Blog Share: A Year Without Alcohol

Looking for other great recovery blogs and came across The Adventures of a Sober Señorita’s blog, “A Year Without Alcohol.” Let me know of any other sites you like, or your own…

The Adventures of a Sober Señorita

Wow I can’t even believe I’m typing this! If you’re reading this it’s because I made it.  I made it to one full year without alcohol.  On May 6, 2013 I took my last drink.  I will never forget how it felt.  I was sick and tired of being sick and tired.  I was tired of being the party girl, I was tired of feeling like shit, I was tired of disappointing and embarrassing my friends and loved ones.  I decided I needed a big change. Trying to drink in moderation hadn’t proved to be the best option for me.  It never worked.  Enough was enough.  I tried something that I never did before – stopped drinking alcohol completely.

When I started this sober journey I wasn’t sure how long it would last and now I can’t imagine going back to how my life was before.  The positives have been…

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It Isn’t Just Addicts Who Die From Overdoses

A fellow addict and friend died in September 2010 and I wrote this then…

Here I am, living in recovery and I still see death and despair. I lost a friend to the disease of addiction and it hasn’t gotten any easier. May it never, even though it causes me pain.

She was in recovery and relapsed. She went out for “just one more” before she went back to a meeting the next day. That night, she died.

Dear friend, you’ve been released of your pain now and taught us the greatest lesson of all, at the expense of your life. I feel so mad at you because you had a way out but you didn’t take it; you were so loved but you didn’t see it; you had help but you didn’t want it. Only 23 and now you are gone; your life, your future, your dreams, your friendships… all gone. Everything gone because of one simple, single decision to try for one more high. I feel so sad, dear one, that you made that simple, single decision, and it ended your life. I wish you had picked up the phone and called me. You knew that you were always welcome in my home.

If you’re out there and you’re using, please know that an overdose can happen to anyone; you don’t have to be an addict to die from drugs. Taking that pill that someone told him was something else. One hit too many. The last drink that poisoned her. A laced joint. Twenty-four CCCs instead of 2 like the box calls for, thinking it’s just fun and games: Been there, done that. The huff that ended his breath. Never expecting it, never wanting it, the result can still be death. No one who dies from “partying” expects it happen; it’s “just” another high. For my friend, it was her last high, with no more chances to change.

In recovery, old-timers say that the longer we stay clean, the more bodies we’ll have to step over. It’s so sad and I never wanted to think like that. But after 7 1/2 years in recovery, I’ve seen so many friends die.

Her story lives on in the choices we make, honoring her every day that we stay clean. It doesn’t feel real and it definitely hasn’t gotten any easier.

But my message is really to those who aren’t in recovery: It isn’t just addicts who die from overdoses.

J-O-B

I’ve been working at a new job for 2 ½ months now and it feels great. I’m the Managing Editor for a hyper-local news site. I love what I do, it feels good to be paid for my work instead of all the volunteering I was doing, my self-esteem is up because I’m contributing more to the household, and we can use the money. It’s not much, but it helps.

The part-part-time hours (only 10 a week) are completely up to me as long as I’m getting the job done, so I can work at random times during the day, or mostly in the evenings because my energy is highest then. I’m at home because my work is done on the computer, so I’m able to tend to my family’s needs and there’s no commute to worry about. I only have to pop into the office for a meeting about once per week. I’ve found the perfect work schedule, and I was beginning to think there would never be anything that met those needs.

Ask and ye shall receive, I suppose. I asked for a long time, though. But my HP never lets me down. I was able to manage all of those years without work, my requests unanswered, and now finances have finally improved.

Best of all, it’s fun. I was born to edit EVERYTHING (see my previous post on Editing), so news articles are no problem. I’m enjoying learning new things, and I stay better informed about what’s going on in my community by working for a city-specific news source. The atmosphere is really casual, but professional. My co-workers and contributors genuinely care about one another, and a lot hang out together outside of the work setting (which I’m looking forward to doing one of these days, but everyone drinks so that may be a challenge to arrange). All-in-all, I’m really blessed.

So happy to have a J-O-B!

Taking Responsibility

Who is responsible for my thoughts, my feelings, and my behavior? It’s easy to say the “right” answer: little ol’ me, of course. But I’m finding it so easy to get that muddled within relationships because I feel torn: We DO affect one another, and I want to help make things better for others.

I left Florida and went back to my hometown for a family celebration, with the intentions of working on my 9th Step by making amends with some of my relatives. What I didn’t realize at the time I was working with my sponsor on “What would I say?” and “What do I need to bring up and acknowledge responsibility for?” and “In what ways can I make the amends?” was that I had a hidden agenda.

