On Loss and Carrying On

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Today marks yet another anniversary of my dear friend JJ passing away and this year, the passing of other, more well-known people has added to the sense of loss. David Bowie, Prince and too many others to mention have left this earth and moved on but not without leaving an imprint on our hearts and in our souls. I will still hear songs by Bowie and Prince, just as I will replay conversations I’ve had with JJ. I still hear my father’s voice when I’m lost and seeking guidance and hear my mother’s voice when I’m doing something that I know would cause her concern and/or anxiety, so in that way, they live on because I will not forget. I will not let the sense of grief and loss keep me from living the life I know they all (well, maybe not specifically D.B. & Prince) would want me to. I believe strongly that we are all interconnected and the more I try to be solitary, aside from everyone else, the more I realize that’s not really possible. What my loved one goes through, I am emotionally right there by their side; when someone is angry and hurting, those feelings project out of them and I feel as though a barrage of emotionally-charged arrows are heading straight for me, like heat-seeking missiles. When I am with someone who is depressed, I cannot help but feel for them; I have been there, I know the way and I know how dark it becomes. I can tell myself it is their problem, their burden to bear and logically it is. But there is a voice that tells me that if I am able to help, I should. If I have a light to give this person to help them find their way through the darkness, how can I not offer it? If I bring happiness or even a temporary relief of a great burden or guilt, does that not benefit me as well?

Prince and David Bowie are part of the soundtrack of my life and they will call to mind the times I’ve had, good, bad and amazing with my friends, my family and you, my dear readers. I will do my best to cherish the good times and not let the loss overshadow the gifts that I’ve been given. When all else fails, I’ll put on their music and just dance.

That’s how I’ll get through this thing called life.

Breadcrumbs

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As most of you know by now, I am big into planning, strategizing, researching and in general getting deep into the details of whatever I am thinking/planning/dreaming about. I tend to get distracted easily, like a small child walking through the forest I find myself not looking where I am going but instead my gaze is cast toward the sky, the treetops and the falling snowflakes; I am so enthralled that I lose any sense of direction, purpose or mission. My attention flits to follow every shiny object, butterfly or even just random thought and as a result, I tend to find myself off course a great deal of the time. Knowing this and experiencing the frustration of trying to remember the exact location where I zigged when I should’ve zagged, I have gotten in the habit of leaving myself a trail of mental breadcrumbs to help me find my way back. Maybe it’s not even about adjusting course; often times it seems to be the realization that the destination I had in mind was just a work of fiction; like Never Never Land or some would say, heaven. This is a hard truth to bear and even more difficult if one has accepted that vision as truth and invested in that vision to the point of exclusion of almost everything else. I have 99 different ways to sabotage any chance at happiness but sometimes it’s simply a matter of unreal expectations, turning a blind eye to truths that may not fit with the vision in my mind. I don’t know if that’s due to human nature, a survival mechanism or just the desire to believe in happy endings or something altogether different, but I once again have strayed off the course and need to get back to the topic of getting back to where I need to be. There is nothing wrong with seeing the good in people and wanting to be a part of something greater than just oneself; however, I personally have a very difficult time setting aside my primary need for independence to allow that to happen. It’s not a trust issue, it’s a lack of desire to be dependent upon anyone else other than myself. I don’t want to need anyone. I want to stand alone, stand strong, but I’ll also stand by my man, stand up for what’s right and stand strong in solidarity with my sisters or brothers.

OK – see? A clear demonstration of me going completely off track. So, back to my breadcrumbs. I set a series of goals for myself and have a specific calendar that I keep those goals, dates and any notes that I have regarding the goal, etc. When I check in with that calendar, those dates are my breadcrumbs. I set a lot of goals upon my return from Scotland this summer and looking back, I have accomplished zero of those goals. I set new ones shortly afterwards and strangely enough, they have little to do with me personally; they are about finding new ways to live, to allow another person into the bubble that I live in, into my world. How to allow people be who they are, not take things so personally and in general, compromise. Nothing wrong with those goals as they are skills that every human being should possess, but the reason behind those goals is significant. Did I make those goals for me or did I make those goals with a specific person in mind? Am I once again trying to “become” what this person needs me to be? Or am I just trying to grow and get outside of my solitary circle of comfort? I don’t know. That’s the tough part. I do not ever want to make a change for someone else. I have done that in the past and it never works out well. I have to make changes for myself, understanding that everyone around me will also benefit because I will not be resentful or be motivated by guilt for having made a change I did not willing wish to make.

