Category Archives: alcoholism

Making Space for Forgiveness

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Making Space for Forgiveness

I told her it was OK as my mother sobbed on my shoulder. I turned out fine, my life is far better than anything I could have dreamed. I told her that I forgave her and I understood that she just did what she had been taught, modeled patriarchal behavior. The same shit that her parents did that tore her down. Now she feels regret for repeating those awful behaviors.

Women are so eager to take on the blame. She’s crying over the bad wiring in her brain. The structure and synapses which were created by her own traumas, one by one, they formed a new way of thinking; alcoholism, rationalization, self-preservation, victim-hood, depression and decades of regret, at 73 the guilt is smacking her in the face, hard.

It’s sad and predictable, I remain calm and reassuring, while simultaneously hoping I can get home before the ice cream melts in my car. I know that sounds callous but I’ve been living with this drama my ENTIRE life. My head wanders in several directions: my recently deceased father and the damage he inflicted on all of us, groceries in the car, company coming over and being a witness to my mother dissolving in front of me, again. It’s almost too much to take but I’ve taken so much more than this when I was little.

She laments about her mental illness and the limitations it has caused. Her brilliant mind is her best worst enemy. She talks about her long ago marriage to my father and how brutal he was…he’s been dead less than 5 months. She begins to tell me about the rapes, the beatings, how awful he was and I don’t want the details. She holds the worst of it back and I am grateful for that. I already know too many terrible things about my parents, I don’t need more. I do ask for clarification on a few things, the answers surprise me.

I asked her why she left me in Florida when I was 9 while she and my brother went back to New Jersey for a visit. She has a puzzled look on her face and says that I wanted to stay. I was 9 and calling the shots apparently, I stayed with friends that we barely knew for those two weeks. She asked me if anything bad happened during my weeks with Kay and her family. I tell her no, remembering that is when I started smoking and I kissed a boy for the first time. I don’t mention these things, she has enough on her mind. She didn’t want me to stay with Frank, her then live-in boyfriend. She asks me if Frank ever made a pass at me. He didn’t, I was never assaulted by any of her boyfriends which, in retrospect, is sadly miraculous.

Then she confessed one of her biggest regrets as I stood there. She regrets how she handled it when she found out that 16 year old me was in a relationship with a 32 year old man. A man who 6 months prior, had been my counselor. So predictable, the textbook definition of a vulnerable girl and a predatory male. She’s mad at herself for not lashing out at this man 34 years ago. Instead she gave me the anger and disgust because that is what she was taught. It’s the females fault, it always is, men are the way they are. It’s OK mom, you reacted the way you were taught, I forgive you. She seemed to calm down a bit and I told her I loved her and left to go home.

A few hours later, I’m in my kitchen making a damn good tomato sauce with sausage, eggplant and roasted garlic. I have the echo blasting 70’s music, I’m in my happy place. Then I have one of those ah-ha moments. My mother doesn’t hate me, she hates herself for all the ways she’s failed me. Somehow this awareness removes a burden and I have more space for forgiveness.

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Far, Far Away

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Far, Far Away

Scene: A middle-aged woman walks into an upscale chain restaurant (is that an oxymoron?).

Me: Hi, I’m meeting a friend for lunch, we would like a table for two.

Host: Do you have a reservation?

Me: (Slowly turns head from right to left and counts 5 patrons on my left hand as I spy with my little eye a dozen or so bored employees standing around) No sir, I do not have a reservation, think you could squeeze us in?

Host: Right this way Miss. (He knows I’m not a Miss but guys in any kind of service industry know better than to say Ma’am to any woman under the age of 80 In New Jersey. Southern friends you get a pass and with that accent you can say Ma’am and no one gets offended however, if you bless my heart, I’ll know we have an issue.)

Me: Super, thanks.

So this friend and I haven’t seen each other in a handful of years. We’re both 50 now, we met when we were 15 and became roommates in an adolescent rehab in Long Branch, New Jersey. You probably would never be able to guess this if you were looking at us from afar, just two humdrum moms or perhaps business associates having lunch. I was wearing nice pants and a chenille sweater (I know, I can’t believe chenille is back in style! I love it until you wash it and then the material disintegrates like makeup melting in the summer sun). My friend wore a cute blazer and a beautiful necklace, we were quite civilized, at least if you were judging us on our apparel.

