Helping an Alcoholic

I’ve virtually been a shut in now for the better (better?) part of six weeks. Even cleaning the dog poop from the back yard has been challenging because of the uneven ground. Now the foot is actually approaching being truly healed. I suspect that’s the most vulnerable time for a sprain, so I’m being cautious. I’m pretty sick of it, though. I’ve even passed the point where I miss taking out the dogs — I look down the alley at the golf course and points beyond and it just seems so far away. Meantime, the Bike to Nowhere and I have gone on some brammer rides in European mountains. It’s not the same as walking out in the world, but it’s been OK.

A friend of a friend has been struggling with alcoholism. Well, he hasn’t been struggling. He’s fine, anesthetized and numbed. His friends have been struggling. He’s lost his apartment. A posse of allies moved his stuff into storage for him and then there was, “Where does he go now?”

Naturally no one wants him to live with them. The man is at the point where it’s literally quit or die. He’s physically disgusting and unable to care for himself. The talk was “Assisted living” “Rehab” “the hospital.” He did go to the hospital yesterday after the social worker and his friends staged an intervention. The hospital treated him, but released him. There is no room in hospitals for alcoholics. “He needs to go to a shelter,” said the nurse/doc someone. Naturally, his friends were outraged at the hospital, but where else would he go? Then my friend learned that all the detox facilities connected to the hospital are full. The hospital had no where to send him but the shelter.

It hurts so much to learn that the “system” doesn’t (apparently) care for the person who means so much to you. It isn’t immediately obvious that the “system” is overburdened by substance abusers. Hospitals don’t have beds for alcoholics. Hospital beds are for sick people or injured people. People who can be helped.

Ouch.

My friend is naturally outraged that the “system” doesn’t step up and save her precious friend. Because the users have abdicated the use of their rational mind and are in the power of whatever substance drives their lives, to the experienced eye, users are not fully human. That sound horrific, doesn’t it? But daily life logic and rationality don’t exist in alcoholic reality. A rational mind would say, “Whoa, my drinking caused me to lose my apartment. I’m up shit crick. I’d better stop drinking.” Some alcoholics might immediately make this connection; some won’t. Who knows? In my experience, as soon as the alcoholic sincerely moves toward sobriety, he/she reassumes their full humanity and thousands of hands reach out to help them.

It’s the saddest thing I know. Keeping my brother housed was a constant concern for me. In the early 90s, he got married to a girl who’d loved him since high school (some 20 years earlier) my mom said to me, “I don’t know. Do you think we should tell her?” meaning should we tell her that sooner or later the bubble is going to burst and all hell will break loose? We’d both suffered that with him. We decided not to say anything. Who could say but what all my brother needed was a good woman, a nice house and life in California? I didn’t think his wife would believe us, anyway, love being blind and all that. What we really felt was that — for however long it lasted — my brother was somebody else’s problem.

My own personal experience trying to rescue my brother taught me a lot of hard lessons, and the biggest lesson I got from it is that the alcoholic might be suffering but his/her suffering is NOTHING compared to the suffering of those who love him/her and want to save him/her. Even if the alcoholic goes into detox and rehab it doesn’t mean he/she will stay sober. The family/friend’s hope soars and then? My brother was in three serious residential rehab programs — for which I paid (and yeah, I resent that) — and ultimately he died of alcoholism.

For more than a year I worked with a friend — former junky — counseling families of users. Over and over I experienced how it’s almost impossible for the sober person who loves the addict to wrap their head around the reality that no one can do anything until the alcoholic/addict makes a sincere effort to do something on his/her own behalf. You KNOW that alcoholic/addict is incapable of making decisions, and his/her life is totally out of control. How can he/she do anything? You — the sober person — MUST do it for them but wait…

It’s not your job to live their lives for them. We are all compelled to live with the consequences of our choices. Why not the addict?

That serenity prayer is right on, more for the friends and family than for the alcoholic, maybe, especially at first.

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

 The wisdom part is the key, especially for friends and family. While I was attempting to help my brother, I dismissed this prayer. “Yada yada,” but then one day I paid attention to it. “The wisdom to know the difference.” Damn. Since then, it’s been one of the guiding principles of my life. “Can I change this? Is it my job?” is a useful question.