Our 12-step text says very specifically that we must go into the process of making amends with no desire to control the outcome of the amends. What I didn’t realize was that I DID want to control the outcome: I wanted to heal old wounds. I thought I was so powerful that I could say or do the right thing during the process of making amends in words and in actions that I could help someone else heal the wounds I had created in the past. (Dirty little secret: I even thought that I could help them heal other wounds.) My brother burst my bubble. He reminded me that I am NOT that powerful. I cannot control the outcomes for them, or for anyone. I cannot control anyone but myself.

I can be the best person I can be, and do all the things that I think and feel are right and good and loving and beneficial, and I STILL might be viewed differently than how I had intended for everyone to see me because I can only do what I can do, and nothing more. Not only am I responsible for my own thoughts, feelings, and behavior, that also means that others are responsible for THEIR own. I’ve been shouldering the burdens of other people’s responsibilities for so long that it’s ingrained, and it’s hard to give them up. I’ve tried to control their outcomes so that they were positive. And sometimes I do it so reflexively: “Let me tell you how to best talk to Joe so that Joe will listen.” But shoot, I’m disrespecting Joe by taking away his right to tell you himself how he wants to be talked to and to be responsible for himself. These responsibilities for others are a big burden to carry, and I kept thinking I was being helpful, but that burden just doesn’t serve me well anymore and I think I was doing more damage than good in the long run.

I’m setting boundaries: They have to carry their own load. It’s too hard to try to be responsible for other people; it’s exhausting, both physically and mentally. I’ve been shouldering their responsibilities (albeit with good intentions) for far too long, and now my back hurts. I’m done trying to make things happen. I’m turning it over.

Another Innocent Victim

It’s not even 7 a.m. yet and the phone rings. I’m already up with terrible insomnia. He tells me that she’s in labor and they’re at the hospital, two weeks early. I tell him I’ll be right there if it’s okay. Yes, he says, he wants the support.

He meets me outside the main hospital entrance in full sterile gear. I would guess that defeats the purpose of wearing the outfit, but he’s anxious and not thinking clearly. His girlfriend is having the baby. They don’t know if the baby is his, but he says he will stand by her side no matter what.

He brings me into her hospital room where she is almost nine months swollen and waiting to be taken to have a Cesarean section. I hear the baby’s heartbeat on the monitor, like he’s under the water. He tells me it should be quick, that she’s already had two C-sections before. I didn’t know she had kids; they don’t live with the two of them.

I settle into the Family Waiting Room with the various activities I packed to keep myself occupied and snacks for breakfast and maybe a lunch. It’s 8:00 a.m.

He stops in to see me for a few minutes while they’re waiting for the surgical room preparation. I ask him how he’s feeling and he tells me he’s anxious, and nervous that they’re going to take the baby. I don’t understand what that means. I ask him if they’ve (both) been clean, and he shakes his head ‘no.’ A few days ago when we talked to him, he had three days clean. He’s through the roughest part of getting clean, but he’s been through this many times before.

He tells me that when they test the baby, which is standard procedure for babies born to mothers on public assistance, the test will pop positive for marijuana. “I tried to get her to stop three or four weeks ago,” he insists, “but… I would think, if I were the one having the baby, I wouldn’t…” and trails off again. “But I have no room to talk,” he adds. He’s been using throughout their two-year relationship, too.

He mentions that he doesn’t even know if the baby is his. A couple of days ago he said he was going to “be a man” and take responsibility to be a dad even if the baby isn’t his. I had wanted to know whether I should be congratulating him on becoming a father, or if maybe it was a touchy subject. He said he’s going to stick by her. I ask him if it will make a difference if the baby is half-black when he’s born. Half-Mexican, he says. The point is the same: What if it’s obvious that he is of no relation? I wonder if the baby is white (and not obvious whether or not he’s the father) if they’re going to do a paternity test. He tells me that she’s cheated on him many times, although he’s never cheated on her, and that they’re more like friends now than boyfriend and girlfriend. This last part is news to me. He’s asked her to tell him the truth about the cheating and she has denied it all. She promises the baby is his and I can tell he has a glimmer of hope that she’s being honest. He’s going to give the baby his middle name, and the baby’s middle name will be his father’s name.

He checks in again and says it will be soon. He says it means a lot to him that I’m here. I’m happy to be here. I feel like I serve a purpose in supporting the two of them at a scary time. I cannot imagine being a two-time parent and wondering if the Department of Children and Families will take away my third (and newborn) child.

* * *

His face is heavy as he opens the Waiting Room door once again. The baby was born. He’s Hispanic.

