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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.

From the Outside Looking In – When Someone I Loved Was in Prison

He is my “brother.”

Or, to put it more aptly, my “street brother.”

Even more accurately, he was my drug dealer. When my then-fiance went to jail, he took care of me by making me his full-time driver. Shortly before my man “B” went in, our dealer “J” began referring to me as his “sister.” He had quite a few “sisters” surrounding him – none related by blood. One of the first  times J and I were alone together (ever), I told him that if he wanted me to be his sister, and wanted me to consider him family, I’d take that seriously; it would be a big deal to me.

He said he understood and agreed.

B was arrested within a few days of that conversation. J was my first call. He told me to come over. At the time, I still had a drivers’ license and a legal vehicle with insurance. He kept me by his side pretty much 24/7 for the next 6 days.

Unfortunately, 6 days later, we were arrested together, in that vehicle. He was absconding from his probation officer and was charged with Intent to Distribute (with Priors) among other things. I was charged with DUI and possession – since it was my first arrest in this state (and my prior out-of-state record had been expunged), I was released after being booked in. He and I sat together in booking before he was dressed out. That was the last time I saw his face. My brother. 10 1/2 months it was until I saw him again.

He hadn’t written down my number when he was booked in. Having done as much county time as he had, with no one writing to him or paying for phone calls from him, he hadn’t seen the point. I promised to write him a letter when I got home that night including my phone number. When the phone rang 5 or 6 days later and the automated voice announced his name, I grinned and accepted the call immediately. I could hear the tentativeness in his voice when I answered. He hadn’t expected me to pick up.

Two or three weeks later, J was transported to The Point, which is the nickname for Utah State Prison’s main campus – so called because it’s location is directly across I-15 from “The Point of the Mountain”, which is the dividing line between our two most populated counties – Salt Lake County (home of Salt Lake City) and Utah County (home of BYU).

I alternated letters, keeping greeting cards and stationary and stamps in my purse at all times. When I finished a letter to B, I began one to J and vice-versa. B remained in County Jail and I spoke to him often, though the calls were expensive and the cost became prohibitive. I didn’t hear from J for almost 2 months.

Utah Department of Corrections has a You Tube Channel with a series of orientation videos for Friends and Family. I watched them all.

J’s first stop was “R&O” – basically Intake. While in R&O, he was not given an opportunity to contact the outside world and had almost zero commissary privileges. For a first-time inmate, R&O typically is 4-6 weeks while the staff evaluates the inmate’s compliancy, ability to understand and follow rules, evaluates their educational and programming needs and determines their long-term housing assignment.

The Point has different areas for drug offenders vs. gang members vs. violent criminals etc. Female inmates spend far less time in R&O typically as they only have one housing area for women. The other option available to inmates is to “County-Out”. Basically, the Utah Prison system is over-crowded and so several of the smaller counties with available jail space house prison inmates on a contract. Many inmates prefer staying in a County environment (whether that’s a housing preference or they prefer fewer cellmates  or they like the availability of programs like “Getting Out” which is a communication option at some counties that is unavailable at the Point). Other inmates prefer staying in the main prison (or it’s sister facility in Gunnison) – commissary and phone calls being cheaper and the guarantee of jobs and/or programs to fill the hours.

After R&O, J went to Promontory aka The Conquest Program, which is the drug treatment program inside Utah State Prison for men (Women have a version called Excel). While in Conquest, he did not have the ability to have a paid job (inmate labor is underpaid – between 65 cents and $1.75 an hour – for anything from working in the kitchen, organizing and distributing commissary orders, working in the cafe open to the public, administrative jobs, custodial work, groundskeeping, maintenance) because of the nature of the Program, but he did become a Trustee (which is a position of authority within the housing section including responsibility for keeping the Unit clean, distributing meals) and in addition to nearly completing the program, he managed to earn his High School Diploma.

In Utah, when a person is sentenced to Prison, the trial court judge does not have the authority to limit or govern the length of the prison stay. A third-degree felony carries a maximum penalty of 0-5 years in prison. A second-degree = 1-15 years, a 1st degree = 5 years – Life and then there’s the “Super-First” which is, I believe either 15 or 25 years to life. Once a person is convicted and in prison, a different agency – The Board of Pardons and Parole (BOP), assumes jurisdiction over the inmate.

