Because I’m in earshot of 70 years old (3 years away), and I just got Nordic Skis and have been out on them ten times in the six weeks I’ve had them, I’m concerned about the future. Nordic skiing makes me happy. It always has, but I have not always lived where I could easily find snow and I have — for the biggest part of a decade — been dealing with debilitating arthritis in my hips.
There’s nothing else I really want to do, honestly. As time has peeled away aspirations and goals, I stand here with only a couple of things that matter to me. I want to be able to *langlauf. I want to be able to hike in the mountains (because there is not always snow). I want to be able to do these things for a long time.
I already know what bad stuff can happen. I had my first hip surgery when I was 54. My second in 2018, at 66.
How does this happen? I always loved those things. Why did so much get in the way? Why didn’t I see as clearly long ago? No idea. But what matters is doing whatever I can to be able to keep going.
I did some research — tried to do some research — on how best to keep going as long as possible. The short answer is weight training. The long answer? Well, it’s long, OK?
I found a lot of articles written by young people about old athletes. There was no escaping that the whole idea of a geriatric runner or something else is kind of a freak show. This is strange, because I know people who are still running, hiking, and skiing well into their 70s. They don’t see themselves as a freak show and neither do I. It seems that some of the younger people looking at us have forgotten (or don’t know?) that it’s FUN to ski, it’s fun to race, it’s fun to hike. Sure, maybe not for everyone, but who would expect it to be? In all my years hiking, I was most often completely alone (in an urban wilderness park).
One article I read was a review of a photo book with an interview — Racing Age by Angela Jimenez. In this book, a former college decathlete documents several elderly track and field competitors. Jimenez goal is to blast the stereotypes of old folks, stereotypes that old folks — that is to say we are,
“…sick or vulnerable or kind of cute—I had seen those jokey greeting cards of a grandmother lifting a barbell or something—and I felt, as someone who was just starting to think about age myself, a sense of rebellion against that,” says Jimenez. “That’s something I’m always interested in doing with photography—countering visual stereotypes and thinking about how is a group of people being depicted in a simplistic way and what could I do to explore that.”
I have a lot of paintbrushes. I’ve had the four in the featured photo since I was in grad school. Two of them were payment for work I did for the YWCA of Denver. I was paid in art supplies, and I still think that was a good deal. I did silk-screened posters, illustrations for brochures and even some watercolor art posters. I bought the other two during the time I was painting with gouache (1980/81), which led to a one person show at Cafe Nepenthes (RIP), a coffee house on Market Street in Denver.
I bought six beautiful brushes in Switzerland in 1997. In the process of cleaning the art room, I took them out of their wooden box and put them in this coffee can for active duty because, as I told them, “Someday is here.” I used one on my most recent oil painting. I am sure there are brushes in my collection I will never use.
Some of my brushes were given to me by artists who couldn’t paint any more. My friend Michael lost his sight to macular degeneration and gave me some of his brushes for a Christmas present. Sally, a short time from the end of her life’s journey, knew in her soul she was done painting. When she handed her brushes to me, I remembered her retirement party more than twenty years earlier when those brushes had been a gift to her from our school.
Paintbrushes represent potential. When they gave me their brushes, I felt as if my friends were deeding to me their potential.
My friends’ brushes are not always responsive to me. Maybe they’re waiting for their REAL master or they’ve been worn in the direction in which their previous owners painted.
One of my brushes wears the traces of my brother. Once, in the mid-1990s, I was visiting him and his ex-wife. I was in my painted tables phase at the time. My brother picked up one of my brushes and lectured me on brush care. He then trimmed the bristles so the brush would work better.
My brother could be pretty strident giving an art lecture (he thought he knew everything and he really did know a lot) but brush care is critical and, probably, also, kind of personal. It depends mostly on what medium an artist works in. A thin water-based medium, like water color or gouache, is a soap and water thing. But acrylic — which washes out with soap and water — can cling to the base of the bristles near the ferule and wreck the brush. That’s what my brother’s lecture was about. Oil paints are (obviously) not water soluble so a dip in solvent (I use Gamblin’s odor free mineral spirits, Gamsol) followed by a soap and water wash works well for me. I use The Masters Brush Cleaner and Preserver. I then let my brushes air dry upside down so nothing clings to the base of the bristles before I put them back in the bouquet.
