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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 

Is This Living? Because It Feels Like Waiting

Addiction isn’t called a “family disease for nothing.” The family of an addict is just as impacted as the addict.

This is her story of her son’s addiction:

 

My child has become an addict and loving my child is so very hard. I’m trying to find my happy as I learn to deal with his addiction.

With the overload of health issues around here, along with the common “life stuff,”  I willing took a break from blogging after the last attacks from trolls; trolls who don’t know me, know my child, know my life, know my situation, and will never understand my life or my thoughts.

Simply: I took a break because I wasn’t strong enough to keep going,

Three blogs, five days a week, and two little freelance writing gigs with groups have kept me tied to the computer dumping out my odd take on humor, insane fake advice, and occasional a vaguely serious topic.

I have decided I will blog, on my blog, and the trolls will not, cannot affect me. I won’t allow them that kind of power. I have to share this story because as odd or awful as this is, I can’t believe I am the only one. Sometimes knowing you aren’t alone, can make a differences on your life. It has in mine, just like everyone here at Band Back Together.

For a very long time, I’ve been living while waiting for the other shoe to drop.

I call it “living” but it’s really just existing –  when I can muster the strength to push the elephant in the room to the back of my mind. This horrible addiction elephant.

an addiction elephant in the room

When someone you love makes horrible choices, you can still love your addict child, but you also have to make a choice.

I made a choice to love from a distance to allow my son to deal with his addiction on his own time, allow that person to do things at their will, wherever they wanted. The condition was: I would not support that person, their activities: not emotionally and definitely not financially.

Of course that comes with a higher emotional consequence for me, a soul-eating, mind -boggling, hellish existence.

Torn when the phone doesn’t ring, furious, emotional and torn when it does. There is no happy medium, is no mutual enjoyment of life, it’s an inner ring of hell.

loving an addict family

It’s odd how the human brain learns to process things so completely outrageous and unacceptable if they happen often enough; the brain removes logic to save the heart. The brain knows if one more little piece of your soul falls to the floor, you will collapse and finally fade away.

Things you never thought you would hear, become expected. Disappointing? Of course. Scary? Almost every time.  Seeing red with anger? A lot. Somehow, your brain allows it to roll off your back.

loving an addict through childhood

loving an addict through childhood

You can’t fix it, they don’t want to be fixed, no matter how absolutely insane and ludicrous the situation, you cannot even point out how completely illogical the situation is, let alone offer solutions. There are no less than 683 million reasons why all of your ideas are completely stupid.

You learn to focus not on the highs, not on the lows. Not the shocking news, but only that you love that person, your child, who just happens to be an addict.

You make sure whatever you say won’t offend them, or their choices, and you make double damn sure that person knows you love them, you love them deeply, you love them completely, you love them from your soul.  You only want the best for them, safety for them, happiness for them.

No one really has the same idea of happiness.

it took me 43 years to realize that.

Another thing I learned; just because it’s ” the normal” thing that you’d make anyone happy, happy and delighted and feeling so very lucky, this can seem like hell on earth to someone with a different view of happy. So who am I to attempt to enforce my idea of happy on anyone? Simply put, I am no one. I am just a daughter, a wife, a sister, a mother, an aunt, a friend.

I am made up as we all our of a unique cocktail of our childhoods, our teachers, our elders, our peers, our life lessons, co-workers, books, and shows we have seen. Just a big casserole of a human being trying to find “happy.”  When I achieved happiness, I assumed it would be wonderful – more than wonderful – and that, in turn, everyone else would become happy. Everyone would see how hard work brings happy, how loving each other brings happy, how walking the right road, singing your own song, and smiling would obviously land you in happiness.

The past 20 years, I tried to shove people into the happy, I tried to drag them into happy, push them in, beg them, lure them, slide shows of happy, handmade cards, long emails, song dedications, heartfelt talks, and hugs, I could surely get them to happy. Once they saw happy they would be like “duh, I want to be happy too!”

I was wrong. Their happy was so different than mine so I had to accept they would not be in my happy with me. Maybe they were taking a different route, and we would meet up in happy. Maybe their happy just meant more pit stops, more experiences, different criteria, maybe their happy would never lead to the same location as my happy. What would I do then?

image of addict son as he gets older

Their happy could be really good for them, so I will work on being happy for their happy.

