Category Archives: recovery

Sober October #34

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Sober October #34

She knew I was home by the trail of vomit that started at the front door and lead to the bedroom where I slept had passed out. My mother, her fiance and my brother had been out all day. They did some family bonding outing that I had no interest in. Think vampires in sunlight enthusiasm, I did not want to go. I had better plans, with them gone for several hours, I could party.

Now the term “party” was pretty inconsistent. I didn’t have much money, a place to go or any kind of real plan but that did not deter me. I found some other bored teens to hang out with and we decided to find some trouble. So in our quest to “party” with no plan and no funds, we decided to hitch hike. Sad part is this wasn’t the first time we used this as a means to get high or drunk, it was “party roulette”. We never knew who would pick us up and what adventure awaited us. I cringe at the old memory, the sheer stupidity of it and the absolute lack of self-preservation. Pure insanity.

The details are a blur. They were a blur 34 years ago and they haven’t sharpened with the passing of time. I know I got drunk with strangers. I was in and out of a black out. I remember asking the driver to pull over so I could vomit. Somehow I stumbled up the steep wooden steps to our shabby apartment above the local hardware store. I don’t know how much time passed before my mother found me and insisted I was drunk.

I was a good liar then. I could think up shit on the spot like my life depended on it. I feigned the flu, a stomach bug, so many classmates had it. I convinced my mother’s fiance and my brother that was the case. Mom wasn’t having it. She took me to the Emergency Room to confirm her suspicions, I was busted.

My mother knew a thing or two about drunks, she was in the infancy stage of getting sober and it wasn’t her first attempt. I like to joke that my gene pool is polluted and it is, mostly with alcoholism and heart disease. At 15, I was pretty safe from heart disease but alcoholism doesn’t have a minimum age, that bastard.

Fast forward a few days and I was greeted with “you’re going to rehab” when I got home from school. I had 12 hours to say my good-byes and then I was off. I had no idea what to expect but I figured I could get some street cred from the experience. To say I was flippant is an understatement. I had no intention of getting sober. I was just doing time, garnering pages for my future memoir.

My mother drove me to the place which was a little more than an hour from where we lived. It was in Long Branch, New Jersey and was billed as an adolescent rehab, it formerly served as school for troubled boys. Part of it looked like an old house and part of it looked like a dorm. Guys and girls were separated by common rooms. There was a cafeteria in the basement with intake, detox and a nurses station on the second floor.

I remember getting asked a series of personal questions in the intake office. Based on some of the questions, I didn’t think I belonged. I mean I never lost a job or drove drunk (psst…still 15). I was focused on finding the “not me” which I later learned would be “not yet” if I continued on the path I was on. The place was only open about a month when I arrived, the smell of fresh paint still lingered in parts of the sprawling building.

I remember the first time I walked into the Day Room, “White Lines” by Grandmaster Flash was playing. There were maybe a dozen residents there all between the ages 14 and 17. They came from a range of backgrounds and they all had way more experience than me. Most of them had been arrested for a variety of similar reasons and almost all came from broken families. It was misfit island for teens with a fairly structured daily schedule. We had job assignments, group therapy and some type of meeting, AA or NA. On Sundays a couple came in to bring us their version of Christianity.

The place was so new it was still working out the kinks. Kids were pairing up and couples could be seen holding hands in the Day Room. Most of the staff there were sober an average of 2.5 years and were deep into the zealot phase of recovery (that usually winds down sometime after the 5th year). I don’t know what qualifications they had beyond early sobriety. The counselors were more skilled and had some credentials.

I learned a lot in that place and much of it has followed me all these years. I remember reading the Twelve Steps of AA on a poster. Foolish girl, I thought I could get through a chunk of them just by reading them and giving them a moment’s thought. These steps provided a road map for living and I still abide by them.

THE TWELVE STEPS OF ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS

  1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.
  2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
  3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
  4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
  5. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
  6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
  7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
  8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
  9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
  10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
  11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
  12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs. 

    Copyright  1952, 1953, 1981 by Alcoholics Anonymous Publishing (now known as Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc.)
    All rights reserved.

 

I know there’s a lot of God stuff in those steps. Relax, it’s a God of your understanding, a Higher Power (HP). I have heard some interesting spins on HP over the years….some people have used their home AA/NA group as their Higher Power. I once heard someone speak that stated Jack Daniels was their Higher Power because it was stronger than them. Another friend chose Good-Orderly-Direction as their God. I stopped judging this stuff decades ago and life got a whole bunch simpler.

About three days into my stay something remarkable happened. I was in the bedroom that I shared with a roommate but I was alone. I can still see myself sitting there with my white jeans and favorite scarf, a beam of light shone in through the window closest to my bed, near where I was sitting. People call it a spiritual awakening, for me it was an awareness that changed my life forever. In that moment, I got a clear picture of the destructive path my life was on. I also got an intense soul deep understanding that it did not have to stay that way. In that powerful moment I felt the presence of something greater than me and I made a decision to get sober. I have been faithful to that decision for 34 years now.