I have brushes with which to paint fresco. I went to fresco school in LA some fifteen years ago, and I hope that sometime down the road — maybe this summer — I’ll paint some small frescoes on the backs of the porcelain tiles in my garage, left over from the remodel they did before I moved in. I just takes a lot of space to paint fresco — it’s messy.
Some women get their hair done, or get a mani-pedi or a massage when they’re down. I guess I buy new paintbrushes. Last March, before my hip surgery, I bought a beautiful brush made of mongoose hair. Still, I use those four old brushes the most.
Most people out here in the real west are jonesing to get into their gardens. Cold weather porn has been arriving (see featured photo) in our mailboxes since Christmas. My email is attacked daily with solicitations about growing deer resistant, bee attracting, mosquito repelling gardens this summer.
Meanwhile in Bearadise, the garden is…
For the moment I’m growing cardboard boxes. They’re doing well. One of their main virtues as a winter crop is keeping Bear out of the flower and vegetable beds, especially as they’re frozen to the ground. They are also mulching their little hearts out, attracting and providing a haven for earthworms. We’ve had enough of a melt that the top layer of soil thawed so Bear could to attempt to dig.
My entire yard is a disaster and there’s not much I can do about it considering the proclivities of the giant white creature with whom I live. One of my goals this summer is to put down a small patio and a walkway between the gardens, leaving Bear the back part where her favorite digging spots are. There’s also the chance that if she keeps at it, she’ll extricate two annoying, giant, weedy lilacs.
I garden but I’m not an enthusiast. I can’t help it. I think it’s in my blood. My lack of enthusiasm but commitment to growing things works well for the plants. In the course of my life I’ve had some huge gardens, sometimes very fancy. But at this point I’m most interested in what the plants do. Two years ago I had freakishly huge zucchini plants — and discovered that I don’t like zucchini all that much. Last year at this time I was putting tiny tomato seeds in Jiffy Pots and moving them around to sunny windows. The best thing in my garden last year was my Scarlet Emperor Bean of Song and Story. That bean was a magic ray of hope and a friend during the weeks leading to my hip surgery when I was scared and in a lot of pain. I gave them each a Chinese name — emperor or author. They were amazing to watch grow, and those that went into my garden grew to be 12 feet tall. I didn’t eat them. I wanted their seeds to plant this coming summer.
These regal beans gave me a lot of seeds and I have shared them with friends. This year my garden will have them but also Australian pumpkins. 🙂
There is something else to my garden that’s very special. When I moved here, there were no gardens. Just a beautiful lawn (that ship has sailed, thanks Bear). Then…
My friends, K, who lives next door and E, who lives across the street both garden passionately. As we got to know each other, and they saw that I also have to dig up perfectly nice grass to plant flowers, they shared their “extras.” We now have many of the same flowers in our gardens, lots of iris which grow well here and multiply like crazy.
I thought about that last year when the iris began to bloom in our yards. Sometime in the future when there’s no K, E or M, those flowers will be growing in our yards. Someone could say, “Wow, these gardens all have the same flowers.” And the flowers will whisper a reply, “Yes. The people who lived here were friends.”
Yesterday I was so inspired by the Birkebeiner Nordic Ski race that I was ready to sign up, but a little research showed me three things that dampened my enthusiasm. In order, first, it’s a crowd of people trying to ski. I’d hate that. Second, sleeping accommodations are renting a mattress and showing up at a dorm with your sleeping bag. I’d hate that. When I say I sleep alone, it includes a room. Third, it would be expensive BUT all other things being cool, I’d willingly go into debt (further).
“But,” I thought, “I can still train for it.” Strangely, that sounds fun, so I looked into it. There’s a whole schedule for preparing for the Birkebeiner. It’s nothing I’m not already doing, only more of it and pushing harder. So, nothing I can’t do.
So, today (in my personal adaptation of this plan, since I cannot jog) was a hike day. I grabbed Bear (not really) and we headed out to the golf course. It was cold and sunny with BIG snow storms in the offing. There was an old guy making his way slowly around the 1 mile ski loop.