We go outside to talk and he said he wants to walk away, to go use. But he doesn’t. Instead, he waits until her mother makes it to the hospital and then I drive him home.

* * *

They’re staying together, and she’s out of the hospital now. He says he’s grateful I was there to support him, because no one else was, and he thinks that if I hadn’t been there, he would have just left the hospital and started walking. The baby was taken into the custody of the state a few days ago, and she says they’re both clean and will fight for custody when they know what they’re required to do. Although born healthy, the baby was under the influence of drugs from before he even came into the world. Not of his choosing, his life will forever be affected by the disease of addiction.

Insomnia

It’s 5 a.m. and I’ve gotten irritated with tossing and turning, so I awaken the computer to keep me company. I have realized that part of what’s been keeping me from sleeping for weeks is that I haven’t purged myself through writing and publishing. I have stories and thoughts and ideas itching to get out of my head, and yet I have stifled them. They’re not going down without a fight, so I decide it’s time to write again. Part of me, I think, wanted my grandmother’s story to be #1 on my page forever, and I didn’t want to post anything over it. Maybe this is part of moving on from losing her.

The only other signs of life in my bedroom are the little lights that stare back at me when I stare at them while I’m trying to fall asleep every night, and the lighted numbers on the clock which tease me. They’re watching me, reminding me of how elusive sleep is, like it’s some sick joke.

Yesterday I fell. I was so tired after a night of not sleeping at all that I crashed out around 2 in the afternoon. When I woke up at 5:30 and went to put my pajamas on, I was so wobbly that my foot got caught in the waistband of my pants and I couldn’t balance so over I went. Wham! My bruises tell the tale that sleeplessness is definitely no joke.

I talked to a man last night who also has insomnia. A friend of mine gave me his phone number because she knows I also struggle with sleep disorders—trouble falling asleep, trouble staying asleep, and last but not least, trouble waking up—and told me he needed some experience, strength, and hope.

He said he was wondering if his insomnia was due to stopping his use of drugs, but that was almost eight months ago; after hearing his story—up for days on end and going crazy, then depressed and miserable—I surmise it has more to do with a psychiatric illness like Bi-Polar Disorder. I suggested he seek a doctor who doesn’t know him, so that he could play patient, and be completely honest about his symptoms, thoughts, and substance abuse history. For so many of us, we have to be our own biggest healthcare advocates, and since we know ourselves best, we have a tendency to make suggestions to our doctors about what they should do and prescribe for us. (Guilty as charged.) There is definitely a time and place for this, but I felt like he really needed to try to find someone he could trust and, being new, would ask him a lot of questions and get a complete history. As an objective outsider, the doctor might see something that he doesn’t realize.

He was concerned that people in the fellowship say that recovering addicts should not take any mind-altering or mood-changing substances, so I clarified for him that we have literature specifically about medication and illnesses, and that our literature also says that sometimes the 12 Steps do not solve all of our problems and we must seek outside help. When in doubt, consult the literature, sponsor, Higher Power, and outside professional. He seemed to feel better knowing that there might be a chance he could take medication to help with his insomnia. I thought I had it bad, but he goes upwards of four days with no sleep until he is virtually non-functional. That happens to me after a day and a half. When I was using and up for days on end, we called it being “shot out.” I still feel that way when I don’t get enough sleep and it reminds me of old behavior even though there’s nothing I can do about it.

We traded tips for sleep hygiene, herbal remedies, and maybe I offered a little hope even though I’m still going through my own troubles with the issue. Sigh.

I’m not even tired yet. It’s 6:00 a.m. and I’m still wide-awake. Most people I know are sleeping. I do love watching I Love Lucy re-runs, but sleep would be better. Maybe publishing this will give me some relief. It’s worth a try… Wish me luck!

I Can Get Through Anything Clean

I started typing this last night. I don’t know why I was crying so much, but the tears were streaming down my face. Last night was the first time I had really snot-and-tears cried for my grandmother. Well, I suppose, for myself for the loss of my grandmother. I had cried and felt sad many times, but I had been too overwhelmed with gratitude to truly grieve. I suddenly felt consumed by my own pain and grief for the emptiness of the place where her physical being had been in my life. But I didn’t have to use. I can get through anything clean. I know that I will always have memories. But I also know that memories fade as time moves on.

