As I reached to open my aunt’s door, I was stuck between two places. In that moment, with my hand clenching her doorknob, I could move forward or I could retreat. There simply was no in between.
I pushed the door open and the heat from my aunt’s house engulfed me.
He was there. Sitting at the table. I greeted my aunt, shed my coat, and sat opposite him at the table. And I waited.
It wasn’t my turn to talk.
He apologized. His words were much what I expected them to be. I knew the story…the reasons why he did what he did. They had been the best of friends.
I can still see him, rubbing one of his hands with the other, worrying his skin raw.
But his eyes? His eyes expressed his sorrow and remorse in a way that his words never could.
I’m not sure I have ever seen eyes as soft as his were in that moment as he sat there, stumbling over his words, looking to me for encouragement to continue speaking.
I let him speak until he was completely deflated…words expelled like air from a balloon overfilled to near bursting.
There was a familiarity about him. Some part of my brain remembered him.
In that moment I was left to make a choice. To forgive him or to hang onto my anger and hurt, polishing it until it gleamed with bitterness.
It was the moment to choose whether to set him free of his burden or take that opportunity to make him pay. To crush his hopes for a release from even a small part of his guilt.
I didn’t hesitate for a moment. I forgave him.
I made a choice that freed us both.
The easy, predicable choice would have been to hold my anger close, fueling it with thoughts of all that had been ripped from me.
The more difficult choice was to forgive him, to recognize that he was human and that relinquishing my anger would bring me peace unlike anything I had ever known.
His life was already broken. He would never be the person he was before he killed my father.
But my forgiveness? He sat there and asked it of me.
And offering that it to him was truly the fork in my road.
The Road Not Taken — Robert Frost
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth.
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same.
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I–
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
*The decision to forgive this man who destroyed my family was my choice. This was the right choice for me. If I were my grandmother, grandfather, uncle, aunt, or mother, I can’t say that my choice would have been the same. That is impossible to know. I can only truly know what is best for me. I love my family beyond words and their strength astonishes me to this day.
First of all, I need to tell all the editors of bandbacktogether.com how amazing it is that they’ve set up such a platform (slash soapbox) for all of us to yell from. So, thank you. As a new writer just getting the feel for things, it always helps to have a friendly place to scream and shout. (ed note: We’re so glad you’re loving the venue. Keep writing and contributing!)
I know it seems really lonely right now, but it’s only going to get worse.
Sure, your father is getting remarried and you feel especially fearful of your place in the house since he said that she was just as important as you are. But, listen… You’re going to put up with a lot before you feel like yourself again. First, you’re going to find sex and then later alcohol. (Just so you know, this will be backwards from the way most people do it.) Then, you’ll fight with the new woman of the house. Constantly. And everything her kids do wrong will be your fault. Until the day you die. Trust me on this one.
Or, you know, trust yourself…
By the way, your mother is a drug addict. You don’t understand that now, but she’s killing herself slowly. Love her from a distance. She’ll eventually set your apartment on fire at two in the morning while hopped up on the Xanax.
And don’t expect much from your sister. When she comes back in ten years she will not be the person you envisioned. You will not find what you thought you needed.
As for family, remember to call Kimberly every chance you get. Tell her you love her endlessly. You won’t have her much longer. I know. I’m sorry, sweetie.
Once you get out of the house, you will choose not to become a doctor after all and, in fact, you will skip college altogether. But this will ultimately be a major plus as people will have more respect for your position in your career. When you’re twenty-three, you’ll hear the words you’re a smart one for not going bankrupt like the rest of us three times in one day.
But before this, you’ll lose every friend you ever had to the college experience. And you will ultimately lose yourself in the bottom of a bottle. Which bottle you ask? Depends on which night. Usually wine but often tequila or Jack. Pack aspirin in the future. And tampons. Just bring the white wicker bathroom baskets with you. Trust me.
When you hit nineteen and move to Houston to be closer to that boy, he will break your heart but you will move on just fine. When he comes back two months later don’t bother. He hasn’t changed. It’s the only way to avoid the disaster that will occur eight months later when you’re in the shower and he wipes out the entire loft.
Don’t go to that strip club in Culver City. Avoid any bars in San Antonio. Period. And keep close with Jessica. She’s the only friend you’ll ever have. Treat that guy you meet at twenty-two like you’re supposed to, but keep him distant. He will hurt you but in a way that keeps you strong. Also keep your emotions in check.
And when you’re where I am now, you’ll embark on a thirty day journey to find yourself again.