The BOP sets a hearing date for each inmate based upon his/her convictions – a 3rd degree felon will see the Board after 3 months (+/- depending on backlog); a 2nd degree, after 6 months and a 1st degree after 18 months (It’s unclear to me whether persons convicted of a “Super First” ever have the option to parole. J’s hearing was held approximately 7 months after he arrived at The Point. A few weeks after the formal hearing, the Board renders its decision – usually including a potential release date.

Here’s the thing: there’s a TON of bullshit rules about prison.

The first one I learned: inmates cannot have pictures of themselves. My first letter to J got returned because I enclosed a bunch of pics of him and me, him and his girl, etc. Just sent back. Letter too.

Next: persons on probation cannot visit the prison – in fact, if you have a misdemeanor conviction within the last 7 years, you cannot visit the prison (except to see family members).

“Family” is strictly defined. To be approved to visit someone you claim as family, included with your visiting application must be documentation of the relationship (i.e. a marriage license, both birth certificates showing a parent in common). So much for visiting my “brother.”

Putting money on an inmates books (so they can order items from the commissary for themselves) comes with substantial fees (about $6 added to whatever amount you’re giving them).

Phone calls are WAY cheaper from the prison than from the jail (depending on the jail). When B called, I was charged 29 cents a minute when I funded a prepaid account (each time I added funds to the account, there was a $3 surcharge). When J called, it was 10 cents a minute (also with a surcharge but still.)

J saw the Board after about 7 months and his tentative release date was set for two months later – March 28. Here’s the thing about that: because he would be paroling (as opposed to “term-ing” or terminating), Adult Probation & Parole had to pre-approve any address he wanted to reside at. This meant a parole officer would have to call and verify that J could stay there and perform a check of the place (to ensure it met parole requirements – no alcohol or firearms on the property) before his release could be confirmed.

An inmate without an address to go to has to wait an additional 6-12 weeks for a bed to open up at one of the halfway houses before being released.

Here’s the other thing:

Being a person willing to receive letters/calls from inmates immediately subjects you to A TON of requests.

Since J went up, I have written to several other friends who were sent up to prison as well.

Universally, they all want you to do something for them (and often for their friends as well). J had me send texts and make calls to his buddies’ wives and/or girlfriends who couldn’t afford to take calls, write to other buddies who had no one writing to them, put money on his books if I could. Another friend of mine, a woman, beginning her third stint at the Point, included messages from her friends for me to forward, requested magazine subscriptions, requested that I send blank greeting cards and silver rings from WalMart that she could sell to her fellow inmates… and yet another friend (without asking me first) enclosed a letter from his buddy to his buddy’s girl for me to forward. J was the only one whose requests I did my best on.

But healthy boundaries are TANTAMOUNT when you have a locked-up loved one.

Of course, when J received his March 28 tentative release date, his immediate request was for me to find him a place to go. I was on probation by then (making me ineligible), plus I was homeless and living in a shelter (a very comfortable shelter but not one I could receive him to) at the time. He submitted the address of his mother’s trailer and asked me to call her and tell her to please hide the beer and the gun so AP&P would approve the address and could he please stay there etc etc.

Did I mention I hadn’t ever met his mother?

I called.

Her first question: “Well, couldn’t he stay with you guys?”

She told the parole officer when he called that there was beer and a gun at the trailer so that option was gone.

J called me, despondent, asking me to try to find someone.

I tried.

Finally, I asked my probation officer for sober living properties in the area that might help.  He referred me to a place. I submitted J’s application online myself (he dictated the answers to me on a phone call). I committed to paying $500 before his release to pay his first two weeks’ rent and the application fee. I put up with bullshit flirting from the Program Director.

But I secured the address, submitted it to AP&P and got it approved.

I did.

The street sister.

Here’s the other thing about inmates:

You get a lot of promises about what they will do once they’re out.

Pay you back.

Make it up to you.

Change their Ways.

Etc.

J promised me a lot of shit.

He was released March 28. The Program Director picked him up from the prison and (despite some crazy drama culminating in my emailing the dude’s boss) B & I were allowed to go to the Sober Living and see J the day he got out. An ex-girlfriend of his gave us a ride up there. She was clearly wanting/expecting to be the center of J’s attention. She turned a little green when I was.

J went through his property bags that day. His prison-issued Bible, his court papers, the one letter he had received from the ex-girlfriend, the one from another girl and the three foot-high stacks of cards and letters from me.