It’s so hard to let go of wanting to control the outcome. There’s this completely unreliable (and needy) person in front of you, someone you love, and, at a certain point, to a large degree, you have to let go and let the unreliable person blunder through the darkness. And you just pray he moves toward the light of a sober life and all the things that offers, means, one of which is…

You. ❤

You really want your friend back. It hurts that he/she might not want you as much as he/she wants booze. In a way, it is that simple, yet far more complicated. The alcoholic has a relationship with alcohol that’s become almost symbiotic. Alcohol becomes a kind of entity preying on the alcoholic, and the alcoholic lives for the numbing effects of alcohol — a kind of demonic possession that ultimately kills the “host.”

In my recent, temporary, house-bound life, I’ve been alone most of the time. I’m mostly OK with it. In going out with the dogs, I always saw and talked to people, or I saw and (talked to) the river, the mountains, the birds, whatever was there. We yearn for the companionship of others and the outside world. I might yearn for that less than many other people, but I can feel the absence of it after nearly two months of semi-isolation. Isolation can do weird things to your thoughts.

My friend’s friend is alone. I don’t think that’s his optimal living situation. I don’t know him well, but he seems to me like the kind of guy who would like to be part of a partnership, a guy who’d probably do better with people around him. Loneliness + alcohol = kills a lot of people. I hope my friend’s friend finds a community to help him. And, strangely, that’s one of the purposes of shelters.

It’s just fucking sad.

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2019/11/06/rdp-wednesday-brammer/

Why It Matters… The Deep Saboteurs….

As I get ready for the big event (big for me) this coming Saturday, a book launch for my little memoir about the year I spent teaching English in China as one of the first American foreign experts to have that opportunity, I’ve found myself confronted by very powerful shadows.

The most palpable was that of my artist brother — now dead from alcoholism. He was also an artist and, in our family (meaning my mom) he was THE artist in the family. My work was minimized or mocked, whether it was writing or visual arts. By ridiculing my efforts or ignoring them completely, BOTH of them made sure that I never got “full of” myself. At the same time, they both used me to maintain their lives to a greater or lesser extent depending on how sober each of them might be at any given moment.

My job was to be dependable in case they needed me to enable them, which meant nothing I did could be the most important thing in MY life. My job was to be prepared to shore things up, to listen to them. For neither one was I able, ever, to do anything well or even right. My mother insisted — even after I’d been teaching for nearly 20 years — that I was not a “real” teacher because I didn’t have a degree in education and the students in my classes had a right to expect more. When I shared newsletters from the wilderness park I was instrumental in forming, that had articles I’d written about hiking in that park, my mom said, “I had no idea nature had any meaning to you at all.”

Where was she all my life?

Once, when I was showing some drawings to some of my mom’s friends after Thanksgiving dinner, and one of them said to her, “You must be proud of Martha Ann.”

My mom just turned to me and said, “You did a good job cleaning up the kitchen.” She never looked at the drawings. My mom was a master at making me feel good only when I was helping someone else but even then I could never do really well.

I have dozens of stories to illustrate this in which my mom or brother figure in this way, but there’s no point in relating them here. The point is that these two people still live somewhere in my mind, and in moments like this — when I’m trying very hard to pull things together to do something that is VERY good for me — one of both of them will appear. I know they are not real, I know their power has been defused by death, and yet…

Do we live for our family’s’ approval? I think as children it is very important that approval from them is for the person that we actually ARE. That might be one most important things they can give us. That approval says, “Yes, this is YOU, pursue your talents, refine them, enrich your knowledge, BE yourself.” My mother and brother both seemed to think that to keep me there to function as they needed me to, they had to keep me down, and they conspired to do that. What this says to me tonight of their sense of self-worth is that they knew they had none.

And truly, they did not.

OK, yes, I know I’m 67 years old and my past should be behind me and all that, but the thing is that it isn’t until we push forward toward something we have not pushed for before, or have turned back from in the past even when we wanted it, that we learn a lesson like this.

There are some good songs about this, but maybe not for here (Eminem, “My Mom”). These lines from Metallica’s “Master of Puppets” say it pretty well.

Master of puppets, I’m pulling your strings
Twisting your mind and smashing your dreams
Blinded by me, you can’t see a thing…

What matters is what we do ANYWAY.
Survival is the best revenge.