It will be scary but you will spend a lot of time writing. And it will be cathartic and it will make you happy. Enjoy your wine slowly. Enjoy the occasional smoke but don’t become a smoker. And treat your body the way you do in this very moment at your young age. Yes, you are pretty. No, you are not too tall. You will grow into your looks and people will appreciate them so enjoy the freelance modeling. You’ll do few shows but you’ll meet some great people.
Finally, be wary of people. They will use you and lie and inflict their own life problems onto your plate. The only way around this is to always be in control. If you feel a little larger than life, it’s okay. That’s who you really are. It’ll take a little bit of time to understand why you feel so cold and empty, but it will carry you at times.
Oh, and one more thing, you’ll start a website.
The first time I used, I was 9. I stole some of my mom’s appetite suppressants. For the first time in my short little life, I felt like I could do anything. I forgot that I felt like I didn’t belong. Don’t ask me why I felt that way. I am an adopted child raised by a good family, so I should have felt fine. I truly believe that addiction is genetic. With dope, at long last, I belonged. I wasn’t afraid.
Life went downhill from there. I gradually branched out to other drugs. At 14, I was stealing my parents’ cigarettes and booze and smoking pot. At 18, I got introduced to what would become the great love of my life-meth. I really could do anything on that stuff-no job was too big, and my mind worked like a pinball machine with an electrical short-thoughts careened around so fast I never held one long enough to examine it, so I never really thought about feelings of inadequacy or fear.
At 19, I was tired of trying to make it on my own, so I found myself married to an abusive bastard; anybody who’s ever been through that can understand what I mean when I say that it destroyed any shreds of self-worth I had a chance of having. By then, I knew how to fix that-I used more dope. It didn’t matter what kind as long as it helped me shove those feelings of worthlessness into some dark, forgotten corner of my soul.
I went through a string of failed relationships for a couple of years, until I met “the one.” He actually started to redeem the male of he species for me. For a year and a half, I somehow managed to limit my drinking and drugging. Life was pretty good. I was living the suburban American dream.
In the end, untreated addiction always wins. I got involved in some unsavory business, running drugs up and down the interstate. For each time I got arrested, I made it through at least a few more times. I guess sometimes it really is better to be lucky than good, or I’d still be in prison.
My second husband finally had enough, and I got sentenced to prison knowing that divorce awaited me when I got out. Looking back, I can’t blame him. At the time, I was just enraged.
In prison, in a state far from home, I didn’t have drugs but I still had that fight in me, and the ability to stuff my emotions into some dark corner of myself and forget them. It allowed me to survive in a cold and lonely place. When I got out, I did what I always did. I got high. How else was I supposed to deal with my situation? I was 4 states from all I knew, being held against my will by a parole officer who wouldn’t let me move home.
Fast forward to 2005.
I’m on probation for yet another drug offense, headed for an inpatient drug treatment center at the judge’s (and probation officer’s) suggestion. I had reached that point where I used dope to become that static-y snow on a TV with no reception. I didn’t want to feel. I didn’t want to deal with the mess my life had become and I damn sure didn’t want to deal with the mess that I had become.
I muddled along for a while until I had a using experience so horrific I will never forget it. I had finally used so much dope, trying to kill my feelings, that I had used myself into a corner and it was that dark corner of my soul that I had been avoiding for 27 years.
The dope had led me right into the hell I had been denying from the time I first discovered dope at the tender age of 9.
I got clean, finally. It hurt. Detox can kill, and I guess I considered myself lucky to be alive, considering the way I had used my body for a toxic waste dump.
The human psyche is an amazing thing, with a remarkable talent for self-preservation. I managed to avoid the real problem: here I was drugless, and the big shitty mess inside was still there. Denial became my best friend. I felt no emotions (or so I told myself.) I damn sure didn’t show them.
For the first two years I was clean, I was involved with another abusive bastard. Got a busted eardrum out of it. During that two years, I did a good job of not allowing myself to feel much of anything, partly out of determination to deprive that bastard of the satisfaction of knowing he had affected me, and mostly because I didn’t want to look at that big shitty fucking mess in my mind and soul.
I did all this while calling myself a member of a twelve step fellowship.
Two years into my abstinence, the pain of my living situation became too much. Denial, toughness, bad attitude-none of it was working anymore. Without the dope to numb my soul, the big shitty mess in the darkest corner of my heart began to fester. So I got honest. Well, a little bit, anyway. Six months later, I was out of the abusive relationship. I was healing.
At least that’s what I told the world.
Until the physical after effects of the corrective surgery on my eardrum became unbearable. They also became a physical representation of all that was wrong with my psyche.