I’m still proud of the way I held my brother down while he was away. I’m proud of him for staying sober since the day he and I got arrested almost 18 months ago. Better than I’ve done.

But I’m supremely disappointed in him.

He and I don’t talk anymore. He prefers to help out buddies who use him and his goodwill – even though they are still using drugs. Buddies who jeopardize his parole status for their own reasons. The girlfriend who told the cops the drugs in my car at our arrest were his – then lied to everyone on the streets about he and I for months, never wrote to him or anything, cheated on him, but when she lost her kids a couple of weeks ago (due to continuing to get high on heroin after a 90 day inpatient program), sitting with her was more important than trying to help me through a hospitalization.

It hurts to admit, but the fact is that people in prison are different than the people they were before or return to being after their incarceration. I loved my brother in prison. I will always love him in so many ways. But I don’t like him out here. And I can’t allow myself to be used by him anymore.

I have ended all contact with incarcerated persons except my now-husband, B, (who is back in county again *sigh*) and I have made an exception for his best friend. I have changed my phone number. I have blocked almost everyone on facebook. J isn’t blocked, yet. I did “Snooze” him for 30 days. it was too painful seeing his comments to lowlifes and dumbasses I know to be still hustling.

The last post of his I saw was that his PO has told him that if he continues to do well he will terminate parole successfully at the end of April.

Well done, Bro. Proud of you. Wish I didn’t know for a fact that you could have gone back to prison at least twice for breaking the terms of your parole. Not getting caught isn’t exactly what you should be striving for here.

Wish I had a way to show you how much danger I can see you’re in.

I wish prison weren’t a revolving door.

And even if you manage not to go back in the next 5 months +/-, I wish I could be convinced that you understood what REAL priorities are, what REAL friendship should be, what REAL family does for each other.

Taking Charge Of My Life

I don’t know where to start this, but I need to put it out there to start healing.

I’m now 42 years old and I’ve always needed mental health care; I hear voices and I see things that aren’t there. I was molested and raped as a child and again as a teenager. I couldn’t cope, so I began self-harming – just to feel something; anything, however this behavior was never allowed in my house.

When I was 16 and tried to kill myself, my parents took me to an ER out of town and then swept it under the rug. Never to be spoken about again.

In 2004, I took a job with my father as my boss.

See, I’ve also always been a high-functioning addict and I wanted so badly to NOT be the black sheep in my family; I wanted my parents to be proud of me. So I took this job. I worked so hard for many years. At work, people thought i was a “princess” because my father was our boss. Little did they know that I got all the shit jobs that could never be done late or missed. Even when my oldest child collapsed with leukemia, I was given a laptop and worked from her hospital room.

My husband and I use pain clinics, but if we run short, I’ll buy some to help get us through the month. Plus, I’ve always had bad panic attacks and I smoked weed to help out with those and help me sleep.

Last year, a woman wanted me fired and gone.

She broke into my Facebook and found a conversation, between my husband and I, that we’d had about a year before. She took pictures of this conversation, then showed them to my father. The conversation included information about me being bisexual and about buying weed and a pill.

I was fired, as was my husband. I was disowned by my entire family.

The same family that KNEW that I had mental illnesses, heard voices, saw things, and that I experienced black-outs during which I did and said things I’ll never remember. They didn’t offer me help – they set me out, cast me aside. After running my life, (they controlled what I wore, what vehicle I drove, what I did with the kids…etc.) they washed their hands of me and walked away.

My brother also works for our father – did I mention we were all cops? I was not a cop but I did time-keeping for the jail and registered sex offenders.

My brother had me pulled over 48 hours after I was fired and disowned, he had his people tear my truck apart searching for drugs and other illegal stuff. All they found was a single pain pill that belonged to my husband. I told them it wasn’t mine, my husband told them that it was his, yet they still wrote me a citation for possession.

So I went to court, for the first time ever – I had never been in trouble before. I’d never even gotten a speeding ticket. The lawyer took me aside and told me the only plea I’d be offered was 11 months 29 days for misdemeanor probation. I took it. Even though I’d brought the pill bottle to show them the pill was legal. I knew if I tried to take it to trial they would give me jail time. I was an example to be made.

It gets worse.

The press got wind that we’d been fired.

My parents had the woman who had hacked my Facebook handle the press.