Little crumbles of your heart fall as your soul tears.

In the end, all you really want is for them to be happy. You convince yourself not to be such as narrow-minded selfish ass who demands everyone’s happiness is within arms reach of your happiness.  We are not all alike, and really, what a boring world that would be. Keep telling yourself this as it makes it easier to persevere your heart, mind, and soul. Besides, it makes them happy that you are happy for them. It’s painful but it’s good for them and for the relationship.

Then the call comes, not a happy call, you are prepared because you know when this disease spins ’round, the calls come in two forms and two forms ONLY.

One, the world’s best thing ever, everything is amazing.

The next call, though, could be in a week, a month, a day, or within several minutes: the world is ending, there is no hope, no escape.

There’s not a single thing you can do to make it better. So you listen, try not to cry, remembering to love, offer helpful solutions, offer to make arrangements or calls, you do what you can and it’s usually for nothing. It rarely works out, but you make damn sure they know you love them so much you can’t breathe when they are in pain.

The calls – you see the caller ID – it’s a number from a state that you don’t know, but you do know who is on the other end, you never know the type of call, only that it’s from them. So you take deep breaths and you prepare to play the roulette game of their life. What kind of call you don’t know it could be: an incredibly fantastic words of grandeur.

Or the call can be gut-wrenching, heart-breaking, sobbing pleads for help.

You don’t know, because you can’t know but you answer the phone, inviting the roller-coaster of love and hate and pain into your world.

Nothing surprises you now.

As long as it’s their voice on the end, you are prepared, it’s now become common practice. You’ve learned to stop yelling, begging, urging, and learned to focus on conveying the fact that you love the elephant in the room. You love that elephant when your eyes open in the morning, and you love that elephant when your eyes close at night without a tear running down your cheek. No one sees your tear.

No one hears your cry and no one, no one can understand why this elephant is needed, deeply; it has become comforting.

Then as you are in your happiness on the back porch wind blowing you sit with your little family, cross-legged looking at your happiness, eating sandwiches, and thinking how peaceful and loving and happy this all is.

The phone rings.

The addiction elephant steps outside. The elephant sits on your chest, takes your breath, and overcomes you. Sometimes, when that elephant climbs on you, you compartmentalize you soul, your heart, and your brain as this allows you to attempt to speak in a sane, calm, tone, using gentle words, no blame, just love.

The call ends, with mutual ” I love you’s.”

The happiness is now gone for them as they are faced with a very adult matter that can’t be “worked away.”

You don’t remember the rest of the happy picnic: the people in your happiness with you do not have a conversation about it. You move on as you do after every call. But something is wrong, very wrong

You can’t tell anyone, yet you don’t cry, you don’t sob, you don’t fall to the floor, you don’t steal a car to get to the addiction elephant to hold them.

What the hell is wrong with you?

Why are you not responding like a human?

Why aren’t you happy?

Why not like the other times?

You haven’t fallen apart yet.

Will you fall apart?

Will this change your ability to move forward?

You know that If this person comes back, can you handle it?

Can the happy team handle it?  What will be the cost of the elephant if you don’t?

What will be the cost of happy if you do?

I know the other shoe will fall, there’s just no way to process this without dying more inside. Maybe I am out of a soul, a heart, tears. Maybe I have been cried out, maybe I am stronger, maybe my brain is trying to protect me.

I am very much not okay, mostly because I feel okay, there is no way that I should feel okay.

Why am I not shaking, sitting in the shower crying, sobbing, and vomiting like I’ve done before when the bad news comes?

I’m not even shaking.

The shoe will drop, I hope, I beg, I have the strength, the knowledge, the wisdom, the compassion, the ability, the life experience, balanced with the brain, the heart and soul, to take this journey.

To share my happy, to understand their happy, to make a new happy, but most of all, to convey they undying, deepest of love and the basic humanity to make their happy the best happy I can.

Please find your happy; let everyone you know how much you love them – no matter what what makes them happy.

Violated

Child sexual abuse is reported 90,000 times a year – the number of unreported cases is much higher as most children are afraid to come forward.

This is her experience.