“How is it?” I asked him “Not great. I’d like to go up to Rock Creek, but I’d be all alone if I broke my leg or something. Cell service isn’t great. Not fair to my wife.” (It’s amazing how EVERY man I meet lets me know, ASAP, that he’s married. I kind of hate that because I don’t WANT one of my own, but whatever…) “Yeah, me too. I don’t want to go up there by myself, either. Have fun!”
He shuffled off. Bear and I walked a mile and a half before returning back to the golf course. An elderly couple was shuffling along the tracks. The woman stopped to visit (this is a small town and that custom is charming) and we exchanged stories of our joint replacements and she said they’d gone up to South Fork but it was so crowded it was no fun. I thought of my short-lived Birkebeiner dreams and nodded. We exchanged names and personal history. Most people ask my name thinking they should know me. When they don’t, it’s a little bewildering for them. I now have nicely memorized litany to legitimize my living in this insular town that I love so much.
Bear and I headed toward home. Bear only dragged me into a snow drift once. I’m SO good at getting up now it’s impressive.
We were half a block up a muddy alley from home, and the two little kids who’ve moved into the neighborhood came running to their fence to see Bear but mostly to visit.
“What are you doing today?” asked the little boy. (He’s 5. Visiting skills develop early here.) “I just took Bear for a long walk on the golf course so she could play in the snow.” “THAT golf course?” he pointed across the street. “Yep.” I got another exhibition of his precocity in the art of visiting. “We might try that sometime.” “Have you been to the park? It’s more fun.” “We’ve been there,” said his sister. “Did you have fun?” I asked. “Yes!” they both said. Then their dad came out to give them a chore and Bear and I came home.
Once home, I rode the bike to nowhere four miles in 15 minutes. It was part of my training for the Birkebeiner to go fast and then faster for a period of time. As close to running as I can get.
I track everything on Mapmywalk.com. I started doing that just to know the distances I covered when I couldn’t walk well, but now I’m mildly into it. I even signed up for the annual challenge and I’ve achieved a pretty high ranking in relation to other women who signed up which just shows that it’s true that 99% of success is just showing up. I’m the little white figure on the graph of runners. The challenge doesn’t include the Bike to Nowhere. It’s no big deal, but I’m kind of proud, even though it just means a lot of other peoples’ New Years Resolutions bit the dust.
I really appreciate all the care and support while I’ve been having my existential melt down. It helped a lot to write it down, it helped a lot to “hear” what you all had to say, your experiences, your take on it.
It actually helped me figure it out.
Five years ago I saw the handwriting on the wall. My job was being “outsourced” to another department at the university and no one was going to tell us. There were five of us who had 3 year contracts to teach Business Communication. I had a year left. I had every intention of finishing my contact before retiring, but I ended up without the choice. An “under-the-table” deal was made and, since no one went to the union to complain until I did at the last minute, it was, essentially, a fait accompli. But in English. Looking at most of my income gone, I had to retire and leave. OK. Psychologically I was ready. Physically? I was already showing signs of the hip arthritis I had remedied in 2018.
My move to Colorado was great. I’m happy to be back, but it was a little freaky that — though a native — I didn’t know how to live here any more. It all came back, but there was a long period of adjusting both to retirement and life in a very small town I’d only visited once.
This blog helped me a lot as did the one I wrote specially about my move. That blog is gone, but it was good for me to write.
The first thing I did when I moved here was get an Airdyne. I knew I was overweight and in terrible physical condition. I wanted to be able to hike in the mountains and do things I wasn’t able to do. I wasn’t me, but I’d had to work so much the last few years I lived in California that there was nothing in my life but driving, teaching and all the things connected with teaching — grading, prepping, meetings, etc. When I finally moved into my house, the dogs and I began walking on the golf course and going 1/2 mile was difficult for me (and for Mindy T. Dog ❤ ) but we got better. The Airdyne was good, I did get in better shape, I was able to do yoga again (meaning getting down onto and up from the floor) and I did lose a little weight.
Still, the struggle to regain my body took so much longer than I imagined it could. I didn’t even realize until the end of 2017 WHAT my mobility problem was. Then came the search for a surgeon.