A friendship that spans more than three decades is equal parts decadent and comforting. There is an easiness and a candor to our conversation which surpasses most friendships. We talked about some awful things yesterday; death, health issues and politics. We shared our inner most feelings about our parents which would surely be met with some shock and disdain by a more casual observer, someone who didn’t know our individual histories. There is nothing casual about this friendship though, we have been in the trenches together and on separate paths, and damn it if we both aren’t frickan’ amazing.

The world was not kind to either one us when we met. She came from a family that looked perfect on the outside and was the stuff of nightmares once you pulled up the rug to take a peek. Her father physically beat her, her mother enabled it and added her own emotional and verbal abuse to the toxic mix. Both of her parents worked full time and lived in a desirable neighborhood in Monmouth County. It was a sprawling suburban oasis which bordered more rural areas. They were the kind of people that would send out a Christmas letter which contained a recipe for something delicious while listing the academic achievements of their two children. The letter would include a photo of all four wearing LL Bean with a festive backdrop. Lies, all lies.

My crazy was less subtle. I came from a broken single parent household with a mother who had stopped drinking a few months prior. I didn’t have a tattoo, if I did it would just be three letters – FTW. I was writing that on everything jeans, notebooks, walls, this was in the 80s so I feel like I should get partial credit for the rise of WTF, but I digress. I was a hot little mess and there was no mistaking me for the future Homecoming Queen. I was goth before goth was a thing and the chip on my shoulder was the size of a flying saucer.

So here I was goth girl with the yuppie who wore Ocean Pacific. We found common ground as we were both taking French at the time and shared a tutor named Maximilian. Max was great. He treated us like we were worthwhile, had a genuine interest in our well being and didn’t try to sleep with us (that was shockingly rare). He was keenly interested (or at least made me believe he was) in my profoundly dramatic and somewhat awful poetry. He even gave me a journal so I would have something special to write my poems in, it was incredibly thoughtful. In return, I introduced him to blueberry Hubba Bubba which may have been the single worst gum ever invented. Max, always the gentleman, accepted this token of my affection as if it was a Parisian gourmet treat.

Sample of profoundly dramatic and somewhat awful poetry:

You can never catch me

I’m never within your reach

you just have to set me free

like the waves on the beach

It was March of 1984 when Genevieve and I crossed paths. It was her first stay and my second. My first introduction to our juvie resort was in October of 1983 when I, by some miracle, actually decided to get sober. I got out in December of 1983 and my mother immediately got remarried. That marriage was incredibly brief and led to a cataclysmic shake up of what was once a family of three – my mother, twin brother and I. Our little family was scattered into the universe – my mother trying to find a safe place to start over, my brother couch surfing with friends and I got sent to a cult farm in upstate New York which claimed to be a recovery halfway house (that’s a book all by itself). I ran away from that place after a month and was basically homeless. The rehab in Long Branch agreed to take me in until I could get into another halfway house (one less cultish, Koolaid optional).

From fifteen until now, so much life has been lived, good and bad times. We used to go to AA meetings and often found ourselves at the same one on Tuesday nights. It was there that I found out that Genevieve went “out” again and used. I was devastated, I sobbed and feared for the worst. We had both been sober a couple of years at this point which was remarkable. We watched the revolving door of recovery enough to know that plenty of people never make it back. She did though, a testament to her own strength. I don’t think I have another recovery in me which is why I have been sober since 1983, I’m pretty sure I would lose myself into a permanent oblivion if I ever “slipped”. Slipped isn’t that a nice word for the potential to destroy your life…moving on.

We got sober as teenagers, we are both living, breathing miracles. We did the stuff that teens do – dated inappropriate guys, most of whom were not worthy of us. I say that looking back at a girl who had no self-esteem and shitty role models. I was the poster child for the fragile no-daddy girl, she hated her father, we were both ripe for bad relationships. She married her worst mistake, I dated mine off and on for 4 agonizing years. In between we commiserated and went out to clubs with big hair, high hopes and short skirts.

She had her first baby when we were 19 and she married a guy that beat her when she was pregnant. I threw her baby shower and saw some suspicious bruises, she never admitted it, but I knew. By the grace of God she left that relationship. She worked and put herself through college while her daughter was a baby and into the toddler years. She became a CPA and made her way up the corporate ladder. She met a nice guy about 25 years ago and they got married and had two children. Her path was slow but steady and she fought tooth and nail for everything she got.

