My family has suffered 2 deaths in the past two weeks. The first was my sister in law, 47. She died from complications from pneumonia. That’s the simplest way to put it. The second, last night, was my father in law. While at the wake for my sister in law, my father in law was taken to the hospital due to a lot of fluid build up. While there, he was diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic and liver cancer. He lasted a little longer than a week. He died 2 weeks after my sister in law.
Watching my brother and my mother in law is so sad. Watching the children (albeit adults) lose a parent is heartbreaking. I’m just freaking sad.
I’m sad and even filled with some guilt. Guilt I wasn’t a better friend to my sister in law. Guilt that I didn’t see my father in law as often as I should have.
Guilt that my sister in law died on the 3 year anniversary of my suicide attempt. Guilt watching family members hurt so much from these unavoidable tragedies. Guilt that I almost put my family members through something similar.
I’m just sad today.
“Well, Bobbie, that’s just what men do,” she said to me tenderly. “My uncle did that to me too.”
My eyes grew large as I looked at her and said, “No. That is not what men do.”
The discussion was about her granddaughter. Her granddaughter who had been sexually abused by her son. She was able to accept this as the way things were. I cried. I cried for hours. I couldn’t stop. You see, I didn’t want to believe he could do this. But if his mother thought he could, well, then, I knew he did. Later years he finally admitted to me that his niece’s accusations were, in fact, all true.
I shed tears that day for her, her granddaughter and for myself.
Triggers Show Up Out of Nowhere
I was in my early 20s and suddenly on that day a flood of memories hit me. I remembered the abuse I suffered at just four years old and again at 11 by a trusted family member. I wept for myself and the little girl I had been. For the toddler who was terrified and shocked and the pre-teen who was ashamed and embarrassed that anyone would touch her “there.” I wept for the teen I grew to be that developed breasts too late and was teased. I wept for the teen whose breasts ended up being larger than everyone else’s. I wept for the girl whose breasts were always a subject of discussion, whose breasts got touched “accidentally” by doctors, teachers and even church members. The breasts that boys bragged about touching even if they didn’t. This woman sparked memories in me that I had hidden so deep I thought they were buried. The flood gates opened.
I tried to self-destruct. I tried to run from the memories. I was trying to drown the memories so I could put them back where they belonged. I punished myself for the action of others. Indelible in the hippocampus was the shame I felt so many years ago (sorry, couldn’t resist—it is such a good line).
During my entire adulthood I rarely spoke of these incidents. My sister, my best friend and my husband were aware of the details. That is all. Then as I was working Step Four with my sponsor, I wrote out my resentments. So many names on my list referred to the men in my life who had sexually abused me. I wrote out the names, I wrote out the incidents and I just let it all sit there for a few weeks. As I was working Step Five, I spoke of these incidents to my sponsor. She listened. She nodded. She was gentle and reassured me I had no part in these resentments. We went to her burn pit and lit them on fire. I was free of the incidents that had haunted me for the first time in my life. They no longer took up space in my head and my soul.
When You Know Better, Do Better
I truly don’t believe that anyone thought they were hurting anything when they hurt me. I have come to believe that they were doing the best they could with what they had. “That’s just what men do” came from a woman who came from a generation that believed that. I am not saying this to excuse the behavior. I am saying this because this is how I am able to forgive. We are getting better. We are raising our sons to do better. We are teaching our daughters not to be silent. I have wondered, with recent headlines, what would happen if we all spoke up and named names? How different would our world look? I know that I don’t have the guts to do this. I know that I am okay and even better than okay most days. I truly don’t have it in me to destroy families by speaking up. I’m okay with that. Just as I am okay with the women that want to speak up after so many years and tell their story. I will stand up with them.
Triggers Can Go Both Ways
What I really hope is that my abusers remember what they did. That these headlines have triggered memories in them that they are finding difficult to live with. I don’t need an apology. I would love, however, some living amends to be made on my behalf. I want all of our daughters to feel safe in safe places. There are terrible people out there, for sure. But, there are places the terrible people are not supposed to be. Your home, your church, your school and your doctor’s office to name a few.
I hope that they see the hurt and feel the pain and stand up and say, “This is NOT what men do.”
“Have you been drinking?”
My standard reply. Always. It didn’t matter if I had been drinking or not. This was what I always answered. And not just, “no” but “no” with a little indignation thrown in. Like, “no, why would you ask that?” or “no, what kind of question is that?”