Thoughts on My Brother’s 65th Birthday

image_562879527744612

My brother, his ex-wife, and daughter, 1979

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. ❤

Two songs for my brother and me:

 

 

The best song about addiction I know:

Flummoxed by Addiction

This morning after fighting muscle spasms for yet another night, my first thought was, “Why does my doctor have the right to say anything about my use of opioids?”

Seriously. That was my first thought.

I’d finally found a way to silence the noise of muscles growing, stretching, and healing — a very mild narcotic cocktail at bedtime. The Percocet given me for the first 8 post-op days lasted me nearly a month, and I still have 3/4 of the Tramadol, so clearly I’m not the one who’s going to overdose. In the day, Tylenol works just fine.

I don’t even like the non-spasm killing effects of the opiates. I don’t WANT to take them but I DO want to sleep. Night sleep is medicine. Given all this, I truly believe I should have the right to tell my doctor what to give me, but according to the law, I don’t have that right.

As for addiction, I’m not going there, but in the current climate of the “opioid crisis” the little white percocet pills are strictly controlled. I can have 7 days at a time. OH WELL.

After I had my first thought I scrutinized it — yeah. That’s a lesson I got from my life. Why do we care what addicts do? Whose business is it of ours, anyway? It’s their lives, their muscle spasms. We care because it’s heart-breaking to watch a life descend into addiction. Beyond that (the addict is the lucky one in that he or she is doing what they want) there’s the damage done to their families, and there’s the cost to society. No one really knows what to do about addiction because it is — ultimately — a personal choice and the person who wants a particular substance WILL find it. I know this way too well. I lost my brother to addiction.

In my first hip surgery experience in 2007, I was physically addicted to Vicodin after having taken it for the 3 years it took my (inept) doctor to order X-rays of my hip and properly diagnose the problem. He just threw pain meds and anti-depressants at it while I lost the ability to walk. Once all that was over I had to kick the drug. It was very, very, very unpleasant. I didn’t like the Vicodin, its effects on my mind and body, but after so long, my body was used to it. Taking it away was a nightmare.

The true danger of an opiate is that your body WILL addict itself to it. The mechanism in the drug is so close to the happy chemicals in our brains that our brains can’t tell the difference. Among the many grim stories of WW II is the story about how the Japanese put opium in the cigarettes it sold in China, addicting wide swaths of Chinese people and driving the market for Japanese (opiated) cigarettes.

So what’s the solution to all this? In my little situation, it’s enough Percocet to last three weeks. In the grand scheme? I don’t know. I wish I knew. It’s a problem that’s flummoxed people for centuries.

I wish I had the all-seeing eye that could gaze directly into the mechanism that spurs someone to abdicate their life to a substance. I wish I had the power to defeat the alcohol industry and provide graphic education about the long-term effects of alcohol abuse to kids in high school and middle school. I wish I had the power to create meaningful jobs with a living wage to all the people in my valley who feel hopeless because of the poverty in which they live and who, then, resort to dealing or using. I wish there were markings on the bodies of newborns that said, “This is a really special little person. He/she has a sensitive soul and will feel things too intensely. Be careful how you treat him/her because he/she is susceptible to addiction. Teach him/her to see the beautiful side of life. Give him/her lots of physical activity and things that engage his/her mind. Show him/her the power he/she has as an individual over emotions. Teach him/her to deal with disappointment. Nurture his/her sense of humor. Love him/her.”

RDP#4: Flummoxed

https://sgeoil.wordpress.com/2018/06/04/rdp4-flummoxed

Doors of Obfuscation

Our life’s dreams are often slow to realize and some of them are simply strange, like my dream of someday having a LOT of dogs. That was a dream I had as a kid and tried to realize as a teenager with a big red dog I brought home. The moment wasn’t right. It was not the right age/time of my life to begin my dog pack, so the dream didn’t come true. I forgot all about it for a long time, so long that when it DID come true. and I remembered it, I was in my 40s. All I could do was laugh.

But some night dreams are scary/important. I think we do work things out in sleep, some hidden conundrums — some very old ones — can work their way up the levels of our unconscious mind and teach us things using strange but perfect symbolism.