I was in a bad relationship in my early twenties that held me back from my own potential. When it ended, I set up a 5 year plan which included finishing my BA and purchasing a house. The most empowering thing I ever did was to buy a house at age 30 and wouldn’t you know it, I closed on Genevieve’s birthday. A few years later, I married the right guy and we have two teenagers, a large dog, a gecko and a carnival goldfish with a will to live which defies logic. When I say that I am living beyond my wildest dreams, it is sincere. I didn’t dare to dream of the life I have now.

So here we were, having lunch…two miracles sitting at the table speaking our minds with the freedom of that invisible safety net of a friend who knows your history. Someone who saw you as a phoenix rising from the ashes…we both flew far, far away.

 

 

Fear

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Fear

My brain is a swirling mass of bad ideas, thoughts that want to tell me the worst. Imagined bad scenarios pile up like cars on an untreated highway during a rush hour ice storm in Atlanta, Georgia. It’s an unexpected, unanticipated disaster threatening and menacing, I could be taken out at anytime by what I don’t see in the blind spots, navigation is treacherous. No actual cars, just the thoughts in my head that I struggle to not breath life into. I keep them locked up in the darkest recesses of my mind where they ricochet like a vintage game of Pong on meth or speed or whatever causes the most damage and chaos.

What happened? Nothing much, it doesn’t take much. My husband could go out for a walk or to meet a friend for coffee and sometimes my damaged mind assumes diabolical situations – mostly that he is cheating on me or dead in a ditch, perhaps mangled in a car crash. Sometimes I think it’s a girlfriend or a hooker, other times I go full blown psycho and imagine the “other family” like a plot from Brothers & Sisters where I play Sally Field’s character. I try to distract myself from my own wicked thoughts and it’s exhausting. Like the duck which appears calm on the surface of the water but if you go underneath you see the frantic kicking of the webbed feet. I’m the duck cooking dinner and answering homework questions while my mind is imagining horrendous scenarios.

I talk myself off of my woman made mental ledge by giving myself an internal pep talk. He loves me I tell myself, knowing that isn’t enough. I mean plenty of guys that love their wives cheat or die in a car crash, statistical fact. I go deeper into my analysis – what time of the month is it? Last menstrual cycle was 22 days ago – interesting, the math works. Didn’t sleep more than 3 hours, got maybe 4 hours the night before last. What did I eat today? Have I exercised? I do much better when I sleep enough, eat well and get in a work out. Has anything different happened to make me feel vulnerable – why yes two family deaths in the span of six months, some collateral drama.

Much like the pilot of an airplane, I have a pre-flight checklist. If any of these items apply I note them and the demons of my mind step back a bit. It has taken years of self introspection and observation to acknowledge these pitfalls. Inevitably though it always comes back to fear of abandonment.

The scars of a dysfunctional upbringing are the echos that haunt me. In the arrogance of youth when I had more energy, was physically more attractive and had complete financial independence, I had the naivete to think the ghosts of my childhood wouldn’t haunt me. I remember my own mother telling me that there was a certain level of her own damage that she had come to accept as insurmountable. Late twenties me thought what a bunch of bullshit that was and how if you had awareness then surely you had the ability to make some changes.

The decades since have softened my views on this…certainly as individuals we have some control over our outlook on life. I have also come to view these deeper flaws in a way that I view grief. You cannot jump high enough or dig deep enough to get around it, you must go through it. You need to absorb your personal truths and recognize them when they float to the surface. By all means fight the demonic bastards with everything you’ve got, just recognize that they will continue to be unwelcome and hopefully infrequent visitors.

So as much as I hate to admit it, mom was right. Some of my fuckedupness is just a part of me and I need to make peace with it. Not panic when the – damn is he cheating on me or why are they late, did they crash the car thoughts come in, because they wilI. I need to glance at my pre-flight checklist and acknowledge that I have a fear of abandonment which is stoking the flames of the negative fires burning in my brain. I need to go after them one thought at a time – dousing them with logic and pragmatic reflection until they are just smoldering embers waiting for the next opportunity to ignite.

The Man on the Bed

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The Man on the Bed

I made a new friend yesterday, his name is Lenny and he’s 85. He happens to be dying of lung cancer but we didn’t talk much about that. I went to visit him as a hospice volunteer. Lenny’s house is a treasure trove of art and dust. His room smells like urine and his clothes are in a pile on the floor near his bed. If you can look past that, you are rewarded with art from several cultures and genres.

