Not Today

the sun is coming for you

 

When the Jehovah’s Witness’s came to my door, I did not mind. The only problem was that I was going to be late for work. I apologized and let them know that I could not talk at that moment. The older gentlemen said he understood.

“Well you have to go to work!” He exclaimed

“No, I don’t.” I answered and he returned with a puzzled look.

“Well, you have to work. You have to make money!!”

“No, I don’t have to do anything. I choose to everything I do in life.”

I stumped him. How was it I didn’t have to work? How could I think I could choose everything (within reason) if I did not have anyone else supplying my income?

So…he argued some more. “You need to make money. You need to eat.”

“No, I choose to make money and I choose to eat.” I declared.

“Well, what do you mean?” He asked politely.

I do not think he was ready for my honest and rare outlook on life.  Therefore, I should not have been so stunned to see the look on his face when I answered.

“I can always kill myself.” I stated without hesitation. I do not remember what happened next but I do know he came to visit more often.

Now, I know this seems like a strange way to view one’s life. Every species on this planet is making diligent attempts to stay alive. I get that. But for some reason, I needed to know that if it ever got to be too much, I could end it all.

There are others like me. They are sitting right next to you. We just don’t talk about it. People with suicide ideation are far more common than people realize. It would come to me in waves, throughout most of my life. I just did not want to live. It hurt too much.

Although, I seemed like the most happy person in the room and I really was not faking that, it is just, a person with suicidal tendencies’ brain will switch involuntary at the most inconvenient times.

For instance, I produced and hosted my own cable access show. Six months of rigorous planning matched with an incredible team allowed me to fulfill this crazy dream. I worked so hard. Day and night. I spent thousands of dollars to train the team, buy furniture, take potential guests to lunch or coffee and anything else it would take to create a wonderful show.

The show went well. We had a lot of fun and although, it was less David Lettermanish than I planned, it was a good solid attempt at modeling what the superpowers of media do everyday.

The next day, I wanted to die. I sat in my backyard in a lawn chair, chain smoking, trying to convince myself to stay alive.

I always thought pills were a great way out but I found out hanging is the surest bet. But that day, I made it through by sobbing, thinking and praying that if I could just get some sleep that tomorrow would be better. Luckily, tomorrow was better and this, indeed, did pass.

But this has happened to me so many times. However, my outlook has changed.

My dad replied when I told him of my great suicide epiphany, that it made sense, but it changes when you have children. I did not believe him. I am quite sure now that he agreed with my epiphany. Usually these things are genetic.

Unfortunately, having a child was not enough but it sure helped. What I found was that I had to know in my deepest part of my being that I could survive anything and that required a great amount of maturity on my part to begin to actually take the actions to assure my survival. Actions such as making money again. Or taking back my health.  I began to accept that I will always have to tolerate and endure some merciless anxiety and I started to live “in” love instead of trying to be loved by everyone with whom I came into contact.

Now..note…I still struggled. I married a psychiatrist for goodnesss sake!! There are no coincidences when it comes to life and death. And with a loving, accepting partner, I felt safe to explore my vulnerability. I did not need the comfort of knowing I could end it all at any time, on my terms, anymore.

Life is truly about relationships. They matter. The relationship with yourself matters. Self-care is paramount but not readily taught. We are an ego-driven, I-need-the-next-fix society. But it does not have to be that way.

I am a better person because I had to try to love myself more. The very act that I thought was the ultimate sin was what carries me through my days. That… and God.

If only, I could find that nice Jehovah’s Witness and let him know I did have to go to work now and eat and make money. I could tell him to not worry that I know I am not free to choose anything except to choose how to live and react to whatever comes my way.

 

Africa

eagles

 

Africa is not a place for the weak. It is dangerous and unruly and poverty- stricken. The people make an average of $1.50 a day. It is a place where instinct defies logic. It must. It is survival.  A tall white blonde woman from California has no business trying to fit into this way of life. But I was going to try to do just that.