But, chances are, if someone asked, I was. Because I always was. Vodka. In my coffee, my iced tea, my diet coke. Disguised in a water bottle. Wherever I was. Coaching, playing ball, watching my kid play ball, family get-togethers, and even babysitting. It didn’t matter where I was. I always had a drink in hand.
I guess I thought I wasn’t hurting anyone. It was about me. My vodka, my life. I had gotten to the point that without it I became extremely anxious and couldn’t really leave my house. I had gotten to the point that it just became my big crutch.
One evening I was babysitting my granddaughter. I was supposed to pick up my sister at the airport so I had my son leave my granddaughter’s car seat. And I wasn’t going to drink. My sister hadn’t met my granddaughter yet and I was really excited about it. She was just a little over 3 months with red hair and gorgeous and I was so in love with her.
I wasn’t going to drink. So, instead, I took a Xanax around noon. I knew I would get really anxious and I felt this would be the best plan. I took another Xanax on my way to my son’s around 4 hours later. Somehow I felt this was better than drinking. Maybe it would have been. But, guess what? I fixed myself a drink.
My son had all this alcohol on the top of his fridge. Awesome looking stuff if you’re me and an alcoholic. He had peach or pineapple vodka and I couldn’t resist. I made myself a drink. I only had one. I thought that would be okay. The baby and I fell asleep and were awakened after about an hour from my daughter.
“You need to go pick up Amy,” she says. “okay, we’re up.” I replied.
“Have you been drinking?” she asks.
“No.” I say.
I get the baby in the car seat. My two nieces ride with me to pick up my sister. I can barely keep my eyes open. It is about a 20 minute drive and I struggle to stay awake the entire time. We pick up my sister who oohs and aahs over the baby and I take my sister to pick up her vehicle about 30 minutes away.
“Are you okay?” she asks? “Just tired,” I reply.
By the time I drop off my sister I am more awake. Her youngest gets in her car and her oldest stays with me and my granddaughter. (later I found out she stayed with me because I seemed off) At this point, I don’t know how to get back to my son’s, so as I’m driving I pick up my phone to put in the address. I look down and swerve. A pretty big swerve I was told. I correct myself and start to look down again. My niece takes the phone then so I can tell her the address. I don’t remember his address. I give her a cross street and we figure it out. The rest of the drive is pretty uneventful. That is only due to luck. Or God’s grace, which is what I’m going with.
At my son’s my behavior became more erratic. The Xanax and the alcohol combined just made me more drunk. My daughter drove me home and gave me a lecture the entire way. The next morning I woke up with a little headache. I walked into the kitchen to find 4 empty vodka bottles on the counter. It seems while I was sleeping they found my stash of empties. No one was around so I just threw them away. To this day, I don’t believe they have ever been mentioned.
Needless to say, I was no longer allowed to babysit. My relationship with my son and daughter-in-law was so strained I wasn’t sure it could be repaired. And if it wasn’t, I wouldn’t have blamed them. I thought that, since I only had one drink it was okay to drive. The reality is, I shouldn’t have driven. I shouldn’t have been babysitting.
I was willing to drive with my granddaughter before I told anyone I was drinking. I didn’t want anyone to know. I thought I could hide it. The memory of this incident still makes me sick to my stomach. I can’t even tell you how many tears I shed because I did this.
This just shows how far I was willing to go to protect my alcoholism. I would risk mine, my sisters, my granddaughters and my nieces lives. This night could have had an entirely different ending. I am grateful I am here to tell my tale, as horrible as it is. I am forever grateful for second chances.
Since I began “recovering out loud” and sharing how addiction has affected my family this is the number one question I receive. “How do I keep my children from going down this path?”
I mean, you’re asking me? I obviously failed and I have my own demons I battle. I can tell you what we did. I can tell you the decisions from the past that I have poured over trying to find my own answers. Not sure what the golden ticket is though. Maybe I’m delusional and his childhood sucked. Maybe I let him get away with too much. Maybe I grounded him too often. Maybe not enough.
Do you think I ignored him at crucial times? When I became a parent at the early age of 21 the thought of addiction didn’t enter my head. I had this beautiful red headed baby boy and all I wanted to do was teach him Bible verses and how to play soccer. Two years later and his brother is born. I was ecstatic and in love with my two beautiful boys. And I really couldn’t wait until they played soccer. I loved reading to them. We would read every night before bed. This started at birth and continued until middle school. I read every single Harry Potter book out loud. Twice.
