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What Happens When You Don’t Know

I guess I’ll start with the things that bother me the most: I am an ex-crack addict, I was homeless, I have a panic disorder, I talk to people who don’t exist, my brother hanged himself, and I was nearly killed by an abusive ex-boyfriend.

I know I have a better life than a lot of people, and I try to be grateful for it.

I feel guilty when I dwell on my problems: other people have it so much worse: how can I complain? How can I mope around or be depressed?!

Oh how I wish I could talk to someone, to sit in a group and swap stories about burning the inside of our mouths, or panic attacks, or how much it sucks to have to lug all your belongings around in a garbage bag.

But I just can’t.

I have walked past the building where NA meetings are held probably a hundred times, looked at their website again and again, memorizing their schedule, but I can’t bring myself to go.

I’m afraid that people won’t like me because I’ve been clean now for four years, that because now I have a car and an apartment in a slightly decent area of the city, I’ll be told to get over it, to stop whining.

On the other hand, I think, what if I go to a regular counselor and I scare them? What if, when I admit to the time I smoked crack with my pregnant best friend, it’s too much and they kick me out?

What if I get the cops called on me when I admit to all the illegal things I’ve done?

Either way, I’ve never felt more isolated and alone then I do now.

I desperately want to be an addict again. When I was addicted, we had our own world; it was nothing good, but everyone was on the same level.

Now I’m surrounded by people that, if they knew what I used to be and what I still am, would go running in the other direction.

I even tried to become an alcoholic for a few months; I drank myself into a stupor everyday, forced it into me until my brain chemistry was so out of whack and my kidneys hurt right through my back.

I still drink – get drunk – by myself, but I have to be careful because it makes my panic disorder worse. I drink just until I feel myself going crazy, stop for a few days, then back at it.

It’s funny, when my brother hanged himself, I was kind of mad that he took that option away from me: you can’t have two kids from the same family both kill themselves!

I’m okay with his suicide, though. I understand it was a planned out thing, so things were obviously pretty bad to get to that point. My brother didn’t speak, though; I was the only one he spoke to until he was about 17, and then he even shut me out.

After a while, I started getting paranoid that he was going to kill me, so I distanced myself from him even further.

I’m pretty alone now.

I lost most of my friends when I got clean, and I’ve moved to a different city since. I hate it here a lot, and most people here are way out of my league education and status wise. I have a few friends from work that I go for drinks with on the weekends, but I can’t really connect or open up with anyone.

I’m afraid to date again; my ex is still too fresh in my mind, and the thought of having to have sex again makes me uncomfortable. I don’t like being touched sexually.

It’s a shame because I would love to have children – they would give me something to focus on, to love and be loved back, without having to be in a relationship.

But I guess as of right now, it’s me, alcohol, and my two darling cats.

How sad.

Ask The Band: Coping With Domestic Abuse

ask band domestic abuse

Dear The Band,

My husband and I got into a very heated fight (to say the least). We were in each other’s face and things got physical and turned into domestic abuse.

Alcohol was involved.

I ended up going to the ER and was diagnosed with a head injury and a bruised rib. The police came to the hospital to ask me what happened – if I’d been the victim of domestic abuse – and I kept my mouth shut because I didn’t want both of us to to to jail.

I was charged with a domestic abuse charge. He would have been too, if I’d said anything.

Anyway, there’s a no contact order between him and I, but he has my children: my 2 1/2 son and my 9 year old daughter. I am only allowed to communicate through my attorney or at the family resource center.

Right now? He won’t answer the phone to either number.

It has been nine excruciating days since I’ve seen my children.

I learned that he’d filed a restraining order on me. He then shut my phone off and took all the money I had out of my bank account.

I’m staying with family now.

I want to see my children but he will not let me see them and I’m devastated.

We have a hearing for the restraining order on the 11th. I don’t know what to do to prepare for it. I have the hospital records of my injuries. I don’t want him in trouble because he is my husband and I still love him very much – we both need help and things got out of hand.

Without my kids, it’s hard to get up in the morning.

Has anyone else been in this situation? 

domestic abuse

 *UPDATE* I finally got in touch with my attorney and let him know all the details. He told me to bring the hospital records to the hearing. As much as I wish this never had happened, I’m not going to be a doormat and let him scare me.