I knew this as I sat by her bedside at the end of her life, and so I wrote. I wrote and I wrote and I wrote, in my journal, and I’ve been meaning to type the journal for a month. I just realized that today is exactly one month since my grandmother died on February 9, 2011. There are no coincidences. So this is for her…

* * *
Diary of the end of a life

Sunday, February 6, 2011, 5:30 p.m.: I’m sitting with my grandmother in the hospital. The doctors have told us that she doesn’t have long to live. I don’t want her to die alone. I don’t want to die alone. When I asked her if she liked having her family around now or if it was too much, she smiled and said, “No, I like it.” I don’t think she wants to die alone, either.

I feel sad and numb, too. She’s dozing right now. My nose is running. I feel compelled to write because—for all the times I have writer’s block, I’m too lazy to do my step work, or I think I’m too busy to sit down & write out my thoughts and feelings—for all those times, I need to write. And I need to write tonight.

It’s been a long time since I’ve written anything meaningful on paper; I’m so used to typing. My brain works differently when I write by hand: slower. I feel peaceful knowing that I can share this moment with my grandmother.

I asked her if she’d mind if I made a videotape of our last moments and she said she didn’t want me to. It’s her time to do anything she wants to do, not mine to steal, so I respect her wishes. But part of ME wished that I could have more than my flawed and notoriously unreliable memory, so I write. I write my heart out.

My brother is flying into town tonight & my sister-in-law tomorrow. My mother & uncle just left the hospital to go home and rest—it’s been a LONG day for them.

* * *
The nurse just came in and asked me if Gram wanted a pneumonicoccal vaccination or a MRSA test. I asked Gram. She said no.

She’s fighting sleep a bit, I think.

* * *
I adjusted her in bed & asked her how her head was. “I don’t know,” she just said. She smiled. “I think it’s still there.”

* * *
She’s uncomfortable but doesn’t know how I can fix it. She’s in pain & put her light on when I didn’t know it. A man just knocked on the door and asked what she needed. She tells him she’s in a lot more pain & needs pain pills. I tell her they’ll put some morphine in her IV. I think briefly of myself, even though I’ve never even abused pain medication before. I think that being in a 12-step program has given me a lot of ideas that I didn’t have before I got there.

I texted my best friends and called my love. They are texting me back that I’m in their thoughts & prayers. I wonder what they are praying for. Are they praying for Gram to get better? I’m praying to accept God’s will. What happens when prayers conflict? Whose prayers get answered?

* * *
I asked Gram if she said prayers. She said she prays a lot, so I asked her what she prays for. She didn’t know. I asked her what I really meant to ask her in the first place: “Do you want to say a prayer together?”

“The Lord’s Prayer,” she said. I immediately turn to my iPhone to get the words. “You don’t know it?” she asked.

“No,” I say. I am pressing buttons on my phone, looking away from her.

“Our Father,” she begins. I put my phone down and we hold hands and pray together. I have never prayed with my grandmother like this; we’ve only ever had dinnertime prayers together.

I don’t even remember the words now, to write them in my journal, but I suddenly knew them at that moment to pray with her.

* * *
Seriously, how many times and people do we have to ask for pain medication?!

* * *
Finally! AND her breathing treatment has begun AND the ointment for her bed sore is being applied. Apparently nursing shift transition time = reports = patient confusion and neglect.

They have the wrong date on the board in her room.

She’s talking through her mask. I lean in close and ask her if she needed me. No. She wasn’t talking to me.

I’ve heard people describe others, particularly elderly or sickly people, as “frail,” but don’t remember hearing anyone actually describe frail. Frail is a slack jaw, a protruding collar bone, translucent skin so thin I can see inside her body. Frail is hair so thin I can see her scalp, blue lines snaking their way around her body, tendons and ligaments so pointed that there is no meat between them. Frail is lying in a solitary hospital room, missing the love of your life who had already left the world, wishing it had been you who was first. Frail is laying naked under a gown and sheet, vulnerable, and completely dependent on the trustworthiness and compassion of those around you. Frail is sleeping while those around you hurry about life, not knowing if you’ll wake up.

She’s sleeping; the only sounds I hear are her humidifier bubbling like a fish tank, the TV from next door, and her breath, shallow and struggled. It’s 9:10 p.m. on Sunday, February 6, 2011, and today my grandmother was told she was going to die.

* * *
My friends and family are texting me; someone I didn’t text sent me a message, so word has spread. Touching the letters on the screen in reply brings tears to my eyes.

I called Mom’s best friends earlier to let them know she’ll need their support.

The warm tears pool in my eyes and drip down my cheeks.

The man in the next room over is yelling, “C’mon! C’mon! Come ON!” He’s been giving the staff a hard time for hours, leaving without signing out Against Medical Advice, and then coming back. His words are slurred and I think he’s high, maybe drunk. I entertain the thought of asking him if he’s in pain and needs the staff and that would explain the yelling. I daydream of him saying “no” and my reply: “Well then, shut your mouth. My grandmother is dying on the other side of this wall and I don’t want to hear it!” This makes me smile.