This longevity of sobriety is somewhat rare. What’s really exotic is getting and staying sober at such a young age. I can only take partial credit for that. That loving, crazy and ever vigilant HP that watches over me has done most of the heavy lifting all these years. I have also met a thousand sober angels along the way. People that guided me through different phases of my life. The ones that told me the harsh truths but always with a solution or helpful suggestion. I’ve also met people that determined I could not possibly be an alcoholic because I got sober so young. I don’t try to win them over with stories of the stupid shit I did for my brief time using. I do remind myself of something I learned long ago in that rehab….”it isn’t how much or how long you drank that matters, it’s what happens when”. When I drank I always put myself in harm’s way, always.

If I can pinpoint one thing that has kept me sober it’s probably the realization that being sober is actually the easier, softer way. That probably sounds nuts to people who aren’t familiar with alcoholism but it’s the truth. If staying sober was harder than being drunk, I would have gotten drunk long ago. Down to my toes I believe that this is the best path for me and that’s why I’ve stayed on it so long.

 

 

 

 

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Trying to balance compassion and self preservation…..

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Trying to balance compassion and self preservation…..

I’m trying to balance compassion and self-preservation and it’s a bitch. My mother has certifiable mental illness. She has a long history of mental illness issues including hospital stays for suicide attempts and alcoholism. She is generally miserable and unable to maintain long-term relationships. She has seen doctors and specialists by the dozens, she’s had inpatient stays in psych wards, has more than 3 decades into 12 step recovery and has tried every pill known to big pharma to treat depression. She has been on disability for at least 25 years for her depression so it’s well documented. Sometimes though, the lines blur between her mental illness and her just being a shitty human. Other times she is amazingly thoughtful and generous, mostly to strangers or acquaintances. She saves the gnarly stuff for my brother and me, we are the only relatives that have stuck it out.

I’m not sure when her mental health issues began. She has told me a lot about her life (too much if I’m honest) and I know she always had a terrible relationship with her brother. In fact she had a rough go of it with both of her parents as well. Was that due to their treatment of her, her mental illness or some other sad combination….I don’t know. I do know this, misery is her most frequent companion. If there isn’t something to lament about, her razor-sharp mind will find something obscure and mold it into a formidable monster.

She’s smart, so very smart that it makes pitying her as a sick person near impossible at times. Master manipulator and rationalizer extraordinaire, check and check. She can twist the most innocuous situation and turn it into filth and wretchedness. She has left a wake of destruction behind her. When she goes, she goes big, in a huff…..a cloud of confusion, hurt and anger swirling around her like her own personal tornado. It’s sad, infuriating and exhausting.

I have to mentally remind myself that she is sick. Like cancer, diabetes, MS, lupus, fill in the blank…..except it isn’t like that at all. If your mom has cancer she doesn’t typically say “I wish you were never born” repeatedly to you as a young child. Diabetes doesn’t abandon you in the state of Florida to go to New Jersey when you are 9. MS doesn’t call you a “whore” because you over did the eye shadow and lip stick at 14. Cancer won’t leave you and your brother homeless at 15  because mom doesn’t have it together. Lupus doesn’t tell you that you’re a bad person because your husband bought his dream house, the one he worked his ass off for, but it’s too big so you’re all horrible people. Mental illness and alcoholism does that, not the other diseases. So I’m a bit tired of the mental illness is just like any other disease line, no it fucking isn’t.

So now I have a 72-year-old broken down mentally ill mother who has basically treated me like shit most of my life. And as much as I want to let go of past bad experiences, they keep reinserting themselves into present day. Every time she makes an unreasonable demand or is inconsiderate I am haunted by the ghost of reason that says – “seriously, why are you doing this for her?”

Why indeed. I’m a good person and I don’t want her to haunt me when she dies and she would. I have had my share of obstacles that I have overcome and I basically cheer for the underdog. At this point I’m not sure which one of us is the underdog. I think it’s me today. Yesterday I told my mother to “fucking move then”.  What got me to this point beyond the cumulative effect of 49 years of insanity?

I bought a house at the beach in New Jersey in 1999. It was a struggle to purchase it and I did it on my own before I got married. That house was a testament to my financial and emotional independence. It was one of the most empowering things I ever did as a young woman. Fast forward 14 years and I no longer needed the house. We hadn’t lived there in years. My brother and his family lived there for 5 years and they moved away. My husband and I have a beautiful home in a neighboring state. After Hurricane Sandy, we began to worry that at some point it would get destroyed in a storm and we would lose the financial appreciation. I sold the house a few years ago and tripled my investment. As someone who had been a reluctant, accidental SAHM for a decade it felt great to make a financial contribution to my family. I also used a portion of that money to buy a small house in a nearby adult community. I bought a place for my mother because she was so unhappy where she lived. For nearly 10 years she complained about her living situation.I also thought it would be more practical to have her closer to me as she aged. My brother moved to Maine so he can’t help with medical or other issues that require hands on assistance.

Fast forward another 3 years and there isn’t a week that goes by that she doesn’t complain to me about something. Some of it is normal life stuff, a few ants, a nosy neighbor, the air filters. The air filters get to me. My mom smokes about a pack a day but INSISTS that the air filters in her house get changed on a monthly basis. She complains a lot about her financial situation which has always been awful. I bought the house so there is no mortgage but there is an association fee that she pays. She also has utilities and other bills. It is a stretch for her and I help with some of it.