When my little brother was 10 we were visiting my Aunt Martha in Denver. She lived in a late 1950’s three story apartment next to Cheeseman Park. Now the building is condos and they sell for quite a lot of money ($213,500), but back in 1963 it was just a small, 600 sq ft, one bedroom apartment in a great location. My aunt lived on the first floor but elevated. The basement apartments had big windows so the first floor was pretty far off the ground. It had a “lanai” and to get to the lanai you went through a sliding glass door.

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The actual apartment! Thanks Zillow!

I don’t know if sliding glass doors were newish back then or that we just hadn’t had much exposure to them, but my brother walked through it. He could have been badly hurt, but all that happened was a cut on his thumb that didn’t even need stitches.

The other night I dreamed I walked into a room and my brother was there sleeping. There was a sliding glass door hanging off the rails. I was so afraid my brother would be hurt, or someone would come in and hurt him, that I began fussing with it to get it to close. When I got there I found DOZENS of attempts at repairing that door and NONE of them worked. I discarded one after the other — some made with wood and chicken wire, some with wire reinforced glass. I could NEVER get the door to close; I could NEVER make my brother safe.

In my dream, my brother slept through my Herculean efforts on behalf of his safety. He never knew. He was completely undisturbed. Then a voice in my dream said, “You have to go. You’ve done everything you could.”

Behind everything else in the dream was the fact that my brother had chosen to sleep in that room, in that bed. A very obvious cliché right there.

I’m pretty sure that anyone who’s reached the point of walking away from a beloved family member (my brother was a hardcore alcoholic) who is an addict feels conflicted, maybe forever. In my dream I answered that statement with, “What about this door?”

 

The Stucco Angel

Back in the late 90s, my brother — an incorrigible drunk — was picked up by the cops, taken to a hospital, dried out for four weeks (at the government’s expense because he was indigent), sent to rehab, brought back from rehab, put in a motel with a few bucks to get him started. Naturally, he got drunk. At that point he realized that he had no place to live. His landlord had evicted him from his apartment. All the money left him by my mom through the sale of her house was gone, apparently stolen from under his mattress by his drinking buddies. In short, he was up shit crick without a paddle.

I’d been given strict instructions from his social worker not to help him, not to send him money, to do what I could to push him into sobriety. He had already told me how little sobriety interested him, but…

So one late afternoon the phone rang. “Martha Ann? This is Kirk. Your brother.” I only ever had the one but this is what he always said when he called. “I just want you to know I’m OK. I’m living at the Montana Rescue Mission. It’s nice and they’re giving me a job.”

My brother was living at a rescue mission. I didn’t know what that meant, how to take it, nothing. I was numb inside from two years of trauma in my family — my mom dying, my brother self-destructing all while trying, in my own life, to patch things up and hold them together.

While I was on the phone, there was a knock at my front door. “Someone’s at the door. You want to call me back?” He said he’d call me the next day.

A neat and clean, poorly dressed man about 40 stood there with a stenographer’s notebook and a bag over his shoulder holding flyers.

“I’m here to invite you to a Thanksgiving Dinner.”

“Where?”

“At the San Diego Rescue Mission. It’s $2.50 a ticket.”

I felt very strange hearing that. “I’ll take two tickets.” I thought one for me, one for Kirk. “Do you live there?” I asked him.

“Yes.”

“Can you tell me what it’s like living at a rescue mission? I just talked to my brother on the phone and he’s living at a rescue mission now. He’s an alcoholic.”

“I can tell you.”

So we sat down on the stoop and he told me all about himself. His name was John and he’d been a drunk and a druggy, he said. Lost everything to his habits but he really wanted to be sober this time. He was a soft-spoken man, without the inexplicable charisma a lot of users have. “God will help your brother, if he lets Him.”

I didn’t doubt that.

“It will be good for your brother. He’ll be with a lot of people like him who are trying to do better. It’ll be easier for him without the pressure of all the people outside who judge and aren’t fighting that demon.”

I could see the logic there. We talked for nearly an hour and then he said, “I have to invite more people. What’s your brother’s name? This is my prayer list.” He showed me the steno notebook. “These are the people I pray for every day. I’ll add your brother’s name.”

“Kirk Kennedy.”

So my brother’s name went into that book and John was on his way with $5 for the dinner. I set my two tickets on the table and went out back to be with my dogs, never thinking I’d ever see John again, but I was wrong. He came by two weeks later to check on me.