Soon after I arrived I noticed a copy of “The Man on the Bed” painting. This painting was created by Robert M for the December 1955 Grapevine (an Alcoholics Anonymous publication). I commented on the painting and informed my new friend that I was sober 35 years though I don’t go to meetings anymore. Lenny also got sober in the 80’s and attends 6 – 10 meetings a week.

The man is on oxygen and has a catheter and it doesn’t stop him. We joked about the car he drives which happens to be a Ford Escape and we decided it was the perfect name for his vehicle. Indeed he is escaping every time he leaves the house. For an hour or so he is welcomed into a warm room full of people he is fond of, embracing the humanity of it as a respite from the confines of his bed.

We talked a lot about Lenny’ s life, he’s had a fascinating life. He was born in Copenhagen in 1934. He spent his childhood in institutions as he was abandoned by his parents. His country was under German occupation during World War II when he was a child. He has vivid memories of interacting with German soldiers as a young boy. He recalled one memory when he was affectionately picked up by a German soldier and placed in the sidecar of a Zundap motorcycle which had a machine gun attached to it.

He never sat in a traditional classroom, he taught himself to read by working out the captions under illustrations. He has always been drawn to art and artists. He credits his time at the Summerhill School in Suffolk England for encouraging his creativity. He described it as a free range approach to education, no classroom required.

He became a mason apprentice at 14 and got his Mason Certificate and Union Book four years later. He traveled the world through his trade and spent time in Sweden, Norway, Germany, Greenland and Australia. He came to the USA in 1963, he arrived on old freighter which was riddled with bullet holes. He disembarked in Hoboken, New Jersey and got his green card.

We didn’t spend a lot of time talking about his three marriages. He did tell me that each of his wives was wonderful and that the blame for failure was his alone. He had four children and two died from overdoses. We didn’t dwell on it, he took the blame for that as well. He told me he was a lousy father, not at all present for his children when they were growing up. Three decades of sobriety has a way of smoothing out the rough edges of self acceptance.

Sometimes you need to spend time with the dying to fully appreciate living. I can’t wait to visit my new friend again.

Less Than

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Less Than

My emotional bandwidth is full at the moment. The world seems to be a swirling mass of chaos and I cannot process one more thing. My father died a couple of weeks ago and I’ve been trying to find my footing ever since, I’m still shaky. We weren’t close, we weren’t estranged, we were somewhere in-between, a relationship on hold. A quick call on birthdays and holidays, a visit or two throughout the year and lately one or more of those visits was in a hospital room. I always tightened my stomach before dialing his number, it never got easy, but I kept trying. Walking through the awkward became somewhat less traumatic yet, it never vanished.

Our relationship went off the rails the summer I was 9. My twin brother and I were back in New Jersey after living in Florida for a year. Before we moved, there was a custody case, mom won and promptly took us away. While we were gone, we would get weekly calls from our father and stepmother telling us how much they missed us and couldn’t wait to see us again. We believed them.

We made our way back to New Jersey and were visiting a family friend who lived around the corner from our father and stepmother. My brother and I went to the house, excited to see them. We could barely contain ourselves, wouldn’t they be surprised! A somber version of our father emerged and coaxed us away from the door and sat us down on the front steps. I don’t remember his exact words but the gist of it was – you can’t just come here unannounced, I have a family now. I’m sure it had something to do with his baby daughter and a wife that wanted to contain the crazy. Looking back I can see where the man had been put through hell. Trying to get custody, losing that battle, then his insane (certified) ex wife takes his kids to Florida, it must have been an emotional roller coaster for him. I lacked that perspective then. What I heard was I don’t want to see you and then it all faded to black.

I think my little psyche had been through too much at this point so I just shut down. Florida was a nightmare and I had witnessed far more than any child should. If he didn’t want us to visit, then fine I wouldn’t want to be there. I flipped a switch, threw up a wall, deployed the shield. My brother, God bless him, he handled it different. He just tried harder to get the man’s attention. For years, decades even, it was like watching an animal stuck in a trap trying to get free, wailing in pain with each pull of a limb. I avoided the trap.

My father and his second wife had 5 children. They raised them Catholic, took them to church every Sunday and didn’t mention the fact that they had half siblings. My brother and I would visit our paternal grandmother who lived 4 houses away from our father and he would not stop in to visit. A whispered hush fell over the town when we would visit, “those” kids were around. Our uncle lived next door to our father, we could hear our siblings laughing and playing outside while we were across the street. They didn’t even know we existed. I guess the plan was that eventually we would give up on every paternal relative but we didn’t. We kept showing up and at some point our father and stepmother had to tell the other kids about us. Is this the Christian way to raise a family? I mean I don’t go to church too often but this seems a little off, but I digress.