I should have trusted my gut feeling immediately. The State Department, with all its rules, and protocol, was especially adept at making its diplomats feel a sense of loyalty toward its cause: by removing the individual from its environment and into a foreign place to serve as a liaison for information.

We looked rich compared to the native people. We were rich compared to native people. How was it that we lived in a compound larger than a village? The precedent that was set drooled of power. But, to me, it felt like it placed us in harm’s way. When I asked about the danger, the others scoffed. We were safe, they said. We were American.

However, I became apprehensive as I stepped into my new home. No one told me that there would be a panic room in my bedroom. I did not realize we would have a guard, glass shears pointing up from a barb-wired electric fence above our compound wall or three locks on the door. I felt I could trust no one; not the doctor at the embassy, not the other diplomatic wives and especially not the villagers working in my home. Trapped and powerless, I grew angry quickly. As always, anger turned into depression as depression usually does.

Diplomacy knows nothing about holding grudges. Yet, I was angry with my country for placing my family in a volatile environment. I felt a million miles away from those I loved and the truthfully, I was just that: a million miles away both physically and mentally.

It would have gone better if the neighborhood pharmacy did not sell valium over the counter. I honestly thought that I needed them to cope. After the shell shock of living abroad subsided, I became apprehensive that my husband would be traveling the majority of the time and that I would have to take random broken-down taxis to go everywhere with my two-year-old in tow. This was not going to work for me. But I did not know how to get out.

The most exciting upcoming event happened to be that my husband was turning fifty. However, he was scheduled to be in Nigeria. I insisted that we come because I did not want him to be alone on his birthday. While still living in the honeymoon phase of diplomacy, I was still a wee-bit trusting of the State Department to protect me.

When we landed in Nigeria, I learned quickly that the rule of thumb was to “duck and cover” inside the bullet proof Marine vehicle because Nigerians shoot white people. And we were rushed into the American hotel and being told clearly not to leave. I questioned why I came. But I was there and that was that.

After a nice meal for my husband’s birthday and several nights of good sleep we traveled with another doctor to Lagos. My family and I were to return to Accra. I did not feel relieved. I felt homesick. The Valium stopped working immediately and I was left to fend with myself against my anxiety. When I do not feel safe, my thinking changes. Everyone around me acted as if there was not a worry in the world. But I could sense trouble. Inwardly, I panicked and then it happened.

Boko Haram tried to blow up the UN in Nigeria. Eighteen people were dead. My husband was assigned to the situation as a crisis manager. We were escorted to the safety of the other doctor’s home while they both evaluated the destruction and if the other diplomatic families could go home.

My son and I were placed safely in a diplomat’s home where all the doors were barred shut and two large dogs could protect us. I slept mostly. Corey played with two boys that lived in the home. Finally, Steve arrived and we were going to be allowed to leave that night.

When I returned to Accra, I could not get the terrorist attack to leave my mind. I kept feeling the government did not have our backs. They would let us die. I did not care what anyone told me. I needed to get out of Africa and I needed to take my son with me.

My panic turned into a full-blown attack of anxiety that left me paralyzed. I continued to take the Valium but my anxiety did not lessen. When faced with the truth, the brain will go into fight or flight. I could no longer function. There was so much at stake. We had moved everything we owned to Africa. We had given up our cars and our friends and our life to serve this nation. But would this nation serve us? I knew it would not.

I convinced the State Department to send me home. By doing so, I had relinquished my medical clearance which would cause my husband to resign. I did not care. My safety and the safety of my child was all I could think about. I could tell that other diplomats felt I was weak as if a Scarlett “A” of sorts were tattooed on my soul. It hurt. But I could not stay. I lost control of my sanity and I needed to bear down into a cocoon of protection and security.

A year later Benghazi happened. And now more and more attacks occurred. My hunch was correct. The “War on Terror” was not over and they could not hide it forever. But in my opinion, they certainly tried.