It went national and none of it was true. They said we were on meth. That I’d been arrested.

It was single worst time in my life.

Our landlord evicted us.

We had another trailer lined up in the county next to ours because we couldn’t go ANYWHERE in our other county without being followed by local police.

At the last minute, our future trailer fell through. We put everything we owned in a storage facility and officially became homeless. We rented a long-term motel in the neighboring county. We were both drawing unemployment so we just hid in the motel, licking our wounds and trying to figure out what our new life was going to look like.

For the first time in my life, I went to the local mental health facility and made an appointment to see someone. The blackouts where getting so bad that I’d broken into my mother-in-law’s apartment and stole money – I have no memory of any of it. They diagnosed me with post-traumatic stress disorder, Type I bipolar disorder, insomnia, and schizophrenia. I was prescribed Vraylar (a new medication to treat bipolar disorder and schizophrenia). It has made such a difference in my life.

Then the next thing that struck us down, the unemployment dried up. No one said that it didn’t last all year. I worked there for 15 years my husband worked there for 21 years and we got a whole 6 months of unemployment.

So we go from living in a long-term motel, to living in our Honda. We had our pug and beagle with us and that was it. My husband’s mother decided to help us get a rent to own trailer, so we went to an estate auction (a little 85 year old lady had had a heart attack in her kitchen and died) looking for furniture and things like a fridge, stove, washer, dryer. We’d lost all of that when we lost our trailer.

When the time came, they started bidding on the actual house and no one made a bid.

Suddenly, my husband’s mom raised her hand and bid $30,000 on a $100,000 house. No one else bid. My husband and I sat rock still, holding hands so tightly that the color was seeping from our fingers. For 10 minutes, the auctioneer continued asking if anyone else had a bid. They didn’t want the house going for that low.

Finally the auctioneer said, “SOLD FOR $30,000!”

My husband and I grabbed each other and his mom and together we sat in our new back yard and cried and thanked God.

I managed to get a job at a gas station that’s within walking distance from our new house. I make just enough to pay our lights and water. I’m trying so so very hard to get us into the green, to get my husband’s guns out of pawn, and to get some money to help my grown kids out if they need it.

Truly, this has been the worst year I’ve ever known. I spend every evening wishing that I could speak to my parents, while knowing that they won’t answer me. I even tried sending an email last month saying that I was sorry for embarrassing them and that I loved them more than life, and got no answer.

But even though it’s been the worst year, it’s also been the best.

I got fired from a job that made me so unhappy, I couldn’t stand to look at myself in the mirror. Now, I work at a little gas station with no stress, just fun. I had forgotten that work could be fun.

I got disowned by my parents and completely slandered in the news. But, that meant that I’ve stepped out of my parents control. For the first time IN MY LIFE, I wear what I want to wear, go where I want to go, and say whatever I want to say. I went from homeless for the first time, to sleeping in the Honda, to owning my own home. No mortgage, no nothing!

It’s the light of my life! Now no one can evict us; we have our own home!

I went from never having any sort of mental health care, with blackouts so bad I turned the only mother-figure in my life against me due to something I can’t even recall, to feeling almost normal. I didn’t know that I NEEDED mental health care. It’s amazing that I do NOT hear voices, I don’t see things that aren’t there, and I’m neither severely over-emotional nor completely numb.

I guess the moral to my story is this: I’m learning and I hope that my story helps anyone else going through the worst things they’ve experienced. That if you are going through things that you can’t imagine making it through, if life has you by the balls and you can’t breathe without the weight on your chest, if you want to crawl under the bed until the sun rises. Just hold on. Hold on tight.

Things WILL get better. It may not work out the way you want – heck, just look at my living situation! – but it will work out in a way that you never could have guessed.

Don’t get me wrong, I still have problems. I’m still depressed, I miss my family so badly it hurts. I still don’t sleep (and when I do, I wake up screaming from nightmares that the last thing I said to my parents will be the last thing I’ll ever get to say to them.)

But for the most part, life is getting better, I’m enjoying my job and my house. My husband and I are doing well. I can’t wait for the next chapter to come. I know there will be more struggles and hardships but I’ve learned that things will work out, maybe not the way I wanted or thought it would. But, I’m going slow and finally, finally, I have hope.

For those of you out there in the bad place, go slow… hold on… and have hope.