The other day she called to tell me that I “had to pay” her Comcast bill so she could pay out-of-pocket to see an eye doctor that isn’t in her plan. If she said “can you help me” or “I want to go to….” that isn’t how it was presented at all. It was a command given with a bitchy tone and she went on and on about how horrible Pennsylvania Medicaid is compared to New Jersey and……..I just snapped and said “fucking move then”. Granted I could have delivered the message in a calm tone minus the expletive but she wouldn’t have heard me then. I’ve tried that approach for two years, no luck. She heard me this time.

Later I got an email from her telling me how she doesn’t expect me to pay ALL her bills. She then went on to describe how she is the victim of a corrupt government of evil ne’er-do-wells. Blah blah blah I’ve been reading and hearing this crap for years. I’m worn out I tell you, worn out. She has never taken financial responsibility for herself and she is seemingly incapable of any consistent emotional stability. This life long inability or disregard (not sure which some days) has left her facing her “golden years” pretty much broke and alone.

The biggest barrier for me though is her complete lack of interest in me or my family. She has two kind, funny, smart, beautiful grandchildren 10 minutes from her home and she could not care less. Soccer games, shows, Sunday dinners she is frequently invited and rarely shows. When she does attend a dinner she is consistently late. She shows absolutely no regard for how her actions or lack there of could have an impact on others. Again, I don’t know if this is part of the mental illness or just someone so self-absorbed that they are incapable of basic consideration. Either way the end result is the same.

So here I am again trying to balance compassion for her with my own self preservation. This isn’t new territory I know what I need to do. Take a break, don’t call her for a few days or minimize interaction until I can fortify myself enough for the next round. Once again I remind myself that this isn’t a sprint, it’s a marathon. I just hope I can make it to the finish line.

 

 

 

Mother’s Day is Hard……

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Mother’s Day is Hard……

Mother’s Day is hard for me.  My mother lives close by in a small house that I bought for her. It’s in a retirement community and is a 10 minute drive from me. And it is kind of a remarkable thing given our history. Let’s be clear though, I mostly bought the house for me, not her. I need to be OK with myself after she passes.

My mother has been mentally unstable my entire life. As a young child I watched her drink alcoholically, drive drunk, and create drama. There were the standard saturday morning thrashings if my brother or I woke her up too early. If I’m honest, my brother took the brunt of that. I would scurry away and he would try to reason with her, smack. When I was in first grade she was brushing my hair and got so frustrated with me that she hit me hard on the forehead, which caused a bump and a surprising amount of blood. I was told to say I walked into the door so mommy wouldn’t get in trouble. Most of the abuse was mental. She would routinely say “I wish you were never born”. That’s hard to reconcile as a child, hell it’s hard to type that now.

It was just the three of us – my mother, twin brother and I. My parents divorced when we were two years old. We saw our father on a regular basis until we were moved out of state at 8 years old.This move followed a custody battle between our parents and as soon as the ink was dry from the case our mother moved us to Florida with her charismatic and somewhat insane boyfriend. So we went from 3 to 4 for one drama filled year.

I remember crossing the state line in a red convertible Cadillac “Welcome to Florida – The Sunshine State”. It was pouring and the irony or perhaps it was foreshadowing was not lost on me. That year was filled with insanity and contradictions. We moved four times in 10 months and went to two different school districts. There were snakes and palmetto bugs, lizards and a trip to Disney. We had a 40-foot boat and I learned to fish and went snorkeling, it wasn’t all bad.

The bad was really bad though.The relationship between my mother and her boyfriend was volatile. I saw him beat her. I listened to countless loud, uncontrollable arguments. At one point my mother left with my brother to go back to New Jersey. I was left in Florida with a family that we barely knew.  They had rented one of the houses we had lived in and they had 5 kids, I was 9 years old.Who does that? Who leaves their 9 year old girl in another state with strangers for a month. A desperate crazy person, that’s who.

My mother came back in about a month and was promptly hospitalized after a suicide attempt. I was sent to a foster home for a week. Soon after my mother had another breakdown and destroyed the place we were living in. I watched her get arrested and placed in the back of a police car. A few days later I was taking my first ever plane ride back to New Jersey, alone.  My brother and I stayed with our grandparents for the next year until mom could get a place for the three of us.

The roller coaster continued throughout my formative years.Mother continued to drink and spoke of suicide often. Each day when I got home from school I would walk into every room in our apartment. Honestly, I did not connect the dots on this behavior until I was an adult, but I was looking for my mother’s body. There were also plenty of nights when I found her passed out on the floor with the telephone cord wrapped around her or in the bathroom. In between there was lots of yelling, uncertainty, acid laced gossip and talk of bankruptcy. I would be filled with panic when I heard my mother’s footsteps coming home at night, we never knew what to expect.

The high level of dysfunction continued until 1983. That year I was sent to rehab after a brief but intense bout of teenage rebellion. My mother had just gotten sober and once again introduced an insane man into our lives. Eventually that union caused the original three to be scattered in different living situations. My year consisted of institutions – including a cult working farm which portrayed itself as a recovery half way house. My brother lived with a friend’s family and mom couch surfed. The three of us never shared the same roof again – my brother and I were 15.

I grew up fast out of necessity, with little familial guidance. I learned how to “adult” in AA. Truly the 12 steps are a nice road map for life and I sure as shit wasn’t getting solid pointers at home. I learned about taking responsibility for my actions and my emotions. I became financially independent while I was a teenager and harnessed a strong work ethic. I put myself through college and really have done OK for myself despite the enormous odds stacked against me.