“How’s your brother?”

“He’s doing all right.”

“So far,” said John. “Always remember, ‘so far’.”

“Yeah,” I laughed.

And John came back nearly every month just to be sure that I was doing all right. Then he disappeared. “Oh well,” I thought, “so far.” A year passed and I didn’t see John. Meanwhile, my brother had given up on the Rescue Mission, gone to Colorado, got a job with a friend, and seemed to be doing well. I went to Colorado and visited him. During the visit he did something that showed me that if there was a wagon, he’d fallen off and the wagon was long gone. That was the last time I saw my brother alive.

More time passed — four years? My brother headed back down that chute, though this time in Arizona. I was working four jobs, one of which was supporting him in rehab. Housing prices went up and I decided to move out of the “barrio” and up to the mountains if I could find a place. I did. There was work that needed to be done on my house before the deal could close. I was working frantically to get it done, but I was out of money. There remained a 12 inch bit of wall all around an enclosed veranda that needed to be stuccoed. My real estate agent was going to do it, but had a heart attack instead. I was given 10 days to patch that bit. On Friday, home from school early, I decided to try it myself. After all, I’d textured a lot of walls and I was a painter, but I quickly leraned that troweling stucco above my head was impossible. It was too heavy. As I was standing on the step ladder, giving up on the stucco, there was a knock at my front door and the dogs went wild.

You know what’s coming.

It was John.

“I haven’t seen you in a long time,” I said. “Are you OK?”

“I messed up and had to leave the mission, but I’m back.”

“I’m glad,” I said.

“How are you? How’s your brother?”

“My brother’s in rehab again and I’m OK. I sold my house.”

“THIS house? How could you sell it?”

“I want to move up to the mountains.”

“That’ll be nice.”

I thought for a minute, guys like John… “Hey John, in all your work, did you ever do stucco?”

“Yeah. That was my trade. Why?”

I told him my stucco problem. He laughed and said, “Where is it?”

And he did a beautiful stucco job for me.

“I want to pay you,” I said.

“No,” he said. “You can’t pay me. We’re friends. You’ve always been here when I’ve knocked on your door. You never judged me. Your brother costs you enough and I know you work hard. Let’s go get a pizza sometime. You can buy.”

I gave him my cell phone number so he could call me about the pizza, and he left. A few weeks later I moved up to the mountains and five weeks after that came the Cedar Fire, the worst fire in California history. I was evacuated from my new house, scared and all the emotions that come from finding oneself living in a place surrounded by flames.

I was driving down the freeway toward a friend’s house where I would wait out the fire with my dogs when my cell phone rang. “Hello?”

“Martha? This is John. I just want to know that you’re all right.”

“I’m all right. We’ve been evacuated, but I’m fine.”

“Are the dogs fine?”

“We’re all fine.”

“Thank God,” he said. “Well I gotta’ go. I’m on the mission’s phone. No personal calls.”

I never heard from John again.

You can’t create stories like this. Life writes them.

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/create/

Shade or Sun?

For the last few weeks, weird guys have been walking up and down my street. Living in a small town you know who does and doesn’t belong on your sidewalk, and these guys don’t. We have neighborhood watch and I told my neighborhood captains that something’s fishy, that I think someone is selling drugs to the west of me. And the drugs they’re selling — as this is Colorado — are not pot.

So on our walk last evening, Bear and I met up with one of the Neighborhood Watch Captains who told me he’d talked to one of the scuzzy looking characters and told him he should take another route.

I said, “That’s fine. It’s his addiction.” This led to a conversation about addiction. Those lead to sad personal stories. Luckily his wife came outside and interrupted us.

I’m an addict, but not the kind that anyone would say, “Oh, she’s an addict.” I’m addicted to addicts. I grew up with an addict and my brother was an addict and my grandfather — my dad’s dad — was an addict. There is a network in addiction and everyone in the family has a role to play.

My role is the role of “good kid” and what I do is make life easy for the addict. It makes me INCREDIBLY HAPPY to do this. I think my dad might have had that role in his family, too, because his sister became an addict, but not his mom. I think my dad may have had the job of defusing my grandfather’s drunken rages and taking care of his mother.

In this role the person gets good feelings from enabling. We are every con artist’s dream, we are the ultimate patsy. It’s very hard to explain this, but my therapist said it, “It feels like home. You feel comfortable around those people.”