In the end, I knew my gut feeling had been right all along. I was not safe in my travels abroad. But this mattered not, now. I was home. I was safe and I would always trust my sense of knowing where I was safe and where I was not, for the rest of my life. It was a valuable lesson to learn. My dignity was sacrificed to ensure my sense of well-being. My life was saved in return. I believe it was a fair trade. However, my world view darkened through that experience and it is only through my appreciation of the beautiful human spirit that I am persuaded to find pleasure on this earth.

Some may believe I was weak, but my character rescued me. Sometimes instinct is not pretty but such is life. And I am here to tell the tale so others may awaken their sense of self and know the world is not what it seems.

How To Spot An Alcoholic

Of course, we all know the easy way to spot an alcoholic: red face, preoccupation with alcohol, unable to stop drinking once started etc etc. But today I am going to share with you some insight on characteristics of an alcoholic you may not know. Keep in mind, that what applies to spotting an alcoholic also applies to spotting a relapse because drinking alcohol is only a symptom of a greater problem inside the heads and hearts of people inflicted with the disease.

  1. Anger and resentment- This is nothing new to someone who is in AA. The whole book is written around this subject. Alcoholics have a pattern of being angry and resentful. Often, if I am on social media and I see someone with hostile posts I instantly become suspicious. Alcoholics are triggered by what they deem to be unfair acts against them especially when it comes to close relationships. The disease makes it very difficult for the alcoholic to not take someone’s actions personal. However, in recovery we learn that even the most atrocious acts of unkindness are not personal and we are taught to believe what other people say about us is none of our business.
  2. Comorbidity- Almost all alcoholics have secondary afflictions of the spirit, mind and body that manifest prior to the age we begin drinking. I suffer from anxiety and depression. Always have. In recovery, we are bonded by identifying in each other the same twisted personality traits. It seems like everything we feel is to the extreme. Alcoholics are extremely sensitive. In alcohol we look for relief in caring so much about anything and everything.
  3. Big Plans but No Follow Thru- The brain of an alcoholic is very different than a person who is not inflicted. The pleasure centers of our brain are not naturally full and it takes action every day to get into a pleasurable space. Alcohol replaces action in a way that we think of a big ideas, sometimes brilliant ideas, that are never completed due the fact that the intake of alcohol gives us the same reward response as if we had actually followed through on goal or a task. For example, when I want to write a book, if I drink I most likely will never write the book because alcohol makes me feel as if I had already done the work. This is why in recovery action is far more important than thought. Someone in relapse will begin slowly not to accomplish anything that is important for daily functioning and in the grander scheme of life.
  4. A Track Record- This is very hard for alcoholics to see. We feel things are happening to us. That we are just unlucky. It is very difficult for an alcoholic to link their drinking as a consequence of what they choose. An alcoholic does not have to be drunk to make bad decisions. Once again, drinking is only a symptom that masks what drives a person to be reckless, irresponsible and sometimes very foolish. And the next thing we know we have multiple situations transpiring at once but cannot figure out why. For instance, we get in fights with significant others, our bills are not paid or we lack money, our health deteriorates and we stop doing things that we usually love all at the same time.  When someone is in their disease it is almost impossible for them to be accountable because their disease wants more alcohol. I know that is hard for a normal person to understand but it true.
  5. Unhealthy Boundaries- I am not sure if our inability to have healthy boundaries starts in the family of origin who is likely full of other alcoholics or if it is just the nature of the disease. But alcoholics do not have healthy boundaries. They are often promiscuous, codependent and often expect others to do for them what they should be doing for themselves. They are abusive and they let themselves be abused. They do not know where they begin as a person and others start. This is very hard to master even in sobriety because our extreme feelings and thinking tend to create scenarios both in our heads and in our lives that cross lines of respectability and human decency.
  6. Great Senses of Humor- Recovering alcoholics know how to laugh at themselves. They are usually very funny with off color remarks and ideas. The way we view the world is quite different than a normal person and we are not afraid to embrace that side of themselves because they are usually rewarded by other people for it.
  7. Moderation in Moderation- Alcoholics are all or nothing thinkers. Balance is just not in our vocabulary. If we eat, we eat a lot, if we exercise,we exercise a lot, if we love we love far too much and we don’t see much reason to change.  We have a history of doing everything in our life to excess. Once again, we have a blind spot. We are unable to match our thinking with our behavior. We do not see the link unless we are practicing being mindful. I do not think being moderate ever becomes easy for someone even they have years of sobriety. That is why it is helpful to go to meetings, have a sponsor and be able to tell on ourselves. Otherwise, we slowly or quickly unravel into some sort of extreme.
  8. A Need to be Special- Alcoholics almost always feel that they do not fit in. Because of this, they have a desire to be more “special” than their peers. They truly believe they are superior because of it. But at the same time, being special creates distance which in turn breeds loneliness. One of the greatest things I learned was to find the similarities I have with my fellows if I want to feel fulfilled in my relationships.