Meanwhile, I wrote. I arrived in Colorado with a work in progress, The Brothers Path. In 2017 I finished an important book — My Everest which is about my time in California hiking with my dogs. It was a total labor of love to put that book together. Then I sucked it up and finished The Price which was very difficult to write for numerous reasons I’ve already written about. The surgery worked and my pre-op training and post-op training have returned to me a body with abilities I haven’t had in a decade. I still can’t run. Maybe I won’t ever run — I do try, though.
I’m grateful and lucky. But at this point in time there is also the feeling that another shoe WILL fall. I will be 67 this coming Monday.
We always say we want to have no regrets, but I don’t think anyone can reach this point in life without regrets. I’m surprised at what mine are. I wrote about that, and last night a friend said, “Lots of people say they want to write books but they never do. You’ve written 3 (actually 6 1/2 but who’s counting?)…can’t you look at writing them the way you look at all your hikes? You never thought about point B; you just went.” He is absolutely right. That’s exactly how I can look at my books and writing itself. Everything, maybe.
This morning I read Cara Sue Achterberg’s blog post, on “My Life in Paragraphs.” She writes about how she and her husband are figuring out together what they want the next step in their lives to be. They’re about to be “empty-nesters” and they’re addressing this question with colored Post-It Notes on which they each write something they want in their future or want their future to be. Cara ultimately asks, “What do you want?” and my first thought was, “A marriage like yours, but that ship has sailed.” ❤
As I read, I thought about the different transitions — the late-40’s transition and the late-60’s transition. I didn’t notice the late 40’s one because the usual late 40’s physical stuff happened to me a lot earlier. Looking back, the time between 47 and 54 were really great years for me and, thankfully, most of the time I knew it. Physical debility and a bad love relationship set the “tone” for the next decade, neither of which I could possibly have seen coming. I thought, “I had the house I wanted. I lived in the mountains. I had great dogs. I hiked with awesome human companions, too. I had the job I wanted. I had all I wanted and then…”
It’s always a balancing act between what we want and what we get, I guess.
Yesterday I wanted Cross Country Skis. I texted the local outdoor store — Kristi Mountain Sports — and asked the appropriate questions. Today I got an answer. As it happens, I had written things down on a Post-It note.
Basically, what Kristi Mountain Sports has for sale is exactly what I want.
Today I want $550. It’s right there! It’s even on a Post-It Note! 😀 But I also want to know that if I buy the skis (which means more debt until the tax refund) I’ll actually use them. I have this big white dog and she doesn’t ski.
Anyway, I realized that I if I were to continue with the Post-It Notes, that what I want is a new adventure. I feel a little nervous even saying that — let alone committing it to an actual Post-It Note — because the universe might go, “You want adventure? Ha! I’ll give you adventure.” No, universe, this time let me find my own. ❤
I have a feeling that one’s halcyon days might depend on one’s attitude. I’ve been feeling glum about things. Anyway, woke up in a blue mood, confused and disenchanted. The prompt “halcyon” wasn’t happening.
I realized lately it’s probable that I’ve hit another one of those “turning points” or “crisis junctures” in life, often related to age. Also, maybe, it’s also related to the time of year which everyone agrees isn’t always the “holly jolly” thing it’s supposed to be. In my case, after all the HOPE and striving last year, I have landed square in reality again. It’s OK. It’s a far better reality than that in which I lived last year.
Over the past two days I’ve seen what story the Work in Progress actually is. It’s not a happy story, but it is definitely a Goliard story and it’s a view at a little known aspect of the Middle Ages, though that’s not all it is. I still want to write it, but it’s going to require a lot of discipline and mountain hikes. I wish it would really snow so I could find out if I can still X-country ski. I make take horse-riding lessons. To write this story my life is going to need a very powerful balance toward the good, the happy, the light. Thank goodness I have a pal who’s always ready to go outside with me.
Anyhoo, with all this in mind, I left the story for the day, shopped, cleaned, took the dogs for a walk. At the store a couple of guys were making fun of salad dressing and it just cracked me up.