Dose of Happy: Anxious

With all the upheaval and negativity running rampant through our lives, it’s important to be able to stop, take stock of what’s important, and find some joy wherever we can.

At The Band Back Together Project, we like to take the time specifically to arrange a little happy boost for everyone.

You’re always welcome to share your story with us!

dose of happy

t dawns on me as I sit there, anxiety at an all time high, my left butt-cheek falling asleep, that I could be somewhere else eating a bagel. Like Paris. Or Detroit. Or learning the Swahili phrase for “pants are bullshit.” Or washing my car. Okay, maybe not washing my car. It was like -900 degrees out. Washing my car would be like that scene in the Terminator with the Nitrous Oxide and the robot.

I smile, imagining my car shattering in the car wash, until I remember I’m probably sitting on barf germs. I hate barf germs.

My iPhone isn’t getting any signal in here. Stupid AT&T. Should be named the iCAN’TPhone because I haven’t been able to make a phone call since I got the damn thing. Hm. I really could use some mindless interaction from The Twitter right about now. Or maybe a Vicodin-Chip cookie. Or some vodka. Because my heart feels like it’s going to pound right the fuck out of my chest.

When the hell did this HAPPEN?

When did I start feeling stretched as taut as an over-tuned violin string? Why did I feel like the pressure to do more; to be more, to constantly outdo myself was omnipresent? Like I couldn’t ever possibly manage to live up to my own unrealistic expectations? Like I had to somehow be everything to everyone. Like if I didn’t constantly prove myself, I would cease to matter. I would cease to exist.

When did this start? And moreover: how could I make this stop?

dose of happy anxious

These anxious racing thoughts; this anxiety, this had to stop.

Admitting that I had a problem the first step, I know from Al-Anon, and doing something about it was important. Hence the bagel-craving and the barf-germ-coated chair in my doctor’s waiting room. And, of course, the urge to flee so that I could learn Portuguese or Mandarin or really anything but admit that I had a problem.

I’m so tired of problems. I’m so tired of having something wrong that I barely want to admit to myself that I have a problem. Between migraines and my lazy-ass missing-in-action thyroid and insomnia, I can hardly stand to be in the same room with myself anymore without wanting to punch myself in the teeth. Problems are bullshit. I hate problems. Maybe I can make a “Problems Are Bullshit” shirt. Because they are. Bullshit, that is.

Maybe this isn’t ACTUALLY a problem. Maybe I can just ignore it and it’ll get better on it’s own.

Except it hasn’t. Because that’s what I’ve been doing. And it’s not working. Clearly.

Before I could do anything, though, the nurse poked her head into the waiting room, “Becky?” she trilled calmly, clearly unaware of my churning guts.

I sighed, put my iDON’TWORKPhone back into my purse and followed her back.

“What seems to be the problem?” she asked kindly.

“Well,” I started, looking at my hands, ashamed to be admitting this to anyone but the people who live inside my computer. “It’s sorta like this…”

Reprinted with permission from the original author, Becky Sherrick Harks, or Aunt Becky of Mommy Wants Vodka from March 8, 2001.

Katy: Addiction and Leukemia

Part I Katy: Addiction and Cancer 

Leukemia sucks.

This type of cancer affects your blood, your bone marrow and then… everything else. Know what sucks even more? The chemotherapy treatment for leukemia. It is so long, so complex that the medical team taking care of Katy wouldn’t even give her the whole plan at once – they had to wait to see if she responded.The first 4-week phase actually lasted for five weeks.

She received two types of IV chemo: an oral chemo, and a spinal chemo. To check the progress of the treatments, she underwent regular bone marrow biopsies and ended up in intensive care more than once.

During the first treatment, Katy asked for palliative care to begin as she wanted to stop all treatment. She’d never really wanted treatment – she had seen her grandpa die of lung cancer and didn’t want to be sick like he had been.

The doctors pulled out all the stops to convince her to continue – brought a therapy dog up to her intensive care bed and let it get up on the bed with her. She got involved in art therapy, music therapy, and had a psychiatrist, psychologist and a pain management team.

She continued with the treatment.