So how is it that after the shit storm that was my childhood am I able to care for my mother in a way that she never did for me? I don’t know maybe I get the illness part of mental illness. I mean if she had cancer or lupus I wouldn’t abandon her. I know it isn’t the same because the cancer patient doesn’t typically destroy others with their narcissistic ways, but I do know this, the woman is not well. So for the past 20 years or so I have managed to find a balance between compassion and self preservation.

So once again I will opt for the funny Mother’s Day card and some flowers, maybe a meal out for mom. I will not blubber on about how wonderful she is or post pictures on Facebook of smiling faces. I don’t do fake but I can do compassion.

 

 

 

 

The Family From Hell

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The Family From Hell

I am angry and sad, disgusted, grateful and happy. So what led me to be this twitching mass of emotions? My past. Old wounds long ago scabbed over and faded are suddenly brought to light. Burning sun on Mercury light. Yesterday I unearthed a message that was buried in the not yet friends message folder in Facebook. It was waiting there for three weeks.

It was from a lovely women living in another continent who stumbled upon my humble blog. She was enthusiastic in her message to me, a total stranger, because we shared a common teenage horror. We were each sent to “The Family” in Long Eddy NY in 1984 when we were 15 years old. We were not there at the same time but our experiences had some unfortunate overlap.

I have written about “The Family” before in some of my posts which describe my first year of sobriety. Here’s where they come in to play in my story if you are so inclined,  https://wasthatmyoutloudvoice.com/2015/05/02/1-out-of-37-part-4/  it was a horrible place to say the least and not something I think about often. Of course now that it has been revisited, I find myself in investigative mode and the stuff under the rocks is pretty gross. Think contender for Dante’s 10th circle of hell and you’d be getting warmer, much warmer.

Tony Argiros and his wife Betty ran “The Family” when I was there  in January of 1984.I’m not sure how long they were in the group home/work farm business at that point but I found some testimonials that go back to 1979. I suppose they tweaked their sadistic craft over the course of several years and decided that they were so fabulous at wrecking lives that they ought to expand their services.

My new online friend informed me that Tony and Betty Argiros founded The Family Foundation School in Hancock, NY. According to Wikipedia The Family Foundation School was established in 1984. In googling the school’s name I came across a website http://www.thefamilyschooltruth.com/Home.html whose sole purpose was to get the place shut down. They sought testimonials from alumni, parents and staff. After a 5 year battle, they were successful and ultimately the place shut down. The Family Foundation School, later known as the Allynwood Academy closed in 2014.

Sadly, in the time that they were open, hundreds, if not thousands of lives were forever altered. I’ll toss a bone Tony’s way and suggest that perhaps a handful of kids were helped along the way. And I say that knowing the ends do not always justify the means. Based on the testimonials that I read, the school shared some common traits with it’s precursor group home “The Family”.

Both places had a strict blackout period during which residents could not even communicate with their parents. Pro tip, if a place says your kid can’t talk to you for 3 months, that’s a red flag. They shared a focus on breaking down the individual.  They did this by removing all personal belongings, providing unfamiliar clothes, cutting hair in a severe manner and horrid meal times where staff and residents would select targets for humiliation and degradation. With the added bonus of sleep deprivation and physical labor to the point of exhaustion.I honestly don’t know how some of these kids made it, some where there 3 or 4 years. To top it off many of the alumni complained they never finished school due to excessive punishment or manual labor. It was supposed to be a school….shouldn’t the academics come first?

Imagine if Jim Jones opened a school except there’s no Kool-Aid. Just a steady barrage of soul shattering punishments, isolation and humiliation. The founders loosely based the school on a 12 step program and inserted their own brand of insane diabolical fundamentalist values. The result was disastrous.

Read the words of the alumni testimonials. Visualize for yourself what these teenagers endured, some for several years. I only spent a month or so during my incarceration at the family farm and in that time I ran away twice. I was successful the second time. Others tried to runaway from the school or the farm. One kid was killed by an 18 wheeler in his desperate attempt to flee the farm. Many attempts were made at the school and at one point they used search and rescue dogs to retrieve the escapees. Another student killed himself by jumping off a second story balcony. During my time I fantasized about breaking a leg just to go to the hospital. I even had a failed attempt at burning the place down. I understand their pain and I want to tell their stories.

Today I spoke with another survivor, she lived at The Family Foundation School for 993 days. I can only imagine what she endured there. It would likely include a daily barrage of yelling, demeaning confrontations, sexual misconduct and/or abuse, violent physical altercations, forced to eat foods that may cause an allergic reaction or be against religious beliefs, squalor, back breaking physical labor and punishments for imagined misdemeanors. Oh and by the way a  large chunk of students that attended this pay as you go private “therapeutic school”, never even earned their High School Diploma. Many students spent so much time in some form of punishment – for example, being wrapped in a blanket with duct tape around it, sometimes for days while they soiled themselves, sitting in a corner staring at a wall for endless hours because you wouldn’t say you were an alcoholic or admit to some horrendous deed that your house leader insists you did (even when you didn’t). I’ve read the testimonies of the alumni and it is heartbreaking.