We never had a conversation about this. I wrote him when I was 21, suggested that we  get to know each other. I acknowledged that I had not heard his side of things. He never responded to that letter. In our late twenties my twin and I would see our father and his family at events for extended relatives, things started to thaw.

Back to Dad…

In mid September he went in for a test, that test resulted in an error which required a surgical fix. I went to visit him on a Wednesday, they were talking about discharging him, this was 5 days after his surgery. We did our usual small talk, I showed him digital pics of my kids from a recent trip, we listened to the weather channel. A somewhat bland visit, it was to be our last conversation. Oh how I wish I could redo that chat. The next day he went into cardiac arrest, 5 days later, he was gone.

Those days went by in slow motion, somewhat suspended as we sat in a CCU waiting room, anxious for the next update. I was there with four half siblings, my father’s significant other and other relatives that would stop by. I participated in conversations about his medical directive and eventually we got him transitioned into hospice. I’ve been a hospice volunteer for ten years so I was familiar with the process and knew which questions to ask. He died within 20 minutes of having the ventilator removed, per his wishes which he declared in an Advance Medical Directive. He was surrounded by people that loved him in his final moments and it went about as well as these things can, it was still awful.

I knew the wake would be hard for a variety of reasons. Of course there is the grief of losing a parent. If you’re lucky, you have a lifetime of memories to cherish, inside jokes, and special moments that live in your heart. My memories are scarce and tainted by abandonment, unanswered questions and decades of denial that I wanted, no, needed a father. No more do-overs, mulligans or second chances, in that regard, hope also died. Hope that somehow, someday, somewhere, someway, the awkward yet necessary conversation will happen, it won’t. It never will.

That’s a lot to take in when your standing in 4 inch heals for five hours straight on the back end of the receiving line for your dead father.  He was flanked by honor guards, standing at attention. Honor guards, and some people looked confused as they were trying to sort out my role. I was his oldest daughter, twin to a brother that bore his name and I had to explain that dozens of times throughout the wake. It’s not the first time someone has said “Oh, I didn’t know he had an older daughter”, perhaps it will be the last.

Of course there were pictures. Pictures everywhere of a life I never lived. A seemingly happy family with 5 kids and two parents in matching Christmas outfits, funny birthday shots, tons of beach and bay photos filled with beautiful people on sunny days. I forced myself to put a memory board together and only found one photo of us from my son’s Christening 15 years ago. I filled the board with twin baby and toddler pictures of my brother and I. Then I added some random beach shots of my kids in the town that my father lived in. It was pathetic and sad and I insisted on doing it, I needed to be in that room. I needed my kids to be there too, forced inclusion at it’s lowest level.

The pictures were of particular importance. Nearly 20 years ago, my stepmother died in a car accident. We had just begun to heal our broken relationship when she died suddenly and that wake had a thousand pictures filling the room. My brother and I weren’t in one, believe me we searched with bloodshot eyes, not a single picture. At one point, I needed to leave that wake because I was so overwhelmed by grief of the life we never had with them, it was palpable and I was choking on it. Then 4 years ago, our father’s youngest son died. Another wake, more pictures, more despair, this family has been through hell.

After 5 hours of standing in line, trying my best to look less broken, we were asked to sit. I sat in a chair which was off to the side, it was closest to the casket and gave me a side view of the speaker. An elderly man, a chaplain from the firehouse, who gave a very passionate speech which at times, felt like a personal challenge.

Man: “He was a GREAT man, a great man!

(OK, stay calm this will all be over soon)

Man: “He was the best if you had a problem with him, then that was your problem!”

(Are you challenging me old man. Oh FFS, I saw him beat my mother, he abandoned his first two kids, didn’t pay child support and was likely a neglectful parent to his other kids after his second wife died, he was a serial cheater and probably an alcoholic)

Man: “We will all miss him so much. Truly, a great man (sniffs).”

(Maybe I was the asshole, everyone says he was great. This send off feels like a canonization. Dear God, was it me, was it my fault??? Table that for later…)

The wake was followed by a dinner with a large crowd and it was as nice as these things can be. I truly enjoyed spending time with my brother, niece, nephew, uncle, aunt and half siblings. I don’t know them well, yet I feel a pull towards them. An inexplicable pull that goes beyond having compassion for people that have been through some serious shit of their own.