During the first few weeks that she was in the hospital, I developed cellulitis in my ankles that was spreading up my legs and I popped into the ER twice to get treated. During my second bout, the doctors wanted to admit me for IV antibiotics. I needed to be with Katy and declined. Instead, I just put my feet up whenever we were hanging out in her room.

Too weak to walk any real distance, she was pushed in a wheelchair while we roamed the halls, often popping outside to have a smoke. Katy, of course, made two great friends in the smoking area – a transsexual who had heart problems and a pregnant woman, just like she’d made friends on her leukemia floor.

The ICU nurse became a friend of the family and after a particularly nasty side effects of chemotherapy – the lining of her colon separated and shed, leaving her to poop blood for a week. Katy was then put onto a liquid diet, and being my food loving child, our old neighbor made her “stringy roast” which Katy happily ate.

Oh boy, her doctor was pissed.

Katy hated that doctor and refused to speak to her, so he and I had conferences in the hallway. Thankfully this doctor was only rotating through the leukemia ward and she wasn’t stuck with him.

When Katy was discharged the first time into her husband’s care, this doctor ordered the removal of the PICC line without discussing it with us which turned out to be a major pain..

When we returned for her first outpatient treatment, they, of course, didn’t get a vein and she had to be readmitted to the hospital. The PICC line became permanent to help treat the leukemia.

The staff at The Clinic was great! Originally, one of the nurses who had a strong personality (and Katy didn’t like) started her chemo treatment but they began to open up and bonded.

The medical assistants were also good friends of Katy’s, and once, her favorite aide (who wore a wig like Katy did), so the medical assistant put on one of the wigs while Katy put on the other. They giggled and took pictures that night.

The same aide on another night made a video of the clocks turning back and Katy wanted to see it. She asked to see the video, but he misunderstood (haha!), so we had to spell out c.l.o.c.k video.

Because nothing comes easy, my husband was diagnosed with throat cancer, living in an AirBnB near The Clinic so that he was able to complete his seven week outpatient radiation treatment. He had been taking care of Rae while we were in the hospital.

cancer leukemia

While he was away getting his treatment, Katy came home and we decided that we could take care of Rae ourselves. With the neighbors help, we could go to Katy’s long treatment appointments without worry.

My stepkids saw my devotion to Katy and her treatment and felt that I should be there for their father, my husband. I felt that he wasn’t nearly as sick as she and could spend time alone while Katy couldn’t. We’ve only recently mended bridges.

More and more, Katy caught infection after infection and had to spend more time in the hospital. Her beloved PICC line was replaced she got a port placed instead. Unfortunately that too became infected and it had to be removed.

Pain was a major issue for her and while she was in the hospital, she had a morphine pump and a fentanyl patch. I was the one doling out her meds and occasionally she overdosed, necessitating Narcan.

She was in the hospital during Thanksgiving weekend and my brothers (her uncles) came to visit, which she loved. I’d given her a pain pill before they got there and was nodding off. The Sunday after Thanksgiving, my husband brought Rae – who was now ten! – to see her as well.

After that visit, the nurses administered Narcan again after questioning me – and lecturing me – about giving her extra pain medications. They were very nice about it but I felt awful.

Katy then developed a serious fungal infection and was moved from the leukemia unit to intensive care.

One of her ICU nurses made friends with her and visited when she could. That night, when her favorite nurse came by to visit, she told Katy, “see you tomorrow!” to which Katy replied, “you’d better!”

Those were the last words she ever spoke.

Her brother came up for a visit and while he was there the medical staff had to remove her port. Hospice stopped by as they were putting in another line which was very painful, but I’d told hospice that I’d given the go-ahead so that she could get some pain medication.

We spoke to hospice and the hospice staff said it would be hours to days before she passed.

We asked that she could move to a room down in the leukemia unit, where the staff began to say goodbye. We saw them often as they came in to administer medication to make her feel more comfortable.

A sign was put on the door to see the nurse before entering the room; I always wondered what those signs were for. My son and I slept in the room, talking to her and holding her hand before we went to sleep.

When I got up in the morning, I said, “Good morning, Katy” and went down for coffee and a smoke When I returned. I could tell she was gone.

She was so very still.

