible scourge on all of humanity. My reaction to the indictment of his being a bum  — a holier-than-thou, caustic attitude — tapped a nerve that runs deeply within my being. To me PSH represents everyone dealing with addiction; everyone trying to figure out life; everyone who’d love to feel good about themselves in a true and real way, internally, that no external accolade, award, money, fame, power, or talent can provide.

I wish … God how I wish my mother had gotten her ducks in a row. She suffered tragically. She was a beautiful woman with amazing intellect, and a great big heart and vision which were devoted to something other than the world she lived in, but she was a human. She was addicted. PSH was a human. He was not a bum. Addicts are not bums. They are just like you and me. They are deeply troubled and they need our compassion, not an indictment. Compassion is not enabling. All I know is that compassion just isn’t hate.

Thank you.

ps – update: i continue my rant here: Let Me Clear Up Something

30 Days of Brené Brown — Day 9: #numbing #dissociation #addiction #pain #compartmentalization

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Welcome to Day 9 of “30 Days of Brené Brown.” Today’s quote is a good one and so simple that I feel it needs no commentary.

Here it is:

We cannot selectively numb emotions, when we numb the painful emotions, we also numb the positive emotions.
― Brené BrownThe Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are

It reminds me a great deal of the phrase that a cancer-surviving friend once said to me in the midst of her battle, “If I blame God or ask ‘why me?’ for the so-called bad things in my life, like this cancer, then in all fairness, I have to also ask ‘why me?’ for the so-called good things in my life, like this moment.”

This Brown quote is akin to the myth of “spot reduction” in weight loss. Anyone who knows anything about weight loss will tell you, in all honesty and veracity, that there is no such thing as spot reduction. Everything in your body is interrelated. You simply can’t focus all your energy on making your hips smaller because it’s not possible. You can make your hips stronger by focusing the work on them, but that won’t make them smaller.

It’s like the common misconception between fat loss and muscle gain. They are coincidental; they are not the same material. Losing fat is losing fat. It doesn’t convert into muscle.

I’m bored. You?

Back to Brown.

Our emotions and sensitivities are not like a fuse box (er, “circuit breaker” for those of you born in the 20th century). You can’t “take out” an emotion by unplugging it, i.e., getting hammered, high, pissed, manically happy… it’s uh, totes improbs, dude.

It’s like trying to let only one part of the ocean get you wet.

It’s like trying to breathe only one part of the air.

It’s like trying to stand in only one part of the sunshine.

It’s like trying to taste only one part of the lasagne.

It’s like trying to bleed only a certain part of your blood.

Y’dig?

You numb sad, you numb happy by default.

My dad, I love him.

Get this. He said to me a couple weeks ago about Mom’s death and witnessing my loss of composure during a Mass of Remembrance about a month ago, that “I’m done crying. I’ve cried all I’m going to.”

And I’m like this:

quickmeme.com

come again?
(© quickmeme.com)

Scratch what I attributed above to my dad.

Rewind the tape. Start over.

A man who is just like my dad but who apparently came down from another planet and replaced him entirely with this person said this,

“Yeah. I’ve cried all I’m going to. I can’t have what happens to me when I cry happen to me again. It feels so intense, like I get all warm and my throat tightens and it feels like I’m having a heart attack. It’s like a sympathetic storm.”

Uhhhh? It’s like a Whatawhetic What? I googled it.

Sympathetic Storms are a common complication following traumatic brain injury and is associated with a set of distressing and uncomfortable symptoms, including elevated body temperature, increased heart-rate and perspiration.

Oh. Traumatic brain injury. That explains it.

Catharsis. That’s what he felt. This alien from another planet.

“So you just felt, sadness, and intense emotions that weren’t rage and fear.”

“Well, ok. It was like a heart attack.”

Here’s me:

(this is my Murph)

(this is my Murphy)

“I’m listening.” I said, to this alien who is not my father. (Just so we’re setting the record straight.)