This list is not extensive. But it can tip a person off to know if someone has a problem with an alcohol problem. I usually can spot someone right a way. However, it is seldom useful to tell a person that they are alcoholic. An alcoholic usually can figure this out on some level and either desperately tries to hide it or is willing to seek help.

Alcoholism: A fact in my life.

Alcoholism is a disease of apathy. I have always known that alcohol is poison to my body. But the truth is my disease does not care. I can write about my track record pertaining to alcohol. I can talk to sober friends. I can look someone in the eye and admit I still struggle with alcohol but it will never stop me from picking up again and again. It does not matter that I get physically sick or that I embarrass myself. Money is no object because I will find a way. And that is something that I have to live with for the rest of my life.

I remember coming up with this great speech that I would give to young people whenever I had a chance. It goes something like this: Do you know what happens to you when you say you don’t know or you don’t care? The students say no. And I ask again…You don’t know? And they get more interested. And I repeat the question for impact. Do you know what happens to you when you say you don’t know or you don’t care? And then I answer. When you say you don’t know or you don’t care decisions get made for you. You have given up your option to choose. And you don’t even know it. 

But the truth with most issues in life is that we do care. Alcoholics care far more than anyone realizes. We are super sensitive individuals battling a disease with our own mind. And that disease needs to be respected because it is bigger than us, more powerful, cunning, baffling, disruptive and painful than we can humanly handle. And we care. We care that we feel like crap and that our dreams fall to the wayside. We care that we have lost ourselves over and over again. But again and again we lose this battle.

And that is why divine intervention is real. The fact is there will be thousands of days I cannot stop drinking and then one day I ask God for help and I stop shortly after. This is commonly reported by many recovering alcoholics. Furthermore, our problems soften in time and turn into miracles if we stay on task. I am not sure if a “normie” is that lucky. Maybe God allowed a normal person to have many joyous days and we needed the extra help. It seems plausible to me at this point.

Divine intervention has always preceded my ability to live a sober life. When I get out of my way and trust there is something bigger present, my life takes on a new form. Many alcoholics do not like the idea of God. They say that they do not believe it. It doesn’t matter to me anymore if it is true or not. I don’t want to die so I will believe in God. And I cannot do it for someone else. God does not play that game. It has to be for me.

Although, there is nothing better than being in a room full of happy recovering alcoholics. Recovering alcoholics are hilarious. They get each other’s warped minds. We understand that we are isolators, easily resentful, maimed by our own actions. We know the depths of hell each of us has traveled and we are very grateful to be back.We become awesome leaders, lovers, parents and people.

And in a split second we do not care. And the minute we begin to not complete tasks, not show up for commitments, not participate in an active way in our lives we unravel. It doesn’t always pretell a pending relapse but it does say something about the state of mind of the person.