“All there is is raaanch.” “I hate raaaanch.” “Me too, but look at that. Every brand of raaaanch.” (You have to pronounce it in kind of a nasal way like in a cowboy movie) I had to go where they were to get salad dressing and I said, “You guys are totally cracking me up.” “Yeah and we haven’t even had anything yet.” “Wow.” “What about rawnch.” (Faux British accent) I laughed. “Oh, ranch” (French accent). “Mai oui. C’est merveilleux.” I said.
Lucky I’m easily amused.
Still in a funk, I took out the dogs. We’ve been walking at the end of the golf course where, if I were a deer, I wouldn’t hang out. Now I think my herd of deer might actually “like” me.
Bear notices them as soon as they are within our “range” which is about 100 yards. I knew they were coming and from where when Bear suddenly stood between me and what seemed to be the “big empty” to the west. I knew then it wasn’t empty, but I didn’t see anything.
We kept walking and from time to time I looked toward the north, toward the parked tanker cars beyond which the deer hang out. Not always “beyond which” I know for fact from their footprints, spray on snowy trees, tracks and Dusty and Bear’s passionate sniffing. Then I looked over at the train and saw big ears turned in my direction under one of the cars. I stopped.
Bear resumed her guardian position. I took Dusty’s collar because we were pretty close — maybe 50 yards away and no real barrier. If he saw them, there was every chance he’d bark and chase. I turned and kept going. When I turned around, one of them had emerged from under the train and was walking toward us.
Well, my deer. “We’re not friends,” I told her. “These are dogs and your dad or husband doesn’t like me.” She stopped. Dusty, Bear and I walked away from them and when I turned around, they were gone.
Then I thought, “What’s really better than this? I can walk. I can write this difficult story. It’s in my power now, but it wasn’t before. I live in this beautiful place. I can spend the winter getting ready to climb mountains this summer. Never before in my life have I had this kind of freedom. So what if I’m old and ugly? Dusty and Bear don’t care and neither do my friends. That’s MY female ego problem, nothing more. So what if I’m approaching that ‘three score and ten’ they go on about in the Bible? I don’t want to live forever anyway. Sure, right now I’m disappointed about some stuff, but who isn’t? These are halcyon days, these winter days with the steeply angled light, the indigo mountains and the promise of snow.”
Usually on Thanksgiving, I re-post one of my articles about Sarah Josepha Hale and the true story of Thanksgiving, but this year, I have other things to write about.
November 2017 I was diagnosed with severe osteoarthritis in my left hip. I was in a lot of pain and searching for the right surgeon. I found him in March, 2018, Dr. Edward Szuszczewicz (shu-SHEV-itz or Dr. Ed) in Colorado Springs. This was great because my friends live there. He is not only one of the best surgeons in the US for the minimally invasive hip replacement procedure, he’s my kind of person. The surgery went well. I spent the night in a beautiful hospital room cared for by young nurses whom I liked. I came home in the care of my precious friend, Lois, who stayed with me until I was doing pretty OK on my own. She had ten days of giving me shots, changing my bandages, helping me get up in the middle of the night and helping me with chores. ❤
I couldn’t drive, so Karen, my neighbor and friend, and I went to the store together. We had a blast. Who knew that two women in their sixties would find shopping for food to be so much fun? My other neighbor, Elizabeth, took me to my local doctor (14 miles away) to get my stitches out. When I took my daily walks, neighbors came out to walk with me and ask me how I was doing.
Lori, the owner, Marylou and everyone working at Noah’s Arff, the kennel where Dusty and Bear stayed for six weeks, loved my dogs. They also made sure that if I wanted to come and visit, I would be able to see Dusty and Bear without danger to myself. Lois took me the first time, and as soon as I could drive, I went out to see them on my own. I was still wearing my TED hose and using my walker. 🙂 The kennel gave me a discount on the price for which I’m very grateful, AND an anonymous person chipped in $100. I have no idea who, but WOW.
When the day came that the dogs could come home Lori brought Dusty and Bear to me.