My new friend keeps a memorial page for the alumni of the FFS that have passed away. She just posted condolences for #85. That is the 85th known alumni to die. This school was opened for approximately 30 years and the oldest alumni would be under 50 years old. I’m not sure how many teens went through the school in the time it was open but that seems like a lot of deaths. Sadly, a high percentage of these people have passed away from suicide. I’m sure others have died from complications of drug and alcohol abuse. Some of the students had no prior alcohol or drug use before they got to FFS and when they got out they found it nearly impossible to blend into the real world, many started to use drugs and alcohol as a coping mechanism.

Please keep this mind if you know someone looking for a school setting for a “troubled teen”. There are so many organizations that currently exist that are every bit as horrible as FFS. They are scattered across the country as therapeutic schools or teen wilderness programs. I realize that there are many troubled teens that need help….I implore you to do a thorough search when considering these residential situations. It is not enough to read reviews on the facility or agency website. You need to do your own search with county and state agencies, see if there are complaints, seek out alumni that have nothing to lose from being candid. Insist on being able to communicate with your loved one on a consistent basis with some level of privacy. Trust your instincts, if the place seems off, don’t risk it, keep searching.

 

 

 

 

 

Keep On Truckin’……….Part 9

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Keep On Truckin’……….Part 9

So in 1983 my world imploded just the tiniest bit. We had been living in the same town in central NJ for about 5 years. Some years were better than others but it was the longest stretch I had lived anywhere in my 15 years so it felt like home. I lived there with my mother and twin brother.

A little background, mom was a drunk until she got sober for good in August of 1982. That is pretty much when I started to drink and “experiment” with drugs. Fortunately for me, I had limited means so it was mostly some pot and an occasional pill. I am pretty sure I would have tried anything put in front of me. We called that a garbage head in the 80’s. I was quite reckless and I put myself in harm’s way on a regular basis. Traded in my long term friends for a sketchier variety that wanted to meander along with me on my path of self destruction.

How did the once good girl suddenly find her self so misguided? Escape. I just wanted to escape from the life I was in. As a young girl I remember looking at the most popular girl in the class and I wondered….what is it like to be Kim? Back then I was a judge-a-book-by-it’s-cover kind of gal and my cover was torn, tattered with some coffee stains and a cigarette burn or two. Kim had a flawless, shiny, smells like a new car cover going on…..I wondered what that was like.

In addition to having the family from hell I also had a fairly long “awkward stage” that’s the stage when the kid is fairly ugly for a few years and everyone hopes it’s temporary. So I basically went from being the buck-toothed scrawny girl to braces straightened teeth, kind of pretty and overly made up. It wasn’t a magnificent transition but it was enough to get the boys to notice me. The ones who made fun of me the year before suddenly wanted to “hang out”. I was insecure enough to not tell them to fuck off. If only I had a time machine…….

So this is where my childhood ends. The story, my story continues in another series titled…..(insert drum roll here) “1 in 37……..”. That series describes my first year of recovery. Spoiler alert I have been sober since 1983. Don’t let that stop you from reading…….some crazy shit happened that first year (and trust me, I know crazy, we’re like besties….smh).

https://wasthatmyoutloudvoice.com/2015/04/28/1-out-of-37-part-1/

 

 

Beating the Odds

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Beating the Odds

I grew up in a the textbook dysfunctional family. Divorced parents, alcoholic mother, absent father, no money and not a lot of hope. There was verbal abuse, some physical abuse and of course the mental torture that lends itself to that environment. The odds were stacked against me.

I cleaned up after my mom when she got drunk. I was the good little enabler, the peace keeper, people pleasing and overly responsible little kid. It gave me a sense of importance, a purpose. I was needed. No matter how many times my mother told us “I wish you were never born” and she said that frequently, I knew she needed me. I had a purpose and I swore, swore to myself I would never EVER end up like her.

Not sure when I had my first drink but it was a grenade from go. I remember my first real drunk though, it was planned. I stole a bottle of Jack Daniels from my uncle’s stash. He had a large basement bar and I was confident no one would notice the missing bottle. A few days later I rode my bicycle to my friends house and three of us started drinking the Jack Daniels and some beer. We were counting out our shots and I got to 21. Seems I won or lost depending on how you see the world. Now I have to say I felt fine with my 21 shots of Jack and assorted beer until I attempted to stand up….then the world shifted in that carnival spinning ride way and I was in and out of a black out for the next several hours.

I woke up in the hospital with a nurse complimenting my nail polish. I didn’t know how I got there. I did notice that my bra was undone and my jeans were unzipped. I was a 14 year old virgin at the time and required a gynecological exam to determine if my hymen was intact. Fortunately it was and the incident became an early example of how I would put myself in harms way so I could get wasted.

I became what was termed in the 80’s, a garbage head. I would do whatever chemical was available to get high. I was really lucky that there wasn’t a lot of intense stuff like cocaine or heroin. I have no doubt that I would become hooked on anything that was within reach, it is in my DNA. I hitch hiked for a chance to get high. I knocked on random doors if I liked the music I could hear from the street. I was equal parts stupid and selfish with the added affliction of being young and dumb enough to think I was bullet proof. I was a good liar, a fast talker and a quick thinker – honestly that and some invisible force in the universe stopped me from getting raped more than once.

After about a year and a half my mother was sick of her teenage daughter coming home drunk or high. My last drunk left a trail of vomit that led from the front door to my bedroom. I was able to convince everyone except my mother that I had the flu. She knew I was full of shit and decided to send me to rehab.  I was 15 at the time.