* * *
A few months ago I started recording my grandmother’s story. I propped up my phone in front of me, focused it on her, and asked her about her life. The first recording was about her childhood, to around age 15. I thought this was in two parts, but after looking back I can only find one childhood recording. I don’t know if I accidentally deleted one or if my memory is wrong. We didn’t set a specific number, but after an hour or so, she had talked about her life through her early teens (about 1940) and she was tired.

I remember, on other occasions, being annoyed with my grandmother’s storytelling, as she regaled tales of the same events over and over. “I know, I know,” I would tell her. Or she would say, “Do you know what we did?” and I would say, “Yes, you already told me three times!”

On the second recording, we got into her 20’s, through the Great Depression and World War I, through the births of her three children. I thought there were 3 recordings, ages 1-8, 8-15, and 15-20’s, but now I don’t know.

I started to review the videos on my computer a couple of weeks ago and I could only find two. The sound quality was really poor and I knew it might need some extensive help. I told myself that, the next time I recorded her story, I would prop up the phone right next to her, her voice being most important. I never made any more videos. Every time I thought about asking her to do another video, I thought about sitting there for an hour and listening and I got annoyed and figured I’d do it later. And now “later” will never come.

* * *
I take a deep breath and close my eyes. I’m wide-awake. Probably the three cups of coffee, especially since I don’t drink caffeine regularly anymore because it sends me bouncing off the walls all night. But today coffee sounded good and now I know that it was to keep me awake for my time in the hospital with Gram.

I can vaguely hear the hustle and bustle of the hospital unit, doors opening and closing, but mostly just Gram and her fish tank.

* * *
My feet are freezing because my boots were uncomfortable and I took them off. I asked a nurse for a pair of slipper socks and she said she’d have to charge them out. I asked her the going rate for hospital-grade slipper socks but she said she didn’t know. “Sorry,” she said.

* * *
I decided me feet were just TOO cold. I creaked open the door and padded my way to the nurse at her desk. “Yes?” she asked.

“My grandmother needs a pair of slipper socks,” I said.

“Oh, slipper socks?” I nodded. “Just a minute,” she said. This was not a lie; my grandmother DID need slipper socks (for me). I am now the proud new owner of tan-colored, non-skid, official hospital slipper socks.

* * *
Gram woke up. She wanted to (quite literally) GO to the bathroom. And she was determined. So, out of bed she went. The nurse came in and we helped her move around in her room and into the bathroom. By the time we got her situated back in bed, and it had been a process, the nurse was clear that there would be no more trips out of bed. Lying in bed, Gram said, “That was quite an event!”

She wanted another breathing treatment. The nurse said she thought it was too soon after her last treatment. Is there a “too soon” for helping someone breathe easier? In order to pacify us, the nurse said she’d look into it.

Gram is dozing again now, anyway, I guess.

* * *
Apparently you’re only allowed one breathing treatment every six hours. Who knew?

I asked Gram if she wanted some water and she wanted coffee. The nurse asked if I wanted some, too, and I asked for a cup of regular. The nurse left to get our coffees and Gram joked that the nurse was showing “partiality” because she was only giving Gram decaf.

The guy next door is cussing again. I overhear enough to learn that he has cellulitis in his arm from shooting Roxies. I want to smack him and tell him how precious life is. The nurses ask how he did them and he said he doesn’t cook it, just crushes it, adds water, and shoots it. One nurse said, “No wonder you have cellulitis; you need to use clean needles!” He’s confused because he’s right-handed, so he shoots dope in his left arm, but his cellulitis has shown up on his right forearm.

* * *
Josh is here. He brought a midnight milkshake snack for Gram and some McDonald’s chicken nuggets and fries for me, as requested. We laughed and joked together. Gram still has her sense of humor! He and Grama are holding hands and resting their eyes. It’s a beautiful moment. Part of me wants to take a picture, to capture the moment indefinitely. But I don’t want to steal the beauty of their solitude. As I sit here watching them, sounds only of Gram’s breathing and her humidifier bubbling, I feel blessed to be a part of this moment.

Serenity stolen by breathing treatment time. I think I’ve had a dozen fries and 3 or 4 chicken nuggets. Oh, and some of Grammy’s chocolate shake. We always share!

Josh stole my comfy chair. Nurse Amy will bring another. We’re going to sleep here.