“I can’t do that anymore. I won’t. I will focus on the other stuff. The happy stuff. The times we had,” said this man alien who didn’t know my mother at all.

Mmmmmk. It explains vast oceans of behavior to me.

I’ll stop at that.

Some people like to numb with drugs or booze. Some like to numb with running or porn. Others like to numb with food or gambling or the internet or writing… (slightly raises hand — if I weren’t writing, I’d not be online. That’s the truth, but I know I need to find a way to divide it).

This whole theme goes back to “owning your story” quote of Brown’s that I wrote about back on Day 1. You have to own the whole thing — all of it.

You can’t be a little pregnant.

You can’t have just pulled part of the trigger.

You can’t have thrown just a little of the water in her face.

I could go on.

When I was younger, about 16, I was all manner of rage. I thought I was just being clever, a smart-ass, a hot shot.

My friends and I were all hanging out at our super cool suburban cul-de-sac one summer night. A boy I liked had brought me a long-sleeved t-shirt from a beach trip he took. My younger brother who was likely 11 or 12 stole it from my closet. It wasn’t two days old.

He wore it right in front of me and my friends. I let it go, because I wanted to be that cool.

Then he sat down with me and my friends. Major boundary cross, dude, I thought to myself.

Then he started to talk to my friends. I’m gonna stay cool, be cool, be cool.

Then he started to make fun of me in front of my friends. He said, “Molly is so fat, that when she sits around the house, she SITS AROUND THE HOUSE…”  and he made this Jabba-the-hut face to pantomime me.

I’ve had a lifetime of problems, but being a healthy weight was never one of them. I’ve been blessed. I get it. Move along.

He said it again. My friends laughed. The male friend laughed.

In my mind, when I visualized it, I didn’t make contact with my brother’s face.

In my mind, my bare foot just glanced his jaw. Never touched it.

In reality, my bare foot kicked the crap out of his face and blood went everywhere.

All over my new shirt too.

“Youuuuuu! Waaaaaah!!! MaaaaaaaaaaammmmmM! Maaaaaaaaaammmmmmm! Daaaaaaaayyyyaaaaaaad!! Maaaaaaaaagggghhhhhhaaaaahhahaahahaaaaaaagggggggghhhhh Myyyyyyyy faaaaaaaaaace!!!!”

My friends scattered like rats on a sinking ship. They looked at me in horror.

In my mind I didn’t make contact…

“My shirt! You asshole! My shirt!” I screeched. (It wasn’t about the shirt.)

He took off.

I took off after him.

He ran up the street.

I ran up the street.

He’s screaming.

I’m screaming.

He ran into the house.

I ran away from the house.

OMAIGAAAD! I got in SO MUCH TROUBLE for that entire thing. It’s like I tell my boys — presence. We must be present and reeeeeeeeally work hard to not take physical action. If my dad had said to me what I say to my kids all the time, “You’re picking on an 11 year old? Are you insane?! Have you lost your mind?”

But … my shirt.

No one wanted to hear my side.

He took my shirt.

My brother’s face was bleeding. He needed five?

He made fun of me.

Stitches? Maybe seven?

In front of my friends. I didn’t do anything.

I dunno. I’m sure I did something to egg him on too. I’m sure I said something snarky about him being there.

Uninvited. 

But the point I’m trying to make with this is this: I didn’t kick him a little. I didn’t injure him only a little. To this day, and we’ve talked about it and he’s one of my biggest cheerleaders, I have atoned for that incident. He knows now I never ever meant to hurt him.

Which means this: we might never ever mean to numb the good stuff, but we will when we numb the bad stuff.

We can’t numb. We must go through it. All of it. All of the ugly crying and the entire story. If we don’t, then we leak. 

It’s like how it goes in We’re Going on a Bear Hunt. How did the family solve the challenges? They couldn’t go over! They couldn’t go under! They had to go through them. (I just noticed there’s no Mom in this story — she must be napping.)

Thank you.