I had a pretty cocky attitude about going to rehab. I thought I could write a book about it someday, maybe gain some street greed….what a punk. What actually happened is that I had realization a few days in, some call it a spiritual awakening. It was simply this….I had a moment of clarity where I was certain that I was an alcoholic and an addict and that I needed to get sober. It was as if a new life path was placed before me and I had a moment of sanity where I chose sobriety and I have continued with that choice for more than three decades.

My first year of sobriety was absolute hell. I wrote about it in a ten part blog series called “1 Out of 37”. You can find it on my blog at https://wasthatmyoutloudvoice.com/ I have to say since then my life has improved greatly. I would not be on this path if I wasn’t sober. No doubt about that.

1 out of 37………Part 10

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1 out of 37………Part 10

My time at Crawford House was well spent. A new “normal” was set for me as I attended regular AA meetings, group and private therapy and made some sober friends. The ladies at the halfway house were interesting. Every single one of them had a story. Having just turned 16, I had a lot to learn about life. Some residents were gay, some straight, some claimed to have had relationships with famous musicians, some had tattoos, some had kids, those were tricky relationships for me.  There was one rich girl and a handful of teenagers throughout my stay. At least half of the population never graduated from the program. Most were kicked out for using drugs or alcohol, others just bailed. Getting sober is a bitch and you need to be ready and willing to do the footwork.

I was lucky to have such limited residential options. My family circumstances kept me in institutions for a majority of the first 10 months of my sobriety. That gave me time to get settled into the whole sobriety thing and come to terms with a “God of my understanding”. I was kept away from people, places and things that would have likely led me to use drugs or alcohol. My sobriety from the age of 15 is indeed miraculous and it is something I could not have done alone.

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I was discharged from Crawford House in early August of 1984. As you probably guessed my family life did not magically fix itself. The first night I got out my mom and I stayed at a hotel in Hightsown, New Jersey. She left me alone in the hotel room to go on a date. My brother was not with us. He was living somewhere in Sayreville, New Jersey. That was where I lived before I went to rehab the first time in the fall of 1983. My mother’s brief second marriage imploded our trio.  So my brother was couch surfing through high school and my mom and I were still figuring it out.

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I spent a few weeks sleeping on the couch of an old family friend. Her name was Eleanore and at the time she was sober about 5 years which is forever when you are new. I remembered Eleanore as a spectacular drunk from many years prior. We first met Eleanore in the early 1970’s. My mother, brother and I lived in a room in a boarding house in Point Pleasant, New Jersey. Eleanore and her husband Frank had an efficiency in the same building….it was a palace compared to our living space.

Frank and Eleanore were really nice to the three of us. I do remember being freaked out my Frank’s war injury. According to Frank, he was a POW in World War II and the Japanese captured him and chopped off the tips of three of his fingers. He had the stubs to prove it and you don’t forget that sight when you are 5 years old. A few years later my mother had a birthday party for my brother and I when we turned 8. Eleanore and I slept in my mother’s bed and I woke up in a pool of urine. I thought I had wet the bed and had a moment of absolute panic……then I realized my underwear was dry. Turns out Eleanore got so drunk she wet the bed. At some point she decided it was time to get sober.  It was very kind of her to let me spend some time couch surfing while my mom tried to get a place together for us.

Eleanore had an apartment in Bricktown, New Jersey. I got a chance to catch up with some friends I had made in the early part of winter.  For a brief time I stayed with Lola, my original rehab room-mate and her family, also from Bricktown. I finally had some fun again and I also got into a bit of trouble. I had no interest in drinking or using but I still had a wild streak. Lola and I hitch hiked a few times to Seaside Park to go to the boardwalk. One time we got picked up by the cops. They didn’t give us too much of a hard time but it was humiliating. The last straw for me though was when I hitch hiked alone one day and the guy that picked me up offered me money for a blow job. I declined, he kicked me out and I never hitch hiked again.

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After about a month I had to pack my bags yet again. This time I went to stay with my mother who was renting a room at her friend Lorraine’s house. Once again it was all ladies – Lorraine, her mother, Lorraine’s daughter, my mom and I living in Matawan, New Jersey. Couch surfing again until my mom and I could get an apartment.

I started 10th grade for the second time in Matawan, New Jersey. I had missed about 8 months of school the prior year so I had to stay back. This was particularly humiliating for me because I have a twin brother and he was going into 11th grade at our old school in Sayreville. To make matters worse, the apartment fell through so we were delayed again in effort to hit the reset button.

Finally in October my mom got a one bedroom apartment for us in East Windsor, New Jersey. I started at another new high school in Hightstown. The first day I was there I was mistaken for a new teacher by a male staff member. I never felt like I fit in there. Somehow though regardless of the high frequency of moving, life changes, multiple schools, the institutions, the good, the bad and the unacceptable……somehow I had made through my first year of sobriety.

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I celebrated my first anniversary at a speaker meeting in Freehold, New Jersey. I remember feeling a sense of accomplishment…..that somehow I had achieved something that not many could. I suppose that is true to a certain extent. I  prefer to see myself now as someone living their life in the manner that was intended, nothing extraordinary. I do believe that getting sober set my life on a completely different trajectory. I don’t think life would look the same if I didn’t make a decision to get sober all those years ago. I will be forever grateful to everyone that had a part in my recovery, especially that first year.