Besides my great doctor, my friends, the kennel and my town, I had great physical therapy. I owe a lot to Ron Muhlhauser both before and after my surgery for the fact that I walk WELL now. He prepared me well so I was in good condition before my surgery and he helped me rehab which basically meant learning to walk again. I turned out that I had osteoarthritis in that joint much longer than I knew and I had forgotten how to do many simple things like take a long stride or go up and down stairs. Really.
This year I learned a lot. It’s not easy for me to need people or ask for help. During my rehab, I DID need people, and I HAD to ask for help. It took courage for me, but I got nothing but “Yes!”
My hip replacement was, naturally, the biggest event of my year. I can now walk as if nothing was ever wrong. I am grateful every time I take a step. In my three-month check-up, Dr. Ed said, “No restrictions. Do whatever you want. Run up hills. Maybe I’ll see you on the slopes. Where will you ski?”
In October, Elizabeth and I took a short — but real — mountain hike to celebrate my recovery and living here for four years.
I decided to spend the “down time” after my surgery working on my novel, The Price. The kicker there was that if I were going to work on it, it needed to be finished before my surgery. I was stuck and didn’t want to go further, so I contacted Beth Bruno whose editorial skills have helped me in the past. I sent her the novel and asked for help. Beth’s response told me exactly what I had to do. I knew already, but I had resisted the knowledge out of laziness? or not liking the characters? I still don’t know. I spent the summer working on it and guiding the characters to an ending that would satisfy readers — and me. I am very proud of it.
I’m grateful for all the moral support I got from people who read my blog. I’m grateful for being alive at this moment so I can “know” interesting people all over the world through writing, my preferred communication. I’m grateful to all the people who’ve reviewed my books and appreciated them, to my friends for caring for me, to my town for being the beautiful, kind and human place it is.
I was an athlete and the loss of “self” has been a huge challenge for me — probably the biggest. I’ve had to consider exactly what that means now, and what it will mean in the future. I’ve had to face my age — at 52 my hiking pals were two young men, professional athletes in their 20s. One was a 21 year old weightlifter who “used” me as a partner in his aerobic training. The other was a professional surfer who had just learned (from me) that there was a lot of fun to be had on dry land, too.
At 66? I have no idea what’s ahead in that realm. I have cross country skis now, I have a dog who is learning to be a wonderful companion. I’ve also learned the pleasure of a slow walk, looking around me, stopping to see things, where once I covered four back-country miles in an hour. I looked around me then, but there was much less savoring.
I think major surgery is a taste of mortality. I could live 30 years longer, but evenso, will they be years of increased physical ability? Probably not. I might achieve more than I have now, but that won’t last.
Learning to savor a beautiful mile on a bright fall day is a gift from my time adjusting to being unable to walk well and walking in pain. Beauty is an analgesic, and since my surgery, I’ve realized how often my pauses on my pre-surgery perambulations were just to allow nature’s wonder to distract me from the pain I was in. That my dog likes to smell everything along the way was just an added happy quality. I don’t think I’ll ever go back to racing through the hills — even if I’m ultimately able. I don’t want to race any more.
Mortality…death is the end of the journey for every living thing. I don’t know what it will mean. I do know that I love the mountains that surround me, the sky, the things that grow here, their changes, the shadows and changing light, a chance sighting of a fox, a deer, a hawk, an eagle, golden trees in fall, the wind, the smell of snow before a storm, snow on my face, new snow crunching under my feet, snow on the distant peaks, hoar-frost, lenticular clouds, cranes, the sound of cattle lowing in the distance, tracks of elk in the mud, a furtive snake hurrying away pretending I didn’t see him (but I did), the smell of sage, the golden blooms on the chamisa, red dust on my shoe, the potatoes blooming in the summer, the sun setting anywhere…. I love all of it so much that sometimes I feel my heart will burst. I don’t want to miss a single thing by hurrying through.
This time last year I was in pain, scared, determined, unsure. The year has been a long strange trip, but, literally, the bottom line is I’m grateful for my life.
The other day I read an article by a guy who’d lost his brother to alcoholism. I got very angry with the writer. His whole point was that if there were a scientific and methodical way to treat alcoholism, no one would die of it. The writer (I wish I could find the article and if I do, I will insert it here) railed against AA and other 12 step programs because, mainly, they put the cure of alcoholism in the hands of the alcoholic.