I am afraid I fell into the trap yesterday. A normal person would hire a handyman based on recommendations, look for his license, all the concrete things that show “this is a guy to be trusted.” I didn’t do that. I hired him based on price, the fact that we ‘hit it off’ (somewhat important since he’ll be in my space for a while) and something else I cannot define.

Yesterday when he came with the contract, there were red flags that I didn’t notice right away. He talked openly about previous drug use, told me about his family, his hopes for the future and none of this brought up any red flags — but it should have. The contract was a boiler-plate contract from the internet which, again, should have seemed strange but didn’t. It didn’t spell out the work he is going to do and the costs involved. I didn’t pick up on that at the time, either.

Later in the evening, something gnawed at me, “Check out the Facebook page you hired him from” and I did. I looked at his recommendations — ONE, clearly fake leading to a fake page with photos of the kid he’d brought along as his assistant. The kid was cleaned up and “Christianized,” but it was him. I thought, “Shady.”

At three in the morning, though, I woke up fearing I’d been played — again. All the things I should have looked for and didn’t went through my mind. I saw the pattern and I saw that there’s probably no way in the world that I will ever fully escape it. Now I have to deal with this.

He has a small deposit. He’s supposed to show up Monday morning. If he does show up when he says he will, then…the other side of it is MAYBE HE’S TELLING ME THE TRUTH and he is a young dad trying to start a life in a new state. That’s the other side of this. Knowing what I know about myself I find it very, very, very hard to trust my own judgment.

There’s also the fact that back when I lived in “the hood” and was really poor, if I needed home repairs, I pretty much hired any itinerant workman who showed up at my door. It always worked out.

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/paragon/

First Time Free, Baby (but Afterwards, It Costs a Lot)

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Wicked Witch.” Write about evil: how you understand it (or don’t), what you think it means, or a way it’s manifested, either in the world at large or in your life.

For a large part of my life I did not believe in Evil. I believed it was an idea made up to further enrich the self-images of those who believed themselves to be the elect, sort of a Biblical “Ni-ner-ni-ner.” I confused the metaphors used in the Bible to explain evil with evil. It took me a long time to understand why God was so hard on Eve. In fact, he was just telling her that it’s a lot easier to follow instructions and live in bliss than to surrender to temptation and reap the consequences. I always stood up for Eve in Sunday school, but the fact is, I didn’t get it.

Now I know that the metaphors are universal and evil is real. It is as concrete and palpable as Good and there is a fine line between the two. Evil is everything it’s cracked up to be, and the road there is familiar to everyone who’s read or heard any of the Earth’s mythologies. Each one offers a map and the maps are nearly identical.

I learned about the existence of Evil from the choices my brother made. He started out pretty much like every kid in a middle class American family with educated parents, but he had a glitch from the very beginning. I don’t know where it came from and I don’t know what it was. It can and has been blamed on our unhappy family situation, my dad’s MS, the times in which we were teenagers (the late 60s/early 70s), whatEVER.

Toward the end of his life — when I had backed off from attempting to save him from his choice to drink — I began to see the metaphor was no metaphor. At some point, he gave in to the temptation of alcohol. He was really tempted. Not everyone is. I wasn’t — I tried it, got blasted, got sick, hallucinated, alienated friends and lost my glasses (all in one night, my 19 year old experiment with vodka). It wasn’t fun. The euphoric moment lasted only a little while and then it was misery (and shame). I ended up like many people, drinking occasionally and usually not drinking at all. It was no temptation for me ever.

But my brother was really tempted. And whatever high I got from booze, I think my brother’s was much higher. I also believe that being a goofy drunk guy absolved my brother from the responsibility of being a talented artist and a father. He was tempted by that, too. I imagine the road of his life as one crossroads after another in which the choice was always the same; “Drink” and “Don’t Drink.” The road goes down hill, into a ravine, but at first the sides are gentle and it seems easy to turn around. Over time, the sides of the ravine became ever steeper, and, anyway, life sober was filled with responsibilities to himself and others. Tempting, always, to turn away from that. Who would expect a guy lying face down in a pool of vomit to do anything, right?