1 out of 37…………..Part 9

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1 out of 37…………..Part 9

I celebrated my 16th birthday in a substance abuse halfway house for women. Celebrate may be a little too cheery for what actually happened. As you may have guessed, I did not have an ideal family life. My twin brother and I were raised (fed, clothed and housed) by our mother. Our mother was a drunk until we were 14 years old and then she got sober. I pretty much went off the rails when she started to dry out. My level of self-destruction was about an 8 out of 10 and the speed at which it happened was super hyper fast (that’s a highly technical scientific term).

The day of my 16th birthday was a sunny Sunday in June of 1984. My mother and brother picked me up to go out for a few hours. I honestly don’t remember what we did for the first hour or two. What happened on the way back to the temporary place I called home is forever tattooed to my brain. I asked if we could stop at McDonald’s for a cheeseburger. I was after all not “free” to come and go as I pleased so this would have been a treat…..on my birthday….my 16th birthday.

The place I was staying at was in the country….not Nebraska country but rural New Jersey.  It took a solid 12 minutes of winding country roads to drive to McDonald’s. You would have thought I asked for a kidney, a bag of cash and an all expense paid trip to Europe. At first the request was met with a slightly irritated shrug and an OK attitude. As the minutes and miles ticked upward the resentment and outward rage began to boil over, for both of them.Featured image

My mother started bitching about how far it was and soon my brother chimed in. He had friends to see and things to do – fun things, with real people in what once was my home town. No one had the time or inclination to satisfy my stupid request and yet here we were driving toward a cheeseburger…..it was horrible.

I’m sure I fought the tears as long as I could, that was my way. I just couldn’t believe how selfish and cruel they were being. It was my 16th f*cking birthday and I’m basically in a lock up facility….getting sober. Early sobriety isn’t easy for anyone let alone a teenager and you two can’t take an extra half hour out of your day for a simple request. Assholes.

By the time we got to McDonald’s I was a wreck. I’m not sure how much it showed. I was told to go in and get my cheeseburger and come back. They waited impatiently in the car. I got out of the car, walked straight through the place and ugly cried in the back parking lot of that McDonald’s. I gave myself a good five minutes before I could muster the strength to get back in the car sans cheeseburger. They didn’t know I skipped the burger, they didn’t care. They just wanted to drop me off so they could get on with their much-better-than-mine lives.

When we got back to Crawford House the place was empty and the doors were locked. I assured my mother that someone would be there soon. She did not require a lot of convincing and quickly left. They left me there outside oblivious and/or indifferent to how shitty they just treated me. Who does that?

I was out there maybe half an hour before other residents started to return with the weekend supervisor. Those women hugged me and comforted me and treated me like a human being. I was safer there with drunks and addicts in early recovery than I was with my own family. Perhaps my mother did me a favor by keeping me away from her.

To be continued……………https://wasthatmyoutloudvoice.com/2015/05/29/1-out-of-37-part-10/

1 out of 37….Part 8

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1 out of 37….Part 8

So in mid February of 1984 I found myself in an adolescent rehab (again). This time I was about five months sober. I was there because I had no where else to live. I was 15 years old and no relatives would take me in. My mother got married to a monster two days after I got out of rehab in December. He got violent shortly after the wedding so my mother did not want me (or my brother) to stay there. I stayed with a friend’s family for a short time, that didn’t last. Then I ran away from the halfway house from hell in upstate New York. It was not an easy time. I find it ironic that in AA they tell you not to make any major changes the first year of sobriety, yeah right.

I felt like I could exhale when I got back in rehab. My life was so intense during my short span of sobriety that the place felt like home. It was nice to be around other young people. Some even shared my desire for sobriety. The counselors were extra kind to me, they made me feel special. More important, they made me feel loved. I was so in need of that at the time.

The plan was to go through the 28 day program and then go directly to a halfway house in New Jersey. Rehab was crowded compared to the first time. There were a lot more people which meant a lot more families visiting on weekends. That was rough for me as I did not get a lot of visits. Infrequent visits created another issue, no clean laundry. The place did not have a washer or dryer so most families would bring clean laundry for their kids every weekend. I wound up doing a lot of laundry in the bathroom sink. It was not an esteem builder. I did not feel loved by my family.Featured image

Thank God there were people that showed me kindness. I had an excellent tutor named Max, he encouraged me to write. At that time I wrote a lot of poems and he gave me a beautiful bound book to keep them in. I got him hooked on blueberry bubblicious so it was a mutually beneficial relationship.

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Some Sundays a religious couple would come to the rehab and offer a Christian Service for anyone that wanted to participate. The woman that came had a beautiful hair clip and I complimented her on it. Without hesitation she removed it from her long brown hair and handed it to me. I knew she wanted me to have it with all her heart. I also made a good friend there named Jen – we still keep in touch.

My counselor was named Laura and her husband Phil also worked at the rehab. They were both so kind to me. Many times Laura told me how much she wanted to take me in….to the point where I could visualize my own bedroom in her house. Phil told me that sobriety isn’t about a destination…it’s all about the journey. This time around the major lesson was love and kindness as I prepared for the next phase of recovery.