This post contains information of a graphic nature. Please do not continue reading unless you understand that specific and detailed information about Child Sexual Abuse is contained below.

That said, please support this brave woman as she shares her story.

This is not easy to write, nor is it easy to read. Think about toddlers.

When I think of toddlers, I think of gooey kisses, messes, and learning. When I was a toddler, apparently my father didn’t think of those things.

You see, he was a pervert. He looked at my 18-month old self and saw a sex object. I’d always known that someone had violated me. I saw it happen in the very worst of my nightmares. These nightmares haunted the beginnings of my memory. I could never see the faces, only what was happening. And me.

There was always a wrongness to our relationship, but I could never figure it out. He died in 2001. Good riddance.

In 2005, when my mother had been diagnosed with dementia, she would say things that were inappropriate, to people that didn’t need to hear them, at totally inappropriate times.

One day, while I was taking a friend across town, another friend showed up at my apartment. Unable to live independently, my mother lived with me, and she entertained my friend until I got home. In that 15 minutes, she had nonchalantly told this friend that she “always knew that he molested [me]. [She] caught him fingering [me] when he was changing [my] diaper.” Really, Mom?

Who knew what she had muttered to my friend would send me into shock? It was awful. I knew from my baby book that I had potty trained myself at 20-months old. What the fuck? It all fit together at that point. It explained the promiscuous behavior I displayed in my 20’s. The nightmares became more intense and more clear. I could see him.

He was such an asshole. How do you look at your own child like that? Or any child for that matter.

I have put many of the nightmares together, and remember things that I wish I didn’t. I remember that when I was 8, he lived communally with 3 other guys from Alcoholics Anonymous. They were like him. Perverts. And he passed me around. After my parent’s divorce, I would go visit him in Florida for all of summer vacation. And went through hell.

AND MY MOTHER KNEW!

I was appalled. I still am. Not only did my mom know that he was molesting me as a toddler, but she also stayed with him until he left our family when I was 5. And she continued to let me go visit. She didn’t protect me. She didn’t tell him to keep his fucking hands off her daughter. She failed me. She actually did quite the opposite. Until her death, I believe that she blamed me for the breakup of their marriage. Because he couldn’t keep his hands off me. And apparently at the tender age of 2, I was seducing him.

It screwed me up. Oh, but I’ve had a hell of a lot of sex. Because when that’s all you’re good for, you practice A LOT, and you get really good at it. I don’t trust men. I don’t love men. I have never been in love. I don’t know what it feels like to be loved because I won’t allow myself to be loved. I have never, and most likely will never, associate any kind of sexual act with love. Yet I don’t feel as though I’m missing out on anything.

It was always good for them but not for me. I will often flash back in the midst of sex, can only count on one hand the number of times I’ve had sex sober, and afterwards would often finish by curling into the fetal position. Because I was violated, not because I was tired.

Teach your children YOUNG about good touch/bad touch PLEASE. You never can trust someone 100%.

Or at least I can’t.

Holding Space in Crisis

I almost lost my best friend last weekend to suicide. She tried to take her own life.

She texted me while I was working: “Call me ASAP. I need you to come to hospital and spend the night with me. No joke.” I informed her that I was still working with a student, which she understood, and I went back to work until she explained why she’d been admitted to the hospital: she’d attempted suicide. I felt the wind knocked out of me. Frantically she texted me to come as soon as possible, as she believed the nurses in the ICU were waking her up to say nasty things to her. These nurses even went as far to tell her family that she’s hallucinating; and my friend didn’t feel safe. She begged me to stay the night as her husband refused.

I could see the look of horror on my face on camera in between her texts. I realized that I needed to be there for her, so I ended the tutoring session then and there. After I explained to my own family why I was leaving, I took off, my heart and brain both racing as I began driving, trying to understand what had happened. Did she need anything from home? I stopped to get headphones for her, thinking she might enjoy some music.

When I get there, I put on my proverbial own oxygen mask so that I can be her advocate as I walk into her ICU room. Immediately I see that she’s got a PICC line, the staff had a hard time inserting an IV and she’s bruised up one side and down the other. I finally get the story from her: she’d overdosed on a number of medications – including painkillers and insulin – while she was housesitting her parents home, resulting in kidney failure. One pumped stomach later, the nurses draw her labs every two hours to make certain that her kidneys are indeed working as they should be.