* * *
Now he’s talking on the phone to Mom about me, so I’m going to write about him. Nah!

* * *
Josh stole my OTHER chair. Now I’m back in my original chair. (He didn’t really steal it, though; I gave it to him. It was even MORE comfy and longer so he could stretch out. A tall one he is.)

It’s 2:28 a.m. It’s been a long day. Micah will be getting up for work in a bit. We’ve settled in for the night—Gram in bed, me in the reclining chair, Josh in the extra comfortable reclining chair—but I can’t sleep. I can’t sleep wearing jeans. I’m debating asking for a hospital gown to go with my super sexy slipper socks.

I turned the light off so that Josh and I could try to sleep but Gram seemed bothered by the idea of darkness. She said she wants them (the staff) to be able to find her fast. I wonder if she remembers that she signed Do Not Resuscitate orders. I wonder if she realizes that she’s not hooked up to any machines, that if she stopped breathing in the middle of the night nobody would know.

My head’s on the pillow, but with the light on, I can see her breathing. Maybe it’s better to have the light on.

I feel anxious. Coffee is my enemy. Hospital chairs are not comfortable. I feel better writing all of this. I forgot how cathartic writing with pen and paper can be.

I hear an ambulance. In the blink of an eye, someone else’s life just changed.

I wonder if I’ll write a whole book from in this hospital room. I think about what I would call it. What phrase, what words, what book title would sum up this day?

My body hurts. I’m thinking about calling Micah and asking him to bring me my pajamas and some Ambien. And my phone charger. And some eye drops; my contact lenses have dried out and every other blink is now a chore.

Uncle David will be here in a few hours. When Josh wakes up, I might go home. But I don’t want to miss it—that last moment that Grama is alive.

I think I’ve said everything I needed to say, and I’ve asked Gram if she had any final wishes like music (no), hymns (no), TV (no), silence (eh), family (yes), solitude (no), prayer (yes), special food (yes, she’s already requested the coffee and the chocolate milk shake), and I’ve told her I loved her, held her hand, told her I was sad, and cried. She said to her granddaughter, “Don’t be sad.”

As I listen to her breathe, I think about how we will celebrate her life when it’s done. She wants to be cremated like my grandfather with no memorial service. After my Papa Bud died, Gram, Uncle David, Mom, and I went out to dinner at a favorite restaurant and told stories in his honor. Where would my grandmother like us to go to celebrate her memory? Where was her favorite place of all-time? What was her favorite memory? I asked her what her greatest joy in life was a few hours ago but she said, “Honey, let’s not talk about it.”

I overheard the conversation she was having with my brother when he first got here and I came back into the room from visiting our next-door neighbor. She said, “I’m dying.”

* * *
Frail is a woman whose eyes are sunk so far that I can see the beautiful outline of her skull, her skeleton a flawless and true human representation without cares, without blemishes, without any attempt to be something she’s not. She’s perfect there, lying in her hospital bed, sleeping the sleep of the unknown. I suppose the truth is that we all sleep the sleep of the unknown. The difference, I suppose, is that I take it for granted that I’ll wake up in the morning. I think the day has come where Gram doesn’t. What freedom would it bring NOT to make that assumption: to lay down every night at peace with the knowledge that, perhaps, it might be my last? One day it will be.

They’re both asleep, the two of them. I still can’t sleep. I don’t know how I could with the two caffeinated mice in my mind still spinning the wheel faster than ever.

* * *
I called Micah and he’s going to drop a few things by the hospital on his way to work. Slippers, too; I’m still cold even with my no-slip slipper socks on.

[Note to self: pineapple yogurt, all available cold flavored waters, I wish I had a banana]

Oh, but I forgot about asking him to bring some real food. I will have to call him back. The main entrance is locked so I’ll have to go down and meet him at the emergency entrance. I’ll be the one wearing slipper socks.

* * *
The unit is asleep, and most rooms are empty. The guy next door left awhile ago. I suppose curiosity got the best of me, because I felt compelled (as I so often do) to meet him and smack him upside the head.

He told me his name is Nick. He was clean for four years in the fellowship, and then his dad died and left him $190,000. And he blew it years ago, and he’s progressively gotten sicker, deeper and darker into his disease. He told me that he started drinking when he was 17. Then he started smoking “reefer,” then cocaine, then crack, then pills, and he’s been shooting pills for the past four months, and now “blues.” I asked him if I could give him the helpline number but he said he already had it. He asked me to call his wife who “really needs to talk to someone.” She, too, is an active addict. He said, “You know what they say… two addicts together… if one gets clean and the other is using…” He trailed off but I know the last line by heart. It ends with, “People will drag you down easier than you can pick them up.” He gave me his number and asked me to call his wife tomorrow. I promised I would.