Statistically, AA works for only between 10 and 20% of alcoholics. Personally, I don’t think the statistics matter when one sober person is enough (IMO) to call the program a success, at least for that person’s family.
I get it. No one wants to rely on the drunk to cure his/her own problems. Who is more unreliable than an alcoholic?
Anyone who loves an alcoholic wants a powerful outside force to come and wrest the problem from the drinker and awaken that person to the wonder of a sober life. I wanted that for my brother every single day of his life. For a time I thought I could BE that power. Later I thought I could ally myself with that power (various rehab programs and hospitals that tried to help my brother). I busted my ass working extra jobs to pay for my brother’s rehab, housing, food, medical care. In all that I learned something important.
There is no such power.
The United States already spends about $35 billion a year on alcohol- and substance-abuse treatment, yet heavy drinking causes 88,000 deaths a year—including deaths from car accidents and diseases linked to alcohol. (“The Irrationality of Alcoholics Anonymous”The Atlantic)
Science continues to research the problem of alcoholism (which is as old as humanity, I think, since we started brewing brew and vintnering vino early in our history) and comes up with chemical aids to treat and help alcholics. The bottom line THERE is that even with the help of science, the alcoholic has to be motivated to use the medications or the psychological treatment.
It’s a pretty common-place notion now that many alcoholics have underlying psychological problems and that booze is self-medication. My brother very likely suffered something like borderline personality disorder. Both our childhoods were traumatic at key moments in our development, and we were very different kids. Some people are intrinsically more reslient than others, less dependent on others, react differently to stress, able to develop alliances outside the family. I am a survivor; my little brother wasn’t. Even as kids if someone picked on him, I beat them up. My reaction was to fight back or leave. My brother’s was to stay there and take it.
In 2004 I realized that though he called me, he didn’t even know where I lived, what my life was like, or much about who I was. I was just an open wallet to him and he would — and did — lie and con me to get money. It was hurting me teaching 7 classes and holding down a 20 hr/week clerical job. His life wasn’t worth more than mine. “Don’t call me again until you stop drinking,” I said on the phone, feeling like my heart was being pulled from my chest.
“Fuck you,” he said.
I never heard from him again. I was totally OK with that. I had realized that I couldn’t do anything to fix my brother. It was 100% beyond me. I wasn’t mad at him, I loved him as much as ever, I wanted him to pull his shit together as much as I ever had, but I finally understood that it wasn’t my job. I had a lot of help reaching that point, the kindness of loving friends who’d experienced something like this in their lives and some of whom knew and loved my brother, too. I took a lot of shit from some of my family over my decision, but those who understood really did understand. I will always be grateful. ❤
No one ever saves anyone who isn’t already clinging to the shore asking for help while he or she tries to pull him/herself up.
My feeling now about alcholism is that there isn’t, and will never be, a “one size fits all” cure for this problem other than the one we know and that is that the alcoholic can stop drinking if he or she is motivated to do so. I’ve known several people who stopped drinking because something outside of them mattered more to them than drinking. My dad’s sister, my dad, my grandfather — just to name three, but my list is longer than those three family members. People do stop, but my brother didn’t. He died of an alcoholism related stroke in 2010. I didn’t even know until five months later.
Today is my brother’s birthday and he would be 65. The ONE thing he refused to try was AA. Who knows?
In any case, I miss my brother, and I would much rather be baking a cake today than writing this. I think I’ll go take a walk. ❤
Dusty is suddenly old. He was a young 13 two weeks ago and now he’s an old 13 (which is to say, 13). Dogs his size and the two breeds he seems to be made of have much shorter average lifespans than that. He’s restless and frightened at night. He can’t see. He’s scared (his basic nature) a lot of the time.
Tonight he’s kept me awake at night pacing on the hardwood floors, panting, looking for me. He has challenges controlling his bowels that he never had before. I don’t want to drag this out, either.
I know where this ends. I know it’s considered wrong to jump the gun. We have to wait until he can’t move under his own power and is urinating and pooping everywhere. I hate this dilemma. But we’ll visit the vet this week and see if there’s relief for Dusty’s nighttime anxiety.