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In early April I was released from rehab and taken to Crawford House in Skillman, NJ. I was scared. The place I had been to in New York was awful, truly awful. Thankfully Crawford House was different. When I was there in 1984, residents lived in a big old house and there were cows roaming around the front lawn. I was relieved to learn that we were not required to maintain the cows (unlike the first halfway house). This was an all female house (another sigh of relief) and I was the youngest one there. My room-mate was named Michelle and she was 17.

The first 15 minutes I was there another resident asked me if I was gay….that was a pretty big deal in 1984. I told her that I wasn’t and her response was “don’t knock it ’til you try it.” That was a little unsettling but if I could live with 30 male nearly convicts and not get physically assaulted, I was pretty sure I could hold my own in this place. I did find a vibrator in my bedroom closet that first night and I didn’t know what the hell it was….so clearly I had a lot to learn. I suspect the last girl left it as a welcome gift or perhaps she was severely disappointed when she unpacked…..but I digress.

This place was OK. There were about a dozen ladies living in the house at any given time. Everyone had chores and we all took turns cooking dinner. Cooking dinner for a dozen people was not a skill I came in with but I learned. In the summer I was able to get a job as a janitor cleaning a school which was within walking distance. I was happy to have a job that paid.

The services at this place were light years ahead of “The Family” in upstate New York. I had a counselor named Theresa and we had group sessions and regular AA Meetings. My favorite meeting was on Thursday Nights on Witherspoon Street in Princeton. It was a speaker meeting and there was an old timer in the group that would say “uh ha” every time he agreed with the speaker, it became comforting for me. I also got my first AA sponsor at that meeting and celebrated a long overdue 90 days.

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I was so gullible I was always stunned when someone got kicked out for using. There were some interesting characters in that place. I wish I kept a journal. There were a few girls that resented me but honestly I didn’t know it until they confessed with an apology. I was upbeat most of the time. We had a chalk board near the phone (single phone with a cord,1984 y’all) and I always wrote something positive there – Sobriety First, Happy 24, stuff like that. I had some hiccups along the way too, the worst was my 16th birthday.

To be continued…………..https://wasthatmyoutloudvoice.com/2015/05/13/1-out-of-37-part-9/

1 out of 37………..Part 7

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1 out of 37………..Part 7

We got to Monticello, NY unharmed. I was filled with a liberating joyful feeling from running away from “The Family” but I had no idea what lay ahead for me. I was officially an out of state runaway. Sandy couldn’t go to her family so we went to stay with some of her friends. I find it amazing that someone would let an unknown 15 year old that just escaped from a halfway house sleep on their couch but they did.

The first night there we decided to go to an AA meeting. Above everything I still wanted to be sober. We hitch hiked to a meeting. We got picked up by some of Sandy’s friends, not the sober kind. I mean who doesn’t love getting a ride to an AA meeting in a car that is filled with pot smoke.

Bear in mind, weed was my very favorite thing on earth. I loved it more than alcohol. Weed had the benefit of causing a great high (until the paranoia set in) without the puking. So while I was in the back seat of some strangers car on my way to an AA meeting, someone handed me a lit joint. I held it between my thumb and pointer finger in my right hand and I tilted it from side to side as if studying something new for the first time. The thoughts in my head were this – I’m 15, no one will know, no one cares, I’m basically homeless and damn I love weed. I passed it on to the next passenger without taking a hit. In AA/NA they say that there comes a time when the only thing between you and a drink (drug) is your higher power, that was my time. Three decades later I can recall that time with the clarity of something that happened five minutes ago. That time has kept me sober through some real shitty days.

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We spent a few days basking in the freedom. Sandy was already smoking pot but her drug of choice was heroin. The guy that picked us up hitch hiking made good on his offer to take us back to “The Family” to get our belongings. I look back on it now and marvel at the balls it took to go back there. I marched in there with my make up on in normal teenage clothes and demanded my things back. Oh and by the way f*ck you. Best day ever.

I knew that Monticello was not a long term plan for me so I started making calls. First I called my best friend back in New Jersey and her family was on board with me staying there for a while. The problem was I needed transportation. I called Catholic Charities and requested money to get back to New Jersey. They wouldn’t help because I was a minor. I still did not want to call my mother so I called New York Child Protective Services (CPS).

I turned myself into a CPS office and I was brutally honest with the person I met. I basically said I’m a minor you need to deal with me. Do not send me back to the crazy ass half way house again because I WILL runaway. By the way you may want to check out the place because I am sure they have countless violations. So I got sent to an emergency foster home until my mother could pick me up.

I can’t remember the name of the place I got sent to or where it was located. It was a seasonal hotel, summer being their busy season. It was a beautiful place and the lady there was so nice. She told me not to smoke in my room and like a selfish brat I did. Other than that I followed the rules. I was there maybe 4 days before my mom picked me up. Talk about a long awkward car ride. She was pissed that she had to drive 4 hours each way to pick me up. I was pissed because, well everything……

On the ride back she told me I would be home for a few days and then I would go back to rehab. Not sure if she thought I drank, she probably did. She told me the reason I was going back to rehab was because I didn’t have anywhere else to go. She also wanted to find a better half way house for me and I would have to enter it directly from rehab. Awesome. So here I am four months sober going back to rehab.

To be continued……………….https://wasthatmyoutloudvoice.com/2015/05/12/1-out-of-37-part-8/