I told him that my grandmother was dying in the room next door and that life is precious. I didn’t have to smack him. I looked into his eyes. “Remember this,” I pleaded. “It may save your life.”

He told me that those were the best four years of his life, and I told him that he could start new, that today, getting out of the hospital with staph in his arm and the police on his heels, today he didn’t have to use.

He showed me his arm. I’ve never actually seen a staph infection, only the resulting scars on loved ones. I was surprised I couldn’t see bone; the tear in his skin was so deep I thoroughly expected to see what a real bone looks like. I didn’t know that we have so much fat and tissue to go through. His wound was easily an inch deep, by an inch wide and inches long.

* * *
I’m tired. It’s about 5:30 a.m. I’m so exhausted.

* * *
11:30 a.m.: Apparently Josh found me wandering the hospital room and tripping over things when he woke up for the morning and put me in the comfiest chair, where I briefly slept before Uncle David came. I am now at home, in bed, and ready to sleep.

* * *
Monday, February 7, 2011, 10:34 p.m.: Gram got moved to Hospice today. I decided to spend the night with her again and found my brother already in her room. He gave me the comfy bed and took the fold-out chair. He gets the Most Valuable Brother award.

Hospice is amazing. The rooms have big heavy doors as if walking into a Hospice room is walking into a home. Everything on my Gram’s board is right. Her name is on a nameplate over her bed and all the furniture matches. There’s a TV, mini fridge, and a family kitchen down the hall where Josh just went to beg for Jello™ and pudding.

Mom must have brought Gram’s favorite candies (I’m guessing it was her) because they’re on her bedside table, and at Hospice Suncoast she’s allowed to eat whatever she wants, whenever she wants it.

The staff provided us with a roll-away bed and even tucked the sheets in for me. They brought us extra pillows, and even bananas, as requested. Gram’s nurse said she felt embarrassed bringing the bananas to us because all she could find were four little brown-spotted baby bananas. We were quite happy with the bananas, and even impressed at her thoughtfulness. I was explaining to Nurse Susan that bananas are, in fact, actually spotted when they’re at their peak of ripe- and sweetness, even though we’re more used to eating yellow-green bananas in the earlier stages of the ripening process. Josh later told me that, during my banana discussion across the room, Gram was hinting to Josh to ask Susan how much the bananas cost. As Susan was getting ready to leave, the money issue came up. Not from the nurse whose job was to help make our life more comfortable, and not from the Generation X and Yers who assumed the bananas would be free, but from the woman who had lived a lifetime we’ll never know, with her breathing treatment mask still on, and always proper, “What do we owe you?”

When Susan left, Grama looked at Josh and me, pointing her finger at each of us in turn, and said, “You always ask.” Eighty-six and on her deathbed, and still teaching her grandkids lessons of respect and responsibility.

Bedtime.

* * *
Tuesday, February 8, 2011, 11:19 p.m.: We all slept pretty well last night. Josh and I each got up once with Gram in the middle of the night to help her get to the bedside commode. We went our separate ways for the day, and now here we are again, the three of us.

I want to know why they threw the words “adult diaper” around so much in the hospital. Gram’s not even using a bedpan at Hospice—she’s still capable of getting out of bed and they treat people with so much more dignity and respect. Why treat her as incapable? I wonder if it’s easier for hospital staff to see each patient as the same person, with different symptoms, over and over, treating the symptoms with adult diapers instead of allowing Grama to be the adult she’s known for her whole life. And why do we associate old age with infancy? Why couldn’t we make up a whole new word to represent the essence of “adult diapers,” and call them ‘chochkeys’? (I don’t know, I’m not the new-word maker, I just usually use the ones we have.) Or ‘alrips’? I don’t think either of those are in our current language, so why can’t we just make them up? Why does it have to do with babies and diapers?

I got onto my computer last night and sent out two Facebook status updates: 1) “Bless the Hospice Suncoast philosophy, their comfortable rooms, and warm and welcoming staff. Josh and I are staying overnight with Gram in her room.” 2) “As those of you who know me well already know, I’m not a religious person; I’m a spiritual agnostic. But my grandmother is religious, and it is her time. If you pray, please pray for our family to find the knowledge of God’s will and have the ability to carry that out. Thank you.”