Then we’ll see. He’s been a hard dog to love since the beginning, but I do love him. His early puppyhood trauma left him scared and aggressive (sounding). He was hard to train and ultimately needed a professional to see that he was properly socialized and calm enough, in general, to ride in a car or go for a walk. I also don’t think anything or anyone has ever loved me as much as Dusty does.
I’ve drugged him (mildly) hoping we can both get some sleep now. I’m very tired from my trip to Colorado Springs. I slept badly Sunday night and went to bed early tonight (9!) and went right to sleep, to be awakened by Dusty pacing and generally freaking out.
Anyone who rescues a dog from a shelter (which I highly recommend) could face a challenge like Dusty T. Dog. Some dogs are just easier than others.
He’s lying here at my feet, finally calm. I don’t know if it’s the drugs finally kicking in or whatever was disturbing him has stopped. It might have been the sprinklers (which switched on about the time he started pacing and I have now turned off) or maybe it was a bad dream. There’s no question in my mind that dogs have more access to our thoughts than we to theirs.
I’ve known this tree since I was 16 or so. The first time I saw it, my friend Kathleen and I climbed up the cliff face. Back then the “Bluffs” was a quiet, seldom visited, mildly wild-and-woolly place. It was Sunday afternoon after church. Kathleen and I went to the same church, lived in the same hood and went to the same high school. We walked to school together every day and hung out on weekends. She had a horse named Irish Luck and a great dog, a Border collie named Ronco. We had a lot of fun rambling around up there and life was (mostly) good.
Life in my family wasn’t so good. My dad’s abilities were deteriorating quickly from his MS, and I was scared about losing him. There were family fights almost every night. I avoided home as much as possible by doing lots of extra-curricular activities at school and getting a job.
So anyway, one Sunday afternoon Kathleen, Ronco and I went up to the bluffs, found a trail, took it until it petered out, saw the sandstone cliff, climbed up and arrived at this amazing tree. I was stunned. Out of the ‘dead’ trunk of this Rocky Mountain Juniper rose a straight new tree, back then about 18 inches tall.
I grew up with poetry and the whole thing of metaphors and symbols. I immediately saw in that tree a metaphor that was useful to me. The tree grows in sandstone. There’s no soil or anything from which you’d think it could derive sustenance. It’s hundreds of years old. Where it looked like it might have been on its last roots, it wasn’t. Right then and there I took the lesson. Whatever’s going on around, you don’t let it defeat you. You just quietly and according to your nature, keep growing. It may seem strange, but that tree became a kind of surrogate mother to me.
From then on, pretty much every time Kathleen and I took a hike, we’d visit the tree for a few minutes unless it was our destination and then we’d go there and hang out. Today, you can drive to it if you want, but back in the late sixties, that wasn’t the case. Also, we walked from home. I’d pick up Kathleen and we’d trounce across a then nearly-deserted Academy Boulevard, run across a hay field, and into the thickets of scrub oak of the lower Bluffs, the neighborhood wilderness. That world is gone.
The day before yesterday, I saw my orthopedic surgeon. He X-rayed the hip replacement, examined me and said, “No restrictions. Go run up a mountain. Go ski. Where will you ski?”
Yesterday, my friend Lois (who grew up in the same neighborhood and also rambled around in the Bluffs with her brothers) and I went to see my tree. I had a lot to tell it. I can’t say I went up the hills like a mountain goat, but I did OK. My only struggle now is a lack of confidence in my footing. I will have to relearn the confidence I once felt on rocky slopes and sharper hills. We got near the tree and noticed a small one, pretty much just like my tree, but younger — maybe only fifty years old! It could easily be my tree’s daughter. They are the only two Rocky Mountain Junipers in this immediate area.
Young Rocky Mountain Juniper
At my tree, I did what I did as a girl. I wrapped my arms around her. I cried, releasing all the emotion of the past several months, and I told her everything. Then, my feelings spent, I looked at her and saw how well she is doing. She has secreted sap and she was loaded with juniper berries. ❤
Have you seen God in His splendors,
heard the text that nature renders?
(You’ll never hear it in the family pew).
Robert Service, “The Call of the Wild”