And like that, she was gone.

addiction cancer

I was so glad that our relationship was good during the months that she was sick, but I am devastated that she had had such a rough life and such a tough struggle with addiction.

I felt everything. All of it.

Later, I had to go home and tell Rae that her Mommy died.

That was the worst thing ever.

My grieving is a whole other story

Dear Friend,

This is part of a letter to a friend in response to her mom’s suicide.

Dear Sarah,

It’s been a long time since you’ve asked me to comment on the book you wrote about your mom’s suicide. I think you are amazing to write about it and I’m glad that you did. I don’t enjoy bringing that chapter of life to mind, given the chaos of those years, but I’ve thought about it often. Especially when I think about what it means to be a mother and uncovering fresh layers of fucked up that we both learned from our mothers.

I know it’s not fair of me to judge them now — but it’s hard not to. 

I took your mom’s suicide hard.

Talking about my relationship with your mom is hard for me because I admired her very much — I was flabbergasted by the way that she slipped back into drugs and addiction.

I was shocked that she abandoned you like that. I was just shocked.

I couldn’t believe your mom would die by suicide.

I still can’t.

I remember the first time I met your mom, I was playing in the front yard while she moved in across the street. She introduced herself from over the fence and told me that she had a daughter just my age, with my name: “I have a Sarah too.”

By the time you came to visit for the summer she had already arranged that we would be playmates.  She even arranged a phone call between us before your visit.

When you showed up at my front door, I knew we would be lifelong friends.

mom's suicide

My mom worked a lot and my dad was physically or mentally absent most of the time, so your home was like a second home to me.

During these years, your house felt like a Norman Rockwell to me, though now I see that it was far from it.  

My mom remarried a man who was addicted to heroin, while at your house, your mom packed lunches, set up the tent in the backyard for us to “camp,” and made goody bags filled with candy. She took us to the zoo, the mall, and the flea market. She prescreened movies, took us for mint chocolate chip ice cream cones, and insisted that you wore a bike helmet. I remember going with her to an NA picnic in the park and how proud she was of her sober chips. We’d to admire the shiny metal coins she earned for racking up months and years of sobriety. 

I envied the amount of time and attention that your mom spent with you when she was sober  As a kid, I saw your mom as kind, fair, the type who would take the time to listen.

When your mom died by suicide, I was glad that she had doted on you those years before she started using again.

As my home life became marked by violence and fear, I began that the world was full of bad people. I quickly became withdrawn to protect myself.

Beth was a reminder that there were safe adults in the world.

When my stepfather and my mom first started fighting, I called your house in the middle of the night. I was so scared. I didn’t know what was happening or what to do.

It was very late and your mom answered the phone and insisted that I tell her what was happening. My stepfather hadn’t started hitting my mom yet, but the yelling was really over the top. She gave me a speech about how adults sometimes argue and it can be scary for children to hear and explained that my mom and step dad would never want to do anything to scare me. She told me to go downstairs and tell them that they were scaring me and I couldn’t sleep. They told me to go back up to my room.

mom's suicide

Many nights of fighting followed with growing intensity and I tried to call you but ended up talking to Beth.

Beth eventually called my mom and told her that she was concerned about me – I was in big trouble. I was forbidden to speak about “private family business.” It worked: I didn’t speak of the violence again until after his death.

The violence escalated and my stepfather began beating my mom and my brother when he was angry. We moved on several occasions to get away from him.

The emotional abuse from my stepfather became our new normal and we began spending school nights on random people’s sofas, hiding our car down the street.  

I spent as much time as possible at friend’s houses and took up babysitting to get out of the house on weekends.

Beth was the only person who knew what was happening; I’d assumed that she would be the person to help me out of that situation. I’m no longer sure she understood how bad things had gotten. She provided me a safe place to go whenever I needed one and a reminder that there are kind people in the world. She told me that I should become one of them. She affirmed that there were a lot of fucked-up things in the world and they would probably never make sense.

Honestly, I don’t know how I would have turned out without Beth as a moral reference point during those years.

Beth became addicted to codeine cough syrup and her behavior changed: she didn’t take us on outings she slept all day everyday. One occasion when she woke up, I remember her running down the hallway singing “boo boop be boo.” This is when I learned that there was something wrong. I was pretty sure that people with bronchitis didn’t do that kind of thing normally.