The funeral was on a Monday and it was as if a Statesman had been laid to rest. His flag draped coffin was placed on the back of a vintage fire truck. Uniformed firefighters saluted his coffin, bag pipes wailed as the church swelled with people. I had to keep reminding myself to walk tall, shoulders back, head held high, looking straight ahead, like an android in mourning. I treated this like a last wish, playing my part in this orchestrated event. After the mass, his casket was placed back on the fire truck and  paraded past the places he frequented most. Cops closed off intersections to let the procession cars go through red lights. Surely, a legend had died, a great man forever sleeps.

The next day the sibling in charge of our father’s estate sent out a group text outlining the details of the Will. Yup, a group text which was sent while my twin was mid-route of his multi-state drive home. We were clearly not the favorite kids that hunch became tangible as some of the finer points were laid out. The house would go to the four kids from the second marriage. That was expected, in fact our father told us his intention in regard to that property. My twin was hurt, I was somewhat indifferent, it still stung a little. Another property with individual components would be divided 6 ways. Wait, there’s a catch, sales from the property being divided 6 ways would first go toward the house mortgage, any remainder would be divided six ways. (Geezus, do I owe money at this point?)

Imagine a pie – perhaps it’s blueberry, pumpkin or custard – it’s your pie, imagine whatever you want, no calories, so YAY! You need to share that pie because sharing is good. Right off the bat 2/3’s of the pie go to the younger 4 siblings. That’s OK 1/3 of the pie split 6 ways is still a delicious little sliver. But before you get your sliver you need to reduce it some more and give it back to the younger ones (the ones Daddy loved more) and you’re left with…crumbs. Crumbs and a bitter taste in your mouth because he didn’t warn you about that bit and clearly a lot of thought went into it.

So for the past two weeks I’ve been cursing at ghosts. Grieving the childhood I didn’t have, feeling my brother’s pain along with my own. I am determined to get through this, lose the bitter taste in my mouth and get on with it. I’m just not there yet, there’s no manual for this.

Troubled

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Troubled

Something was posted in the New York Times recently, no, not that. Something that struck a nerve in me which, is still reverberating from the pluck.

Liz (pictured in the article) and I have gotten to know each other over the past year. We share a common horrific thread of having known Tony & Betty Argiros who ran “The Family” and founded the Family Foundation School (FFS). Trust me I can see the humor in FFS as the acronym. Sadly that is the only humorous take away.

I met the Argiros in the winter of 1984 as a homeless teenager. I was basically sent to their group home/working farm in Long Eddy, NY because I had no where else to live. My family imploded due to a recent disastrous second marriage for my mother. I was newly sober and not one relative would take me in.

This place seemed like a reasonable option, it wasn’t. Since I couldn’t live with my family, I was sent to “The Family”. It was a cesspool of abuse on a level I had never previously encountered. I grew up with an abusive alcoholic mother and no father so I was pretty familiar with neglect and abuse was no stranger either, this place was next level horrible. The atrocities I saw/heard/experienced there nearly 35 years ago can still cause me tears or make my blood boil with anger. I say this as a person who has been sober for over three decades. It’s a dark, depressing rabbit hole I don’t dive into often these days as my life has been blessed beyond anything I could have imagined.

The FFS closed in 2014 thanks to a tireless campaign coordinated by alumni who fearlessly and publicly told their tales of horror. I didn’t even know the school opened until about 3 years ago when another person who went to the farm reached out to me through my blog. I felt physically ill when I heard that the Argiros expanded their reign of terror. I also felt guilt for not doing more to shut them down in the 80s. I told the authorities in upstate NY about the abuse when I ran away but the place was set up to avoid a lot of scrutiny and I was a “troubled” teenager therefore, I lacked credibility.

I am posting this because Liz is a champion of keeping awareness in the spotlight. She also keeps track of alumni deaths from FFS. Over 100 alumni have died that Liz knows of – many were suicide or substance abuse related. That’s over 100 people under 50 years old, many under 40, young adults. No one is sure how many alumni there are (hundreds. a thousand?) but they seem to be dying off at an extraordinary pace.

If you or someone you know is considering an aggressive treatment facility for a teenager, please be vigilant and doggedly research the program. The names and locations change but these places, they still exist.