I always imagined that if he got help and if he got sober and if he were cared for he’d do what I would have done. He was in full-on rehab twice, both times in the hospital, where he was cared for and then in rehab facilities that were — according to him — very, very nice. Both times he was given structure and routine, counseling, clothes, care. He always sounded like my brother when he called me from these places and my heart always soared in hope. I always thought, “Now he’ll see how great life is and how great he is and he will stop drinking!” That is, by the way, the choice made by every recovering alcoholic I had known, a choice based on THAT revelation. My brother’s actual response to these attempts by others to effect his salvation? “You don’t understand, Martha Ann. I like to drink.”

My brother was very far down that ravine when he was pulled up and put in rehab. It was too hard to make the climb OR (and I think this is most likely) he just didn’t want to. It was much, much easier (and more pleasant) to drink. Over time, I truly believe, evil had won and there was no longer any chance for him to climb out of the hole even if he’d wanted to. After a while, even his physical misery was nothing compared to the escape he got from a bottle.

I know that there are people who say “alcoholism is a disease” — and I agree, but it is a disease of the soul. And it is a disease — all addiction is this disease — that can only be cured by the patient. It’s difficult because surrendering to temptation is easier in the moment than fighting the demons within. Deep down in the ravine, it’s almost impossible to see the sky and it’s much easier not to look.

When my brother died, he was working on a painting of St. George in a battle with Satan.

I had to fight a correlative temptation, the tempting illusion that my actions would change what my brother chose. Deep inside I saw it as a battle between good and evil (I was the force for good; booze was the force for evil). It was very, very hard for me to abandon my (prideful? hubristic? loving?) illusion of power and accept that this was my brother’s battle in which the only part I could play — if I remained engaged — was that of enabler. I could only contribute to the evil I wanted to fight if I stayed embroiled in the situation, sending him money, offering moral support and sympathy.

It made me reassess the meaning of compassion. It was difficult to see that I had to care for myself, or I would not exist any more just as my brother’s existence was ever more tenuous. I had to abandon the idea that even after I walked away from him, I would be standing on top of the ravine as a beacon of inspiration and light toward which he would ultimately climb. I had to let go completely.

So in the matter of good and evil, most wise, most clear, is what is written in the I-Ching in Hexagram 43, “Break Through.”  “…the best way to fight evil is to make resolute progress in the good.” 

***

Tyger — France, Therapy and Gallic Humor

Daily Prompt Fearful Symmetry Pick a letter, any letter. Now, write a story, poem, or post in which every line starts with that letter.

William Blake wrote a poem about tygers. In that poem he described tygers as having a “fearful symmetry.” Knowing the poem is about a tyger, a reader can see, in just that description, the movement and beauty of a tyger about to attack.

More than once I’ve been described as a tyger. The first time was my therapist, a great French woman I started seeing for help dealing with the guilt and fear I felt when I realized I had to cut off contact with my brother. I had a list of therapists given me by the insurance company. I called the closest four, two returned my calls. One of them had a French accent. I was immersed in French films at the time so I picked her. There was something in the films that “fit” me and I decided anyone from a culture that produced those movies might be good for me. She was. It just so happened that her area of expertise was helping the families of addicts. That first day, after listening to me, she said, “Ze alcohol is ze worst, Maretha. Heroin? Yes, it is a bad sing, but ze heroin addict dies quickly. Wis ze alcohol ze person can live a long time and ruin more people’s lives before zey die.”

French. Worked for me. The same dark thread of truth that ran through the films.

On my first visit she gave me homework. I was supposed to “be nice” to myself. I went home determined to do that or else… 😉 So… I took myself shopping. I didn’t know where to start with this, so that’s what I did. Never mind I don’t like shopping. I decided to buy something nice for myself. As I walked across the parking lot to Macy’s in Mission Valley I thought, “This isn’t easy.”

Other things I was supposed to do to be nice to myself included forgiving myself for the choice I’d made to stop talking to my brother until he decided to stop drinking. My brother was an incorrigible drunk, and I had been working an extra job to put him through rehab (for the third time). He’d gone through rehab and had been given housing as long as he remained sober. I’d learned that he’d leapt eagerly “off the wagon” and was again going to be homeless. I didn’t think I could handle this whole thing again. I was exhausted, demoralized and felt like a failure. Every time I picked up the phone and heard my brother’s voice, I felt an abyss open inside me. “I need money.” I’d finally reached a point where I couldn’t do it any more, but I didn’t know what else to do. Support and advice from people who loved me convinced me to cut him off. “Call me when you’ve stopped drinking, OK?” I said and hung up. I cried for hours afterward.