Therefore, my actions must direct my life, not my thinking, if I am to lead a life free from this substance. I do not need to know why. I just need to do it. There it takes great humility in surrendering to this fact. And in humility there is  great freedom. I cannot think of a better way to live than to be free. I could ask for nothing more.

Peace out.

 

 

The House of Hope

children's parade.jpg

 

Culture shock placed my body in perpetual disbelief when I entered the House of Hope. I was now living with people I probably would not have spoke to in passing. Thank God for humility because I was no different from these ladies despite my drug of choice and the color of my skin.

“You’re my buddy!” This giant black woman announced and then she grabbed me and hugged me hard. She had done 10 months for fraud in the Twin Towers of Los Angeles. A wild look lit up her eyes. In fact, most people there had wild looks as I silently watched the group interact. The wild look in their eyes simply was early sobriety. And I had it too.

I was so sick. I compare my disease to thinking you have a cold when you actually have pneumonia. The more sober you become the more you realize how sick you are. And I was given the opportunity to get the help I needed with free housing, food and solid recovery.

“What is your story?”A woman asked and handed me a menthol cigarette.

I don’t belong here, I thought.

“I am an alcoholic.” I replied. I was actually the only alcoholic there. Most of the girls shot up heroin, smoked crack and experienced rock bottoms that I could not even imagine. We had prisoners, prostitutes and women who lost their children to the system all living together. I felt like I did not belong but that was far-fetched dream I call magical thinking.

The facts were I lost my car, my house, my friends, my money, my cats (all eight) and most importantly, I lost my ability to see right from wrong while I remained a bankrupt tax evader. How was I different from them? Addiction is color blind. It is socio-economically blind; it can creep into the nicest homes and destitute any family.

And I was there. With one bag and no where to go for three months. That night they had to look for a blanket and a pillow for me. The place was getting by on a shoe string and all the ladies signed onto welfare, general welfare and food stamps to help keep the place going. We shopped at the food bank and we became very blessed for the food we had.

My first night gave me a glimpse of what the next three months would hold. And while I was trying to go to sleep in a shared bedroom for six,  I could hear some girls making out nearby. I felt like I was in a movie.”What if someone approached me? I don’t even know how to defend myself!” However, I later learned these women were beautiful people.  The drug controlled their choices, my choices and our outcomes. I kept wondering how the morning would be in my brand new world where anything was possible as I drifted off to sleep.

In the morning I learned about chores. The chore rules were strict. Every chore was inspected and if you did not do it right, everyone would have to wait while you went back and tried again.

After chores we were shuffled into a van. I had no idea where we were going. I would soon learn that this was would happen often. But the women were laughing and happy. And even though I knew nothing about their backgrounds, I began to feel a sense of ease.

Little did I know we were being driven to a children’s parade down San Pedro’s version of Main Street. This was before Hippa but the staff responsibly painted clown faces on each of us and suited us in clown garb. It was like 90 degrees and we smoked menthol cigarettes as we waited for hours for our turn in the parade. Turned out… we were the finale. Our makeup had melted off our faces but we tried our best to funny and dazzle the crowd. The children seemed happy and so did I.

But, I was so sick as were many others but we did it. Service. Service was the key. In this self-absorbed world service will set you free. And I live by that now. And walking down the San Pedro Main Street smiling and waving at the children and their families was actually fun. I had completely forgotten what it was like to have fun without alcohol or drugs. And the act of service brought me joy! That was quite a surprise!

I still had three more months to live in this strange place. I had nowhere to go. It was the first time I had no other choice. And that is always the key with this disease because if I had just one more person to help me, or even the slightest ability to try something else, I would not have lived very long. Nor would any of these other women.

So the adventure began and I learned, lived and loved in an entirely different world.