I could no longer use those old defense mechanisms. I could no longer be the hardass, the tough girl who didn’t give a fuck. I gave a fuck and I was tired of being broken.
Aunt Becky, I cried. Like I don’t think I have ever cried before.
I cried for all I wasted. I cried over all the wasted potential, the wasted years, the wasted lives I destroyed with my sick spirit.
I cried for a little girl who never felt like she belonged. I cried for my mother who couldn’t fix her child. I cried for what was left of myself and for the parts of me that were lost forever. I screamed. I cried until my throat hurt, my rib cage hurt, my head hurt. I cried until my entire head was so congested I couldn’t breathe. I cried over all the sadness I had never cried over, I cried over all the pain I never cried over, I cried over all the fear I never cried over. I have no idea how long I cried. It seemed like forever.
And then I slept. I slept the sleep of the damned. Because as I cried, screaming about how I was tired of being broken, I realized that nothing could fix me. I was doomed to this existence of knowing I was broken and the only thing that ever made me feel whole was dope and I couldn’t have it anymore. It had been killing me while it killed my feelings, except it wasn’t killing the feelings anymore. I couldn’t stop using once I started, and once I used I became this horrible beast who got arrested and burned bridges with the people in her life. So dope was out.
I was, finally, alone with the truth. I was rotten inside and nothing could fix me.
At 40 years of age, I’m glad I can say that a lot has happened in the 3 years since I cried that night and screamed my frustration at being broken. I started working the 12 steps of recovery from addiction. I have a sponsor. I have 5 years clean. I have a reasonably good relationship with my mother these days. I am now in a very serious and mostly healthy relationship with the man who held me the night I cried-he is truly a good man. I am in my first senior year of college. I have been well trained in the work I do and have been working the same part-time jobs for 5 years now. I’m good at my job. I have a few friends-true friends.
Aunt Becky, I wish I could give you a happy ending. I wish I could say that I have finally progressed through the 5 stages of grief. I think it’s safe to say I have passed through denial.
Yet I still can’t let go of those old defense mechanisms. It is so fucking hard to express emotions. It’s just as hard to live through them. So I shop. I eat chocolate. I find things to distract me. Often, I stick my feelings in that dark corner of my soul. Even the good ones. I still miss the ability to deny their existence. I don’t know what to do with them, so it’s easier to deny them.
I guess it’s progress, being able to admit I have emotions.
Some days, I get so angry. Why the fuck can’t I be normal? Why oh why do I always seem to feel inadequate, less than, afraid? At least the rage can be empowering, motivating me to get up and try one more day to find a way to heal my sick spirit. If nothing else, rage feels good. It’s so primal.
Some days, I’m depressed. The possibility of spending the rest of my life knowing I am irretrievably broken saddens me beyond belief. This is where I am grateful for my adoptive mother-she’s my REAL mother. Nothing ever stopped her, and rarely did anything slow her down. She always kept going. What an amazing example; I believe it’s the only reason I keep going on my depressed days.
Bargaining. Yes. I do that. I make bargains with whatever’s out there-if you would just fix me, God, I would try to touch another life so some other woman doesn’t ever have to live with the pain I lived with for so long. Just please fucking fix me so I am not afraid, ashamed, and insecure. Make me not hurt and I will try to share it with someone who needs to know it is possible to not hurt.
Acceptance. Not so much. Today, I refuse to accept that I am irretrievably broken. Maybe that is where the twelve steps are beginning to work in my life.
Mary sat there with her eyes rolling back into her head; her mouth foaming a bit. Her newborn baby was sleeping in her arms while she jostled him each time she would nod out and try to keep focused.
She looks up at me and says, “you just want to take my baby away from me. All of you Social Workers are the same.”
I stare blankly. I am new at this, but I can’t let Mary know that. I am just 25 years old, and she is well into her 40′s. She is not new at this, not by along shot.
Little does she know it isn’t her newborn I am after, it is her disease.
“Do you have any other kids Mary?” I ask, as I fill out her assessment.
“Yeah. 4. They all were taken away from me because people like you don’t think I care about my kids. People like you think I have no heart, and all I care about is drugs.”
I clarify for her that people like me what to see her clean, healthy, and safe.
After an hour long assessment I learned Mary has been using for more than ten years. She doesn’t even remember how old she was when she started, but she does remember the first time she sold her body for a hit of heroin. She tried rehab too many times to count, and currently she is high on the doctor-prescribed methadone mixed with a hit of heroin.
The air is thick with concerns, and I am forced to send her back out on the street with her newborn wondering if she has a warm place to stay tonight. I asked her and she laughed at me and said, “yes where else would I bring this baby?”