I knew things were coming unhinged for you, but was too young to appreciate the full weight of what was happening.

I lived in Beth’s house twice, once for a short time when I ran away after my stepfather died and for the school term after that.

By the time I officially lived with Beth she was pretty far gone in her addiction. She slept or was gone most of the time. 

It seemed that you were on your own, too.

I still cared what Beth thought of me. She seemed one of the few people who didn’t see me as a lost cause and so I didn’t see myself that way when I was around her.

On Fridays, Beth would take us to the grocery store. She taught us how to grocery shop and some very basic cooking skills.

Things went sour when my mom suspected Beth was using the money she gave her for things other than my upkeep. You and Beth were at odds more often than not. I decided it was best to move back home. Home was a sort of hell, but it was my own hell and I knew how to navigate it. 

I didn’t see much of Beth after that.

I’d spend weekends at her apartment while she agreed to leave us totally unattended. The last time I saw her, she’d picked me up from my house to bring me back to your house for the weekend.  I remember her being warm and chatting with me for the ride, though I can’t remember what about.

I remember her smiling and I remember that she mentioned that you were unhappy with her these days. 

The next time I saw her she was in a coma.

Atrophied hands, hair cut short, dead to the world.

No warm smile, no more sun-kissed freckles, no more frizzy bun atop her head.

She was gone to the world and she couldn’t recover. That’s the last I saw her.

died by suicide

I couldn’t talk about her death with you. It didn’t seem like you wanted to and then you were gone I knew that she let you down and ultimately abandoned you with her suicide. You have every right to be angry with her; hell I was angry on your behalf.

I was just shocked and sad. I think I felt abandoned too.

The next few years were hard for us; the one person I saw as a safe adult had succumbed to drugs and took her own life. It didn’t add up.

Suicide was cruel and yet I remembered her as such a kind person.

There was nothing I could say that would lessen the pain for you so I said nothing.

You remind me of her because you look so much like her now. If you want to talk about what happened, I’d let you start.

What is there to say now, after all of these years?

That was fucked up. There is some fucked up bad shit in the world and it will never make sense, but there is some wonderful stuff too. I think that, despite it all, we both turned out to be people who contribute more to the good than to the uglyl.

I hold you close in my heart, my sister and my dear friend.

With much love,

Sarah 

Katy: Addiction and Cancer

Having addiction run in your family is one of the hardest thing to shield our children from. Sometimes, we just can’t help our children.

This is part one of a three part series from one of our amazing Facebook friends.

If you want to submit something to us and would rather use email, please email becky@bandbacktogether.com or stacey@bandbacktogether.com. Remember, your story matters too.

My daughter Katy was always a challenge – she’d not left the Terrible Twos – and when she got older, she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and oppositional defiant disorder (ODD). As much of a challenge as she could be, she was also very pretty, smart, and funny. One of my favorite memories is how she loved to eat so much that she’d eat in her sleep – sometimes she’d fall asleep and wake up and continue chewing. No one came between her and her food.

My very favorite Katy moment was right after she was born, they laid her on me, and she lifted her head and looked right at me. Crazy, right?

I still hold that moment close to my heart – has gotten me through a lot of tough times.

Addiction runs in the family, her father was an addict, and by the time she was five, we divorced. He was a terrible, mean person, but never did anything that kept him from seeing his kids. One of my biggest regrets is that I didn’t just pack up the kids and leave.

By the seventh grade, Katy had begun doing drugs and skipping school.

We fought a lot and when Katy was 16,  she told me that she wanted to go live with her dad. Instead of my usual, “you can go when the judge says so,” I said,

“You can go and you can come back if you change your mind, but if you do this again, you cannot come back to live with me. I can’t keep doing this back and forth.”

And that was exactly what happened, she stayed a few weeks and came home. Her father moved in with Katy’s grandfather, who was dying of cancer, and Katy helped out with him and the problems caused by cancer. She decided to stay with her dad and go to school there.

Her grandpa was on hospice which meant that he had a lot of morphine around. Later, I realized that her dad was taking his father’s morphine and giving it to Katy.

addiction

Morphine turned into methamphetamines and our relationship began to crumble.