 

 

God is Orange

orange chair

I threw myself into alcohol oblivion while going to different bars hoping no one would recognize me from other bars in town. I was living with my best friend’s mom and she was nice enough to take me in and help me detox and provide much love that I desperately needed. She was a Eucharistic Minister that attended church everyday who was serving God by helping me. And it felt wonderful to be around someone who was not toxic but only held great concern for me.

It was the next day at her house that the truth about my alcoholism became utterly apparent. And one would think  that after the detox, the shakes, the sounds, the voices,the chills, sleepless nights and countless cigarettes that I would never dare touch the stuff again. But it didn’t take long for me to relapse and I started right where I left off; wanting to die.

I knew of one place I could go to get help but I thought I was better than those women. They were criminals and prostitutes with their kids taken away. I could not get help with this sort of foul-natured types. I was from Thousand Oaks. I was upper middle class and I was not about to go.

Jose, a busboy from work confronted me one day. “I saw you running in your car today.””Running?” I thought to myself. I had no clue what he was talking about. “I spoke to the Holy Spirit today and he said you are not one the right path. That God has other plans for you.” This was not what I wanted to hear.

Yet he was right, entries from my journal begged for death from this torturous life I was living. I could not see any way out. It was just a matter of time before I would end it.

A few nights later, I dreamed that I walked into “The House of Hope.” This was the place where the criminals roamed and the prostitutes taunted. But I walked in and the entire room was decorated with orange furniture with barely any room to actually move.

A woman asked, ” What do you want?” I answered in a soft voice that I was looking for the House of Hope. “You got insurance?” she asked. “No, I will go.” I said. “Now wait a minute I will be right back.”She shuffled through the orange furniture until she found her way out. All I could hear as she walked off was something extremely foreign to my ears.

When she left I noticed a radio. But what played from it seemed unfamiliar. It was like a thousand angels singing at once. Music so beautiful, I became mesmerized and I completely forgot the orange room with the firm lady and why I was even there in the first place. It was the loveliest sound I had ever heard in all of my life. No instruments, only acapella. And voices sung from the end of time out of the speakers of this old rusty radio that radiated the unconditional love that we all search for.

Then I woke up.

I could not shake this orange room dream. It was like no other. And for the next few nights when I woke up I felt like someone was holding me in my bed. But I was alone. Things were not making sense.

My best friend’s mom became aware I had relapsed. The feeling in the house grew cold.When I fist moved in all doors were open throughout the house and now they were closed. I was making the mom sick with stress. No one wants an active alcoholic in their home. Yet I had nowhere to go.

She finally confronted me one morning after I had a night where I blacked out and made a terrible mess in her home. I did not deny anything. But I was not about to go through withdrawals again without  being under the care of a doctor.

I was  accepted in the hospital and I shook and I sweat and I was scared and I was ashamed. The doctor gave me some Valium but when I went to sleep I dreamed of some snake man pushing me into a smelly swamp of serpents. “Is this where you want to be?” The Snake Man screamed. “Is this what you want?”

I actually woke up and I was sure that the doctor had given me LSD. But this was good old fashioned delirium tremens. Like many before me, I was experiencing hell on earth.

When I was finally released from the hospital I was pretty ecstatic. I had no cravings for alcohol and I was willing to do what it takes. I told my best friend’s mom that I was not going to call the House of Hope, I wanted to see it with my own eyes. I just want to see if it is orange.

Down into the barrio I went. The streets of San Pedro shared great violence among its residents. But I had nowhere to go. And as I pulled up in front of this halfway house/rehab I could not help but notice two of the brightest orange chairs sitting outside the gate waiting as if to say hello. ORANGE. No doubt about it. Flawless beautiful orange.

And I was home.

 

The Truth and Nothing But The Truth

In the mornings, looking over the Ventura sunrise, I began to show up at the grocery store to buy liters of gross white wine.I was thirty years old, I had very little money at that point  but I tru…

Source: The Truth and Nothing But The Truth