She still thinks I want her baby. She doesn’t know I want her disease.
I want Mary to claim war on it. I want her to fight with me. I want her to have the ability to see herself as more then just a drug addict. I want her to see herself not as a prostituting drug whore, but as a loving Mom.
It is clear she is an addict, but it is also clear to me she is a loving Mom as well (the baby is swaddled in a blanket, fed, and she is cooing at him. She bathes him in kisses, and opens her diaper bag for a pacifier). That baby deserves his Mother to fight the war. That baby deserves a better life then getting passed around the drug world, because if he stays he will never get out.
I really don’t want to take her baby.
After a few more meetings and evaluations, Mary refuses my advice to go into family residential treatment. It is the only way for her to keep her newborn son, and for them both to be safe. She isn’t ready for the fight. Her disease is telling her that it is more important then her kids. Her disease is running Mary.
Mary isn’t fighting because she hasn’t “hit bottom” or reclaimed the right to her body, her life, her choices.
By now I am sure you know the outcome, Mary lost her baby to the state. Her 5th child to the system. I was just another Social Worker that had to report it. I was, what she said I was, a baby snatcher. I wish I could explain why, but nothing I said comforted her. She refused treatment, and I, ethically, could not let her continue to take care of her 1 month old on the streets she sells herself and buys drugs on.
You may be reading this and thinking “I’ll never get this low,” “This isn’t me” “my story is different” or “it hasn’t consumed me” “I have control of it”.
Don’t fool yourself, Mary thought all of these things as well.
Addiction is all the same disease.
It will consume you if you don’t choose to consume it. It will make you give it everything. It can push you to do things you never imagined you be willing to do. It will cost you not only years of your life, but your loved ones. It will take all of who you are, and what makes you “YOU”, and give it a slow and painful death.
As a professional in the field of Addiction I can tell you this: You can not do it alone. You shouldn’t have to do it alone. If you needed surgery to remove tumor, do you take the scalpel and do it yourself? No. It is the same thing my friend, the VERY same thing.
A disease is a disease is a disease.
We (professionals) aren’t here to take your babies. We aren’t here to pass judgment and tell you how bad you are. We didn’t get a degree in this to make fun of you, or to watch you pee in a cup.
We did it to help you fight. We are here to reclaim you.
I am no longer 25 years old, and I may not be in the business of rehab anymore (instead I am a stay at home, blogging Mom). However, Mary, and all the other people I sat with in various rooms at various locations will always be in my heart.
I will always feel like I am a warrior against Addiction.
I will always want to win the war, support addicts and their families. And I am here to tell you….
you are not alone with that monster.
Don’t let the Addiction win.
Reclaim yourself, your life, and what you rightly deserve.
It was a beautiful Memorial Day Weekend a few years ago. I had gone with a good friend to the Indianapolis 500. I was very recently divorced and my son, age 8, was with his dad at an amusement park fairly close to our house. I had just returned to the area when my ex-husband called with a pretty horrifying story. His normally tough-as-nails mother had called him, hysterical, saying something about a pool, but he couldn’t make out anything else she was saying. He was on his way back to town, but in the meantime asked me to look for his mom.
So, I did. I think I knew all along what I would find. I knew my brother and sister-in-law were having a pool installed for my niece and nephew, ages 5 and 8. I stopped at a couple of places where I knew they hung out with no luck, so I headed for the hospital.
I went to the ER desk and told them who I was looking for. Just the last name, mind you. Immediately, the front desk person said I could come in the back. I didn’t know that meant really bad news. I said, “No, I can wait out here, no problem,” but she insisted. Into the back I went, and immediately I was confused. There was my mother-in-law, surprisingly calm, or so it seemed. I went to her, and she said it was my niece, it had been the pool where the football cookout had been held, my niece had been missed but there were too many toys in the pool to see her at the bottom.
A lot of the aftermath is a blur now. I went to my brother and sister-in-law, who were holding my niece’s body. She looked perfect and beautiful, but blue. I remember my sister-in-law looking at her almost reverently. I remember sitting on the curb outside the ER, waiting for my ex-husband to get there so I could tell him. I remember my son’s horrified face as he saw her as it sunk in that he would never argue with her again over who got the middle part of the back seat. And I remember the feeling of absolute hopelessness that I couldn’t protect him from that, or from the other ugly things in life.
That night, something broke inside me. I went to bed that night knowing things would not be better in the morning. My sister-in-law’s wails echoing in my ears.