Do you think he had too much time on his hands? “Keep them in sports,” everyone said. “They won’t have time to do anything else.” That was my plan. They played soccer, baseball and hockey. The three of us took Tae Kwon Do together. Eventually summers were so full of baseball we did nothing else. We traveled all over and loved our baseball family. I remember thinking, “no way would they get in trouble, there is no time.” Summers were full of “drive ball” tournaments in our yard. They’d start early and end late. I’d make lunch for the whole group of boys that rode their bikes to our house to play. We’d have brackets and teams and a lot of fun.
Then high school happened. They get to high school and they make time for the bad stuff. When I was in high school I always wanted to push the envelope. Staying inside the lines was never enough for me. I always wanted more. I have passed that trait down to my children it seems. It’s funny when you look at your twelve year old kid and think, “uh oh, he’s just like me.” Only outside the envelope got a lot scarier. I pushed the envelope with drinking and pot and these things called pink hearts (today I think it‘s Adderall). Parties for my sons were prescription drug parties and drinking and pot and ecstasy and parents’ pain killers. It went up a notch and it’s scary.
Keep them in church? I started them out in church. Will say I failed on that one. But I do know that I was raised in church and I still tried everything. I still found a way to push against all the rules. I tried to be the good girl. Other days I tried to be the bad girl. I know of families that can’t understand how addiction got it’s way in and they were/are avid church goers. I believe in prayer — but I’m not sure the answer is just keeping your kids active in church. I was on the Bible quiz team for Pete’s sake. I still found a way to stumble. It definitely can’t hurt. Maybe it gives a kid a little more armor.
Teach them the consequences? I mean — you think I didn’t? You think that they didn’t do the D.A.R.E program at school? We had discussions. Heck, we had discussions about addiction and genetics and the fact that addiction runs in our family. But — we all have that moment where we believe we are invincible and that the bad stuff can’t touch us. We really believe it too. Until it does. Touch us. I mean, why specifically MY son. Why does he have to fight these demons?
He wasn’t alone you know. He didn’t try heroin for the first time by himself. Yet, I watch those kids have families, move on with their lives and have successful careers. While my son just fights for normal every single day.
You think it’s about moral fiber? Strength of character? I’m going to have to call BS on this. He shows so much strength every day that he stays clean. It is effort for him to exist. He has gotten to the point that nothing is comfortable without some form of being altered. He is learning new coping skills. The things we take for granted — breathing for example- are difficult for him. Every. Single. Day.
You think maybe I didn’t spend enough time with my kids? I was always with my kids. Their friends were always at our house. We traveled across the country together. The kid has been in forty something states. I’m sure he thought I was around too much. I was a stay at home mom from the time he was around 9. I played ball with him and his brother. I learned how to roller blade by playing hockey with them. I was always the room mother. The field trip mom. The score keeper. The soccer coach. Pretty sure that all things considered — I spent enough time with him.
He had a pretty decent childhood. He had a lot of family structure. I’m sure this doesn’t make the young parents feel safer. It’s true though. I mean, if you’re looking for blame, the buck stops here, so to speak. I don’t really know what I would go back and change. When I ask him — he tells me nothing I did or could have done would have made a difference. He is one of 4 and he is the one that is genetically predisposed to addiction. I think addiction is like a tornado, hitting one house, leaving the next, just swooping in at will wherever it wants. I guess maybe I needed better storm windows or something.
I think it would be better for anyone looking at us to find flaws with the way he was raised. To see neglect. To see abuse. To see mistakes. To see something that would make them exempt. If I knew what it was, I would tell you. I promise. I see all of the purple ribbons on social media and my heart aches. I wake up every morning and I wonder what the houses look like of the over 150 people who died while I was sleeping of overdose. And my heart aches.
Today looks different than I imagined it would when I held that baby boy with the blue eyes and the curly hair. These days his norm is rehab, work and meetings. It’s okay though. He is still my baby boy and I will fight this beside him as long as he needs me too and as long as he is fighting.
I realize there are people who could look at that piece of cake and not eat it. And not be tempted by it. I’m not one of those people. I look at that cake, eat that piece and then want the rest of the entire freaking cake. Same for me with alcohol. I have the one glass of wine, then I want the bottle (and sometimes another bottle).