 

It’s Wine O’Clock Somewhere!

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It’s Wine O’Clock Somewhere!

It’s Wine O’Clock somewhere…or maybe it’s Weed O’Clock, Sex O’Clock, Sugar O’Clock, or some other O’Clock I have not yet imagined. Our collective casualness with dependency is adorable isn’t it? I mean we all need a little somethin’ somethin’ to get through the day, right? I may ruffle some feathers and bunch some panties with this post.

Perhaps I’m sensitive to the topic…after all I was raised by an alcoholic mother (you may now insert all of your preconceived notions about me into your brain) and found myself in rehab at age 15 (insert more of those notions) and I’ve been sober ever since (perhaps that one was unexpected). I have a good grip on the subject of alcoholism, mostly through sober observation. I’m way past the zealot phase of recovery and I have many friends that are social drinkers. I have not been hiding in a sober closet for the last 35 years. That said the “Mommy Juice” culture is getting out of hand.

I recently got invited to a breakfast with other parents who plan to celebrate the first day of school by day drinking the minute their precious kids get on the bus. Mimosas at the country deli, won’t that be fun! Look spiked orange juice, so clever. The festivities start at 7:30am, I’ll pass. I hope they have a designated driver, Uber is scarce in these parts. I wonder if these parents will still be lit later that day, driving through car line which is a cluster f*ck without inebriated drivers.

Do your teens and tweens see these pro drinking posts? Are you buying them beer so you can be the cool parent? When is enough enough or perhaps too much…what example are you setting for formative minds? I know I sound like a cranky Puritan. Truth is I’ve joked about alcohol myself especially when asked why I don’t drink. “My gene pool is polluted” is one of my usual snarky responses. It sounds cooler than the real explanation – I made bad decisions and put myself and others in harm’s way when I drank. And I do have a sense of humor (pinky promise). A few weeks ago I got a good friend a “Shut Up Liver, You’re Fine!” t-shirt to celebrate her birthday. Hmm, I may be part of the problem.

I think my breaking point was the purse that markets itself as a wine pouch. Let’s all hold hands and recite the Serenity Prayer for this gem –

Wine Purses

If you need a purse to carry your medicine water,  perhaps things have gotten a tad out of hand. Look at it this way – substitute green beans for wine, does the behavior still make sense? Are you stashing green beans in different areas of your house for a quick bite when no one is looking? Are you stuffing your face with them in the parking lot before walking into the board meeting, the presentation, the PTA gathering? Are you disappointed when your friends decline green beans because they just can’t take another bite and they need to drive home? Have you recently eaten too many green beans at a public event and struggled the next day with a hangover and the shame of not knowing what happened? If you answered yes to any of these questions, you may have a problem with green beans. Just some food for thought.

 

 

 

 

 

Photo credit: Through agreement with 123RF Limited

Image ID : 44357768
Media Type : Photography
Copyright : belchonock  (Follow)

 

 

Say “Uncle”

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Say “Uncle”

When I was a kid saying “uncle” to someone was the verbal equivalent of waving the white flag of surrender. My actual uncle took great pride in hearing the kids in his life scream or giggle cry that in the middle of a tickling frenzy. The tickling got way out of hand. It turned into a battle of wills between the victim and their own bladder. Many of us lost the internal conflict, there’s only so much tickling a kid can take before they spring a leak.

Similar games were played in my uncle’s pool. This added a whole other level of danger to the activities. There were multiple near drownings. Then there was that time when my cousin got chased by an angry swarm of hornet’s after he disrupted their nest. That wasn’t actually my uncle’s fault, it just happened in his yard. Joey had more than 30 reminders of that calamitous event. Eventually the swelling went down and the pain subsided. It was most unfortunate that some of the hornets found their way into his swim trunks. I bet he still can’t pass a nest without a flashback.

My Uncle was a loud, gregarious, larger than life personality. I remember childhood holidays spent at his house with a heady cocktail of emotions. Angst and wonderment were abundant in equal measure. We were amazed by the gourmet chef inspired meals and horrified by the table topics at dinner. It was a hazing ritual with elements of cannibalism and we all wanted to avoid the hot seat.

For the bulk of my childhood, Uncle Jack was married to Aunt Dolly. That marriage went off the rails some 30 years ago but the memories remain. Aunt Dolly was from the South and her mother Mimi made the trip North at least twice a year. I loved their accents and their sweet smiles. I had never heard of ambrosia until they came along. Who doesn’t love tiny marshmallows in a salad that doesn’t even pretend to be healthy.