It’s been years now. My sister and brother-in-law are doing as well as I think anyone could and I was diagnosed with PTSD. I thought I had a good handle on it, but I got a comment from someone that brought it all back. This person told me she hoped someone in my family, like my child, got sick so I could understand why she missed a ton of work.
I’ve been suffering, silently, for going on eight months…I guess. And, I’ve needed and wanted to write about it. But, I’ve been afraid. Mostly, I’ve been afraid of the emotions that come flooding back to me when I think, talk, or picture the experiences that led up to this day.
Actually, I don’t know when it started. But, I finally said something last week to Mr. B and my Momma.
This suffering stems from an accident, on July 19, that involved my 7-year-old son.
Bubs was in a golf cart accident with his grandfather. The 800-pound cart, fell on a 45-pound baby and drug him on concrete for quite a distance. Bubs was air-cared to the local Children’s Hospital. And I, well I was 39 weeks pregnant. And, I fell when I saw him. Literally.
I fell because my son, my first born, and my best friend was trapped. Under a machine. He was covered in blood from “road rash” and he was broken. everywhere. He suffered with a dislocated hip, broken femur, butterfly fractured femur, crush-fracture of his foot, dislocated toes, puncture wounds and road rash all over his body and a removed quadriceps muscle. When I stood from falling, there he was, screaming for help and frantically searching for his mommy. And my heart couldn’t take it. It was broken.
In that instant, I was changed. Forever. I can’t forget the pain of driving to the scene. The soul crushing fear that flooded through my body the way I imagine Hurricane Katrina taking over New Orleans – engulfing your body with no hope or relief in sight. The fear and pain took me to a place that had not existed prior to this accident. And now I can’t seem to find my way out of it.
I still remember the scene like it was a dream. There were people rushing all around me, ambulances screaming to the scene, a helicopter circling overhead, paramedics asking questions…about him…and about me, paramedics taking blood pressure, police officers begging me to go to the hospital. I was swarmed but still felt invisible. All I wanted to do was go back in time. Just 20 minutes earlier. To make this moment disappear. All I could think about was this “never happening” and how it “couldn’t be happening” to us.
I am ashamed to admit…but, I didn’t care about the baby inside of me in that moment. Because the boy who had my heart first was seriously hurt. More serious than I even knew or wanted to know in that moment. More serious than anyone was willing to “tell the pregnant mom.” It was hard for me to consider the unborn child. I “knew” right where she was and I “knew” she was okay. All I knew was I heard words like “internal bleeding”, “head trauma,” “internal damage” and “spinal cord injuries” being thrown around…regarding my baby. MY baby. It was as if I was having an out-of-body experience.
I still remember the paramedic who took me to the hospital. His attempts at consoling me, while my son flew overhead, were heroic. He was kind and gentle and was a true professional. There are no words that can describe these moments. No words created by man that can put your thoughts and fears on paper to describe the instant you think you may lose your child. It’s a pain like I’ve never known. A pain that was sharp and reckless and it had no concern for me or the perfect family I had built.
And now, it has been replaced with fear.
As I sat in the hospital waiting room, waiting for his six hour surgery to be complete, and cried. I cried for my unborn baby, who would be born into a world interrupted. I cried for me. Because I was afraid and exhausted and broken-hearted. But mostly, I cried for my baby boy. Because I didn’t know what the future held anymore. 10 hours prior, I knew. And now my world was crashing in around me. I couldn’t breath.
See, Bubs and I started on this journey alone. Mr. B was our answered prayer that came four years later. For four years it was just us…and nothing will ever match those four years for our small family. Nothing will ever match the bond we built. He is my best friend. My confidant. My companion.
I am suffering silently with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I am struggling every.single.day with constant fear and irrational thoughts. I become overwhelmed with illusions, memories and possibilities…which all hold me back from living. These fears consume everything I do. Everything I let my family do. And, they consume every thought I have. I catch myself living in a world of “what-ifs” rather than just living and loving life. (Loving the life that God so graciously spared last summer.)
And, even with Bubs upstairs sleeping in his bed. Even if we made it through 12 weeks in a wheel chair and two weeks in a walker and one week of God-fearin’, earth rattling pain and torture…I still can’t shake the memory.
I still live in fear of losing someone. And not just Bubs now… Mr. B, Bubette, my mom, dad, step-dad, cousins, aunts…it is growing. And, for that reason, I have decided to talk to someone who knows more about this than I do. A professional….which makes me feel like a nut job.
Because prior to July 19, I lived in a beautiful world where horrible things happen “to other people.” and now…well, I can’t help but think that those horrible things “could happen to me.”