She complains that the nursing staff is abusive; they’ve make comments about her, saying that she’d overdosed to get attention, that she is a princess and she is going to call her Daddy. When she confronts the nurses about their poor behavior, the nurses deny it, brushing it off as a hallucination. As she’s on suicide watch, the hospital provided her with a sitter, a one-on-one person who has to watch her at all times, documenting every thing that she does, noting all the unprofessional conduct by the medical team before I arrived.

Once I got there, she informed me that the nurses were still commenting about her…and me. When I asked the nurse about it, she denied it, saying my friend was hallucinating and fabricating tales. I didn’t believe a word of it and explained that due HIPPA, it was illegal to discuss any patient care within earshot of others.

The charge nurse called her supervisor who came down to talk with all of us. My friend explained how she felt. The nurses, of course, covered their misbehavior, claiming that my friend had been hallucinating. I interrupted their stories and explained that no matter what, my friend does have recipient rights, which are something we have in Michigan. These rights protect and promote the constitutional and statutory rights of recipients of public mental health services and empower recipients to fully exercise these rights.

The minute I mentioned “recipient rights,” the two nurses apologized, and we began to discuss moving my friend to a step-down unit as she was medically stable. Two hours later, my friend was moved to a quieter, private room where we got settled in. Her kidney function went down to normal so she was medically cleared for transport to an actual mental health facility.

We learned that Community Mental Health (CMH) was on their way to start the intake process to find her a mental health facility – that’s when things started accelerating at an astronomical rate. My friend had no idea how to process this, so I patiently helped her. Her parents and her husband arrived for the intake meeting.

This was when I saw mental health stigma magnified.

Thankfully, the CMH person was neutral, asked all the appropriate questions, and took my friend’s requests seriously.

When my friend’s stepmom stepmom began blaming my friend for what happened, I was floored “Your dad is so angry at what you did to him.”

I couldn’t hold back, I was so angry, and interrupted, saying “I’m sorry. With all due respect, when you make comments like that to her, you are blaming her for her illness. We need to help her instead of telling her what she did wrong. She didn’t do this to you.

Her stepmom got angry at me and said, “Well, with all due respect to you, you haven’t been here for the past eleven years.” I responded, “You’re right. I haven’t. But constantly telling her how bad she is isn’t helping her heal.”

When her parents left, my friend said, awestruck: “That is the first time anyone stood up to my stepmom.”  I began to pack for home once I felt she was stable, and her husband had arrived, stating that he’d have come earlier, but he’d only had a half a tank of gas, she was stable now,

I looked him and smiled with my sweetest Southern smile and said, “I had only the change in my pocket, a quarter tank of gas, I cancelled my tutoring job that I was doing, cancelled my other two tutoring jobs and packed up to stay the night.”

He looked at me, laughed and said, “What is wrong with you?” I explained, “Nothing is wrong with me. My priority is taking care of those I love, and I love her.”

I was hurt for my friend. It is hard enough battling mental health demons, but when you are alone with no emotional support from your family, it is almost insurmountable.

Once I got to my car, I video-chatted with one of my friends, and I finally cried. I let it all out. I cried body-rocking sobs for my friend, the pain that she is shouldering on her own, the fear of the unknown that she is facing, and the aching of wanting to heal. I sobbed in anger against mental health stigma, the blame people put on those with mental illness, and the broken system that is failing so many. No one should be blamed for his or her mental illness. It ‘s like being blamed for having cancer, diabetes, or asthma.

I received a text from my friend’s husband: “Thanks for being such a good friend to my wife. I don’t think I have ever witnessed such devotion from a friend of hers. I will try to keep you in the loop as much as possible, okay?.” I thanked him for keeping me in the loop so that I could help rally around her, to help her recovery and mental well-being,

This is my prayer.

I pray that we work on our own recovery and wellness, be our best advocate, and to put on our oxygen masks first.