By then, I’d gotten remarried and my new husband didn’t want her to live with us when she asked to move back in. I enforced my previous statement, telling her that she couldn’t come home.

Shortly thereafter, she moved back in with her dad.

In 2007, she married a nice guy; one who complemented Katy well. She was very manipulative and he was able to deal with it. Unfortunately, after he joined the Army Reserves and was deployed to Egypt, which left Katy alone with my newborn granddaughter, Rae. Her daughter’s birth, of course, was crippled with complications; she developed a uterine infection and a week after discharge, her uterus burst.

After her major surgery, the doctors told Katy that she probably couldn’t have any more kids.

Katy was a fierce mom. She was a good mother – very firm but fair. Rae still has excellent manners and is very well-behaved because of her amazing mother. During her ten day hospital stay, she fought the nurses to make sure she could nurse Rae. Once home, she was in huge amounts of pain. This is when I believe her addiction to opiates began.

With her husband away in Egypt, Katy got involved with an old friend and with her pain pill prescriptions used up, she turned to heroin. Our relationship was still very shaky – when I told her she wasn’t allowed to come to Easter, we didn’t speak for over a year. Even still, she let me see my granddaughter.

Drugs had rotted her teeth and beautiful smile. The poor thing had to have them extracted and get dentures. I was with her and it was gruesome.

For my own mental health, I had to distance myself from her. I couldn’t deal with the drama in her life – especially the drama with her father. He, and I believe Katy as well, had borderline personality disorder. She was a difficult person – always talking, needing help, wanting something, craving love, starved for attention, and it drained my husband and son. I’d try to avoid getting drawn into her drama, but she’d sense me pulling away and she’d draw me back in.

When Mike, her husband returned from Egypt, Mike began using heroin as well and the three of them moved in with my ex-husband.

On and off drugs, Katy was overwhelming.

At 56, her dad died due to multiple overdoses. He’d been a heavy drinker and drug abuser all of his life. As Katy had bought the drugs that killed him, so her half-brothers blamed her for their dad’s death. They became estranged, which broke Katy’s heart as she loved family above all.

Both Katy and my son, Chris were very relieved when their dad died because he was so cruel to them. Katy replied to someone who said that “he was in a better place” by saying that “no, he was in hell.”

In 2017, Katy began the process of getting clean and sober and had moved to a city with a friend to get away from her husband who was still using.

She’d gone to the hospital for something and called me afterward, stating that she’d been diagnosed with lymphoma – a kind of cancer.

I didn’t believe her.

I thought she was faking it and using the lymphoma as a way for us to take her in. We had a huge blowout and she turned around and left my house.

Thanks to the heroin, her husband Mike had a bad heart valve and needed open heart surgery, and, being a caregiver, she moved back in with him.

That summer, she ended up staying with us in our cabin in Pennsylvania and I noticed she was tired. Always so tired. She slept so much and so often that I wondered if she was on drugs.

Concerned, we took her to a hospital in Pittsburgh on Father’s Day 2017 where she was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL).

cancer addiction

I remember staring at those three awful words written on a whiteboard in her room. She had been within days of dying. Days.

And I hadn’t believed her.

The hospital started her treatment and we had her transferred to the Cleveland Clinic closer to our house. From then on, I was on auto-pilot.

I was a caretaker too: my mom was bipolar which meant that I had to take care of her when I was a kid.

I was the oldest of four and my parents divorced when I was 15, so becoming her caretaker fell into my lap. She’d made numerous suicide attempts and was in and out of the inpatient psych ward multiple times a year.

My dad had a stroke 12 years ago and was in and out of the hospital and nursing homes for seven months before he died. I went multiple times a week to visit, it was nice to spend time with him.

I was raised to be a caretaker.

I stayed with Katy constantly from the moment she had been admitted until the day she died. There were a few nights that her friends would spend time with her so that I could rest. Otherwise, I slept on a chair that converted to a bed. I showered in the family showers and drank coffee from their family lounge

Katy’s first treatment course lasted five weeks and she was stuck in the hospital for the entirety of it. The staff was awesome. They didn’t even mention the track marks on her arms or asked if she’d done drugs.

And that was the beginning of the end for us all.