One of my articles was recently published by an online magazine. The one regarding my son and his substance use disorder. Most people were compassionate, sympathetic or empathetic. Then there were the angry people. The self-righteous ones who think people who suffer from addiction are weak. Blisters on society. The ones that said they are costing tax payers too much money. I handled them with grace, I felt, but really just want to vent for a minute.
Science aside (the science that says addiction is a disease and proves the genetic component) how about just compassion? How about the acknowledgement that something is seriously damaged in our society today? We are losing an entire generation and it is terrifying. What is happening that people would rather stay altered as opposed to living in our reality? Is it our constant use of social media? Our instant gratification with online everything? I guess this part is for a different blog.
Here is what I don’t understand. How can anyone look at someone else and just think that they are a waste of space? Whose space? Is it not possible that we all bring something to the table?
I opened my FB today and saw that there were 3 overdose deaths in my circle of the world last night. This is not rare since my social media has become focused on recovery. It makes me so relieved that my child made it another day and so sad for the moms and dads and sisters and brothers and children that lost another cherished soul.
This will not change if we still have a large part of society thinking that people with substance use disorders don’t deserve their help. This will not change if people think it is weak vs. strong. Just don’t use? You can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube.
I am truly grateful for those that reached out and offered support and prayers. I added many to my prayer list. Those with hardened hearts. We need to take back our kids. Even if it is one kid at a time. These deaths are unacceptable.
I know I’m all over the place. I guess if being prone to addiction makes me weak, then I am weak. It also helped me find my strength. Does the fact that I struggle to maintain normal mean I am stronger than someone who doesn’t have to fight every day for normal? Or does it mean I am weak? That saying that “everyone is fighting a battle you know nothing about” is about having compassion for people and things you might not understand.
So people, stop bullying just because you can. It is more impressive if you say, “hey, I don’t get it, but it must be tough.”
When I was a young girl I thought that love meant flowers and candy. I thought it meant hearts and Valentine’s Day and big romantic gestures. I thought love was calling someone all of the time and talking all night on the phone. As I have aged my views of love have changed. As I look around I can see love in everyday occurrences. You have to be paying attention, but it really is all around us. I don’t think it looks like I imagined.
I think love is staying up late to make a special dip for friends you are meeting up with the next day. Taking the time to get the ingredients and putting in the effort to make it right.
I think love is a dad working on the road so his wife can be a stay at home mom. I think it is making the sacrifice of missing ball games so the kids can play in the select leagues.
I think love is a man leaving one job to work a second job when his body already hurts.
I think love is a mom driving 4 hours one way in order to have dinner with her son on his birthday. Then driving 4 hours home in order to take care of the other kids.
I think love is an older couple going to their daughter’s house to take care of her yard because they know she is depressed and just can’t do it herself.
I think love is a sister climbing in bed with her sister to watch Hallmark movies and eat popcorn because she knows bed is where her sister is the most comfortable right now.
I think love is a friend working on your car because he knows your husband is out of town and you need a little help. It’s taking gas to your friend because she ran out in the ATM machine coming to your house.
I think love is a husband holding his wife’s hand.
I think love is a message from an old friend who is far away just seeing if you’re okay.
I think love is a mom making dinner for 40 people every Thanksgiving because she believes in tradition and family.
I think love is driving 6 hours to see family for 2 days and driving 6 hours back home.
I think love is cutting your neighbor’s grass because he just had heart surgery.
I think love is accepting an apology.
I think love is not needing an apology.
I think love is picking up your husband’s suitcase every freaking week from the foyer and doing all of his laundry. So he can go back on the road to make your life more comfortable.
I think love is spending your only day off working on your daughter’s car.
I think love is taking dinner to a friend and her family after she broke her foot.
I think love is showing up each week to play cards with friends even when one might not feel like it.
I think love is found in our actions not flowers. I think it’s always there but if you’re not paying attention, you might miss it. I remember feeling sorry for myself in the psych ward and wanting to blame everyone and hate everything. Then I saw my family walk in to visit me. I was afraid they weren’t coming. When I saw my husband turn the corner my first thought was, “Holy cow. That man really does loves me.”
Stop looking for big romantic gestures. Look for the deeds. That’s where love is.