Aunt Dolly told me I had a face like Venus, the Goddess of Love. She said that when I was in the height of my awkward ugly stage and no one was sure if it would all work out. She gifted me with a ray of hope that I would not always be an unattractive lanky tween with buck teeth and stringy hair. She saw my potential and it wasn’t just looks. She noticed when I did more weeding than the other kids and argued with my uncle to better compensate me. She paid attention to me when no one else did and I will always cherish her for that.

We spent a lot of holidays at my uncle’s house growing up. He had the big house with the pool and plenty of space. They had an Atari gaming system which was the sh*t in the early 80s (Breakout and Space Invaders, the best). I was usually by myself because the other kids divided into two groups of two. My brother with our cousin Joey and my cousin Jenny with Tammy, Dolly’s daughter from a prior marriage. They weren’t particularly mean, it was just clear that I wasn’t in the mix. By this point, I learned to read people and saw myself out before anyone else could make the suggestion. I split my time between Atari and my grandparents.

Meal times were the absolute worst. It was like a twisted family style version of Survivor minus the camera crew (or the exotic location). Most of the adults were inebriated by the time dinner was on the table. Dinner time always got pushed back to some ridiculous time like 9 or 10 O’clock, apparently drunk people are lousy at keeping track of time. My uncle was a fantastic cook so that offered some redemption.

While we ate, the topics would vary between politics and religion. If those topics got stale then someone at the table would be fodder for the discussion. This was awful. My uncle would spew merciless hateful nasty comments at whomever had the bulls eye. It was usually, Tammy. We were all too scared to speak out against him. This was his house, his food, his f*cked up show. I wish I could go back to 10 year old me at Christmas Dinner and say “what is your problem man, why do you need to pick on a 12 year old every damn holiday”. No one did that, that girl was verbally abused at 90% of holiday meals. I’m ashamed for all of us.

Like most people, my uncle wasn’t all bad. He was always thoughtful when it came to gifts for my brother and I. One year he gave us 10 speed bikes for Christmas. For our birthday, he gave us season passes to Great Adventure. Those gifts meant the world to us and gave us experiences and mobility that we would not have had without his generosity. I know he helped my mother financially from time to time, despite their thinly veiled animosity.

My mother hated my uncle. She would lash out from time to time but not enough to stop taking us there for holidays. They would often spar in alcohol/dysfunctional family fueled debates that were horrendous to witness. My mother stopped drinking in the 80’s and our trips there stopped a couple of years later. They disagreed on everything from politics, money and the best nursing home for Nana. They have remained on non-speaking terms since my grandmother died in the early 90s.

I haven’t talked to Uncle Jack in years. After his second marriage dissolved we lost touch and eventually he moved to Florida with his third wife. I have some contact with my cousins and his daughter contacted me this past weekend to tell me Uncle Jack was asking about our side of the family.

Turns out the third wife was on an information gathering mission. Honestly, I’m not sure if my uncle even inquired about us. When we spoke on the phone she cautioned me that my uncle is “forgetful”, that is code for dementia. My grandmother (his mother) had dementia and his wife wanted to know if my mother showed any signs. I haven’t noticed any at this point and I passed that along.

My uncle definitely has some dementia, it was evident to me in the few minutes that we spoke. His wife told me that they plan to move from Florida to Delaware in about 6 months. I cautioned her that a move would be disruptive to him. I work with people that have dementia and change is a real struggle for that population. He will likely decline from that move and he won’t bounce back, they never do. She has family near where they are moving so I understand the practical points.

In the handful of minutes I had with my uncle, I told him things that I thought would be meaningful for him. Like how I always think of him when I hear “Blue Christmas” by Elvis Presley. He wore that record out every December. I also told him how he made the best mashed potatoes that I ever had and that I was not able to duplicate them despite my best efforts. He chuckled out those memories and I think they resonated with him, if only for a moment. I see a white flag in his future and it’s sad, uncle.

 

 

*Photo credit attributed to: This is the Front cover for the Single Blue Christmas by the artist Elvis Presley. The cover art copyright is believed to belong to the label, RCA Victor, or the graphic artist(s). Front cover of picture sleeve of original single release of Elvis Presley’s “Blue Christmas” (RCA Victor 447-0720)