I have brought out a new calendar, with new goals and new thoughts to ponder along the journey. I feel strongly that everyone who is in my life is there for a reason and I value them for that and for the incredible human being they are (all my homies are incredible human beings) and celebrate what gifts they’ve given me throughout our time together. Some have been in my world longer than others and some have been to places in my world others have not, but the important thing is that even though I choose to be single, I am not alone. Even though I appear to be somewhat happy and well adjusted, I am mostly not. I am terrified of  many things, although spiders are not one of them. I have learned and grown a great deal in the past year, but I know I am never done learning. I have laughed, cried and raged and will value those memories for the lessons they imparted, the good times they brought and above all else, the people that rode the tsunami with me.

257 Days and Counting

Yep. 257 days since I last drank. That’s less than a year but feels like more than a lifetime.

I remember the first time I had a drink; it was Mickey’s Big Mouth beer and I was about 13 years old. I liked the bottle more than I liked the taste, but I drank it nonetheless. I eventually graduated to California Coolers, then Bacardi 151. I immediately enjoyed the effect. The numbness, the fuzziness of the mind, the emptying of the worry bin inside my head. I drank only occasionally, but always with the same result, a welcome brain buzz and immediate mood shift. It wasn’t difficult for me to obtain back then, I could stand outside the local liquor store and at most, it would take me two attempts before I was successful.
It wasn’t until much later in life that I really needed to drink. When I was living in Mississippi, I would drink a bottle of White Zin every night for about two weeks. (I know – White Zin??) I used it for the same reason I always drank; to numb and to not feel. Eventually, I was able to adjust to life away from my hometown and family, but I still drank. Just not as much and not at home. I have wonderful memories of living there, but they all centered around being at a bar, going to a bar, buying alcohol, drinking alcohol, having drunken walks on the beach, drunken intense, soul-searching conversations that I could barely recall the next day. I didn’t see it at the time, but I was starting a pattern that would later come back to haunt me. Me + Drink = Good Times. I can’t recall the exact date, but somewhere during this part of my life, I got the idea that I wasn’t fun, smart, good-looking and/or interesting unless I had fueled up with some form of alcohol first.

Fast forward to 2011. I am now hitting happy hour in any day ending with “y”. I set a limit of how much I was going to drink, then would blow past that in the first hour. I’m coming home, but not remembering the drive there. I’m waking up in the morning and not remembering the entire evening. I knew on some level that I had a problem, so I tried to establish as many safety nets as I could. Drive home, then walk to a bar close by, so I could walk home and as a bonus, more alcohol consumption as a reward for my “responsible drinking”. Other useless rules included: No shots, all shots, 2 drink minimum, 1 hour maximum….the list went on and on, along with the drinking. The only thing that was constant was my drinking.

At last, I had an intervention of sorts; it was really just one very important person, telling me how much he was scared of losing me, scared I would kill myself or someone else. He was trying to say it in the nicest way possible, but I could hear the embarrassment and the underlying anger, laced with fear. My son. My grown son had to tell me, his mother, that I was out of control and heading straight for an epic fail. The nagging voice in my head that had been whispering the same message agreed wholeheartedly. I had other clues that my mental state was not improving and all this self-medicating was serving only to fuel my ever-increasing rage and rising manic state. So, I made a call to my psychiatrist and told her that I was finally ready to get serious about my ridding myself of my out-of-control addictions.

After 7 weeks of intensive outpatient treatment and countless AA meetings, I better understand why I drank so much, how it had a negative effect on my attempts to manage my mental illness. I was able look back at that time and shudder. I shudder to think that I drove, that I lost countless hours, days, nights and whole weekends just because I didn’t want to go through the temporary discomfort of facing my fears and doing the hard work to get right with myself. Life is truly what we make it and I am determined to make mine count. Live each and every day mindfully and honestly. I don’t want to be numb or try to avoid discomfort. Discomfort is what tells me that I need to make a change or I need to move on. It’s a necessary evil, for lack of a better term.

I’d like to say that the hard part is over, but I’m done lying to myself. I think the worst is over, but there will always be difficult times, with or without those crutches. I will trust in myself, know that I have more strength than I could ever imagine. If I feel weak, I know what to do to gather my strength. If I feel lost, I have friends and family to help me find my way. I have AA and all the wealth of experience and support that offers. Most of all, I have my self worth and a clarity of vision that help me to see what is good for me and what is not. I have the courage to speak up for myself and the strength of will to walk away from what is not good for me.

This year, I will celebrate one year of sobriety the month before my 45th birthday and I know it will be the best birthday I’ve ever had. I look forward to living life without the burdens of shame, fear and self-loathing. I raise my glass of Hansen’s Natural Soda and toast to living the good life.

Cheers!