A Letter I Can’t Send: Edge Of Crazy: Lesson #12

my dad was, and still is, a serious control freak. he wants everything to go his way, all the time, forever. His need to control + my rebellious streak – any display of love or affection = a seriously fucked up child.

dad,

i’d love to write this on my regular blog, but it would upset the people who know me (and we both know that i shouldn’t upset others, right?), so i’m writing it on the down-low. anyway, this is more for me than for you, because you would never admit to fucking up. mom has put up with a lot of shit to stay married to you for 44 years, but i don’t feel sorry for her because we both know she loves to play the martyr. you two are a textbook case of how not to raise a daughter, and i’ll get to mom in another blog. this one’s for you-

i know that you and mom “had” to get married. i know that you weren’t thrilled about it. i also know that you really wanted a son, but you got me instead. while i made do with the john deere tractor and matching wagon, you and i both know i really wanted the barbie corvette. so barbie and her friends went on lots of hayrides, no biggie. because i loved you.

lesson #1- be happy with whatever i get and don’t be disappointed; any affection i may receive depends on this.

we had fun when i was little. we played football with pillows in the trailer that i grew up in, you pretended to be a horse so i could ride on your back. except you always bucked me off, every time. you’d hide in the bathroom down the narrow hall and call to me and when i came to you, you’d jump out of the dark and scare me. i hated that game, and tried to refuse, but mom would insist i go every time. when mom called that dinner was ready, you’d always hold me back and say that i didn’t get to eat. even though i knew it was a game, i didn’t like it. now that i think about it, your sense of humor was somewhat sadistic. but i didn’t see it that way at the time. because i loved you.

lesson #2 – play along, even when i don’t want to.

when i was small, and did something wrong, you whipped me. you had that fucking collection of belts and always made me pick one. i took a long time choosing, hoping you would change your mind, but you never did. i always chose the red, white, and blue one, because if i had to get whipped, it should be with a pretty belt. and it wasn’t just one or two times. no, you beat my ass. and bare legs. and back. and arms.

i stole some of your coin collection to use in the gum ball machine at the trailer court. it was only a couple of wheat pennies and a dime, but you found me at the gum ball machine and my heart got stuck in my throat. you had a wire coat hanger in your right hand and it was summer and i was wearing shorts. you beat me with that wire hanger all the way to the trailer and that was a long way and i couldn’t run fast because i was only 4. and still, i loved you.

and that time you got mad ’cause mom made chili in july. i was still in a highchair, even though i was 3. i dumped my chili onto the metal tray and you swore at me for wasting food. you grabbed me by my shirt and pulled me out of the highchair. my legs got all cut up because you didn’t take the tray off first. then you threw me on the floor of the living room, and that’s how my favorite top got ripped. then you grabbed a belt from your collection and started beating me and you wouldn’t stop. mom finally pulled you away and threw you out. she let you come back, though. because she needed you more than she loved me. i asked mom to fix my top, but she threw it away instead.

lesson #3 – i am bad, and being hurt by someone i love is acceptable. in fact, i should expect it. i need to learn the art of survival, nobody else is going to protect me.

you have never told me you loved me. never. not once. you have never told me you are proud of me. not ever. not when i graduated from college, or grad school, or got straight a’s, or stuck with my crappy marriage for so long, or left said crappy marriage when it was time. i craved your approval like an addict craves that next hit off the pipe, knowing it will never be enough. and i chased after your approval the way a child chases their shadow, knowing that they will never catch it but always hoping against hope that this time might be different. and i never hated you for it. instead, i hated myself for not being enough.

lesson #4 – it’s not you. it’s me. and it will always be me, even when it’s you.

you had a girlfriend on the side, beginning when i was 5, and ending around the time i went away to college. i know this because i rode the bus with her son in high school. he told me all about how you’d come over on christmas day when he was little. i always wondered why you left after we’d opened presents. you were going to your other family. the one with two boys.

remember that time when i was a senior in high school and my friend viki and i saw your truck at your girlfriend’s house? i rang the doorbell and asked your girlfriend if you were there and i told her who i was. after viki and i drove away, we hid in a driveway and watched you speed past us in your truck, racing towards home. and we laughed because we knew you couldn’t touch me. not unless you wanted to tell mom what you were so pissed about.

mom still doesn’t know about that time i called your girlfriend at work and called her a whore and a bitch and demanded that army picture of you back. the one that mom kept asking about and you kept telling her that you’d left it in your locker at work. only it wasn’t in your locker, was it? it was on your girlfriend’s tv, because her son told me. you brought the picture home that night. that’s when you stopped looking me in the eye and started hating me. because you’d been caught by your daughter. and i began to hate you right back.