That’s why I was in therapy. I wanted to kill myself. Actually “want” is too strong a word. I was afraid I would kill myself. I didn’t want to. There were just times when the guilt and fear for my brother were so strong they were nearly unbearable.

“Did you do your homework?”

“Yes.”

“How were you good to yourself?”

“I took myself shopping.”

“Did you buy yourself something.”

“Cologne.”

“Good. When you smell it, you should sink, ‘zis is ze smell of my freedom’.”

Wow. I got homework after our second session. I had to learn not to punish myself for letting down people who were not even there, my mom, my brother.

“Ze super-ego is very strong in you, Maretha.”

“What’s that? I never studied psychology.”

“It is ze parent. Ze voice zat says ‘Maretha, you should do zis, you should do zat, you aren’t good enough’.”

“Oh.”

“Ze super-ego is a good sing, too, but it is not everysing. Zere is a little girl inside you, too. Were you ever a little girl? I sink not so much. You had a big job to do in your family. You had to care for your parents. Your dad, he was sick. Your muzzer, I sink she was an alcoholic, no?”

I started to cry. France handed me a tissue.

“It is normal. You can see how that little girl had a job too big for her. How can a little girl do zat job? But you needed a family, you were dependent, you needed zem, so you did what you could to keep zem functioning. You could not succeed. You see yourself as a failure, but what you are is a survivor.”

“Wow,” I said. “I never saw that.”

“No. We cannot see so well in ze middle of sings.”

“What’s my homework this week?”

“I don’t have to give you homework any more,” said France. ‘You are figuring zat out for yourself. Ze fact is, Maretha, you are a tyger. You see what you need and you go after it. Nussing can stop you. You are very fierce, actually a little scary.”

“Is it a bad thing?”

“No. Tygers, zey are beautiful. If you were not a tyger, you would not be here now. I sink only a tyger could survive your childhood.”

A tyger? Her explanation gave me so much to think about. I left and persisted in trying to be nice to myself. It helped to remind myself that it was impossible for me to save my brother from what he had chosen to do with his life. His life was his job, not mine. I gave myself the homework to understand that he had the right to make his choices, even bad choices, even sad ones. He had the right to make choices that would take him away from me. As France’ words penetrated more deeply into my mind, I began to see the entire dynamic of my family in a new way. Yes. I’d always been determined to be “normal” and to function and to survive. I’d fought back. I also saw that was why I was sober and had held my life together.

Later that day I reread Blake’s poem and saw how Blake’s tyger was formed in fire of hard elements, of darkness and night’s pinpoints of light. Roar.

The Tyger, written and illustrated by William Blake

A really good song and an even better (cuter) video. You’ll enjoy it! I promise!

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_prompt/fearful-symmetry/

Reprise…

Daily Prompt Hindsight Now that you’ve got some blogging experience under your belt, re-write your very first post.

If it’s all the same to you, Daily Prompt, I do not want to rewrite that first post. It was a very good prompt, though. Not easy to write and not obvious. It was not a yes/no question and it had some complexity. Here is that post, by the way. Anyone who reads it will quickly understand why I might not want to rewrite it. It deals with addiction, loss and other very cheery topics.

P.S. I get your stragedy here, WordPress Daily Prompt Mavens. Your idea is that a person who stays with this for a short time will see they can write better now than they did back THEN. That is not a relevant stragedy for someone like me or any of the other experienced writers who turn to the daily prompt for their varied reasons (entertainment being one — that used to be mine). If I’m going to rewrite something — and I have rewritten some of my posts to improve their structure and various other things with an eye to submitting them for real publication — it will be something I’ve chosen. Not because I’ve got “blogging experience” “under my belt.”  If you ever READ anything we write you might see it differently and take your job more seriously. I don’t know exactly WHAT you do but it can’t be that much work that you can’t do better by this one aspect of WordPress which certainly brings you business. Or maybe you don’t need the business? Maybe you only need a bunch of random people to start up and go for six months and bail (as fully a third of the blogs I follow have done).

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_prompt/hindsight/