and when you suddenly decided not to pay for grad school, i became a stripper to pay for it myself. because i had learned the art of survival.

lesson #5 – i have nothing to lose and it feels good to be a bitch.

you stopped hugging me when i turned 10, and i’m pretty sure it had something to do with my going through puberty. especially when you went on a trip and brought me back that cleveland browns sweatshirt, threw it in my general direction while averting your eyes and said, “here, this will cover up your bumps.” nice way to encourage a young girl to have pride in her body. so i started covering up my bumps, all the time. when i was in my late 20’s, i got rid of my bumps altogether by developing anorexia. then i had to cover up my bones. i began to loathe myself.

lesson #6 – my body is sexual, and sexuality is bad.

the only birthday of mine that you ever came to was when i turned 5. i still remember it because that’s the birthday i got my first barbie. you took her away and wouldn’t give her back. you thought that was funny and i played along so you would stay. to this day, i occasionally find myself playing along, for fear of being abandoned or pissing someone off. when i was 17, you never came to my high school graduation. i know this because when i got home after the ceremony, the ticket i’d left for you on the kitchen table was still there. you were still pissed about me finding you at your girlfriend’s two months prior, and calling her at her job. because i’d stopped playing along.

lesson #7 – when i stop playing along, you will hate me.

in high school, you started to have me followed, instead of sitting me down and asking me about what was going on in my life, you got kids from the trailer court to tell you shit about me, a full $5 for each bit of information. that’s how you found out i smoked, drank, got high, and had a black best friend. you even sent two guys on my fucking spring break trip to daytona beach. i know this because on the last night, we all got drunk together and they told me. then they proceeded to tell me your name, my full name, where i lived and what you wanted to know. i wasn’t even safe from you 1,000 miles away.

can i just tell you how fucked up that is? that is seriously fucked up. i was the most paranoid teenager i knew, even without the pot.

you made me stop being friends with kim, you beat my ass when you found out i smoked and you grounded me for three months for drinking. fuck you. i started getting high with my dealer’s 16-year-old wife before school, i went through the bottle of vodka you had hidden in your cupboard, filling it with water instead. that’s right dad, the more you tightened the screws, the more i fucked up. i went to school drunk every day, or high, or both. i hid beers in my bedroom and drank them when you were asleep. i smoked in the bathroom after you and mom left for work. i feared getting caught, but the rush was incredible.

lesson #8 – my father is out to get me, and he will always find me.

you wouldn’t let me date the same guy twice, because you didn’t want me to get pregnant, the way mom did. you wanted me to get an education and be someone. or something. not for my sake, but so that you could say you had a college-educated child. and i was so terrified of getting pregnant that i didn’t had sex until i was 19. and then i slept with every guy i wanted to when i went away to college. because i could, and you had never taught me to respect my body. you had only taught me to get away with whatever i could. i never enjoyed the sex, but being sneaky felt awesome.

lesson #9 – sex is about power and revenge.

when i was in my final year of grad school, i met my future husband, only i didn’t know it at the time. i was smart and i knew about birth control. but when you should have taught me confidence, i learned fear. where self-esteem should have been, there was an empty well, waiting to be filled by someone else’s ideas and beliefs. fear of abandonment took the place of knowing my own worth. standing my ground was replaced by an aching need to please, at any cost. so when my future husband said “no rubbers, please” i said “ok”. because i needed to be loved, and i was afraid of losing him.

lesson #10 – do whatever i have to do make other people happy. my thoughts and feelings don’t count and should be kept to myself. they will only make others stop loving me.

and then i got pregnant. your biggest fear. and because you were my biggest fear, and because i didn’t believe in myself, and because my boyfriend didn’t want a baby and because i didn’t want to be abandoned, i had an abortion. then the self-hatred really kicked in.

lesson #11 – all decisions should be based on fear.

it has taken me 20+ years to undo what you did to me. everyday i untangle a bit more of the knot, trying to smooth out the yarn. it’s still good yarn, and everyday i knit myself.

lesson #12 – you made me stronger, smarter, tougher and braver. so fuck you.