I debated doing this for a long time before I did it. I want people who love me and care about me to be on this journey with me, but I was afraid of cheapening the experience by using a mode such as Facebook to share myself. I am also not into the surfing and playing online right now. I didn’t want to have to reply to everyone’s questions, but I wanted and needed their love, help, and support. I’m talking to a few people on the phone a little, and I’ve sent out a few texts to my closest friends and our old family friends (they want to stay posted so that they can offer my mom the same love, help, and support that I’m getting from my friends.) And, of course, my immediate family is heavily involved. What ended up happening was a lot of displays of love, help, and support that I needed. Growing up, I was not particularly aware of my grandmother’s religious beliefs. I knew she was religious, but I had never prayed with her, besides at dinners. But Sunday she wanted to say “The Lord’s Prayer,” and on Monday I asked her if she wanted to pray and she asked Josh to lead the prayer.

I am not religious nor do I particularly believe in the idea of organized religion; communism is good in theory, too. The realities of organized religions, on the other hand, I believe have more to do with organized judgment, which is the perfect breeding ground for contempt, hatred, prejudice, and in some cases, extremist views. For me (and this is FOR ME…) there are a lot of things to be passionate about for my life, a lot of judging right decisions from wrong, a lot of searching through data to understand the ultimate complex machine: the mind. To me, that is organized religion. Most organized religions are abiding and unforgiving. This is not the same as having a loving, forgiving, and just Higher Power. This is solely about the organizations.

I consider myself a spiritual agnostic. The definition of “agnostic” from Merriam-Westers’ Dictionary—the authority on defining diction, mind you—is “a person who holds the view that any ultimate reality (as God) is unknown and probably unknowable; (broadly) one who is committed to believing in either the existence or the nonexistence of God or a god.” Also: “a person who is unwilling to commit to an opinion about something (politics included).” The origin is Greek from “agno¯stos,” meaning “unknown.” That begs the question: What is knowledge? To “know”: 1a) to perceive directly; have direct cognition of; to recognize the nature of; 1b) to recognize as being the same as something previously known; to be acquainted or familiar with; to have experience of; 2a) to be aware of the truth or factuality of; be convinced or certain of; 2b) to have a practical understanding of; “knowledge.”

There are plenty of things in life about which I feel certain I know. In light of the fact that there are so many severely contradictory ideas of a higher power by various people around the planet and throughout time, be it God, Goddess, Allah, prophets, messiahs, Good Orderly Direction, the Universe, Mother Nature, Jesus Who Became the Christ, or one of the many Hindu Gods, I don’t believe that I personally can know which is true.

Grama asked us tonight, “Why are we all here?” I think she meant: “Why is all the family here in this building?” although we will never know. What she said, though, is the most important, sought after, and never-attained question and answer in life. Why are we all here?

I’m tired. I’m up with Gram getting her to the portable commode and I’m thinking about how conservative she always is with her toilet paper—she always only uses 5-6 squares at a time, neatly, properly folded. She is from a different era when times were tight and she saved whatever she could. An era I will no longer have a connection to.

It’s 3:06 a.m. and I haven’t fallen asleep yet. I took a second Ambien and ended up tripping like I was on drugs. I just thought it would make me extra sleepy. Instead, the walls were melting and shadows moving. I had to step out of the room and talk to the nurse and she gave me some water. I need sleep!

* * *
Wednesday, February 8, 2011, 9:12 a.m.: Grama’s breathing is the worst I’ve seen. I wiped her face and neck with a cool washcloth. I told her that the whole family is in town and that we’re all with her, and that whenever God called her it was okay with all of us for her to fly; a beautiful idea, preceded by a miserable physical experience. It’s just the two of us in the room and I’m watching her frail body cling to the last of its life.

* * *
I asked Grama to tell some stories to Josh last night: family favorites that maybe he had never heard. She couldn’t think of one so I prompted her: “Will you tell us about Princess the Raccoon?” Princess was a raccoon that my mother found when she was little and the family let her keep as a pet. Princess rode on my mother’s shoulders like a live raccoon stole. She used a litter box like a cat. Unfortunately, she ate like a raccoon, and had eventually gnawed off all the roots on all the houseplants, and even the bulbs for rooting that were still spreading their arms to drink the water in their glass on the kitchen counter.

One day, Princess disappeared. My mother was distraught, and the kids around the neighborhood helped her search the woods. She was never found.

Next season, out of nowhere, there went Princess across the porch, marching her troop of babies. Mom and Gram fed them and off they went to grow up. I think it’s really neat that Princess remembered them and wanted to show off her brood.

* * *
(Noonish) Gram seems to be doing better with the Morphine; it helps open the airway and ease breathing anxiety. The doctor asked her if she wanted him to regularly schedule the Morphine throughout the day to keep a dose constantly in her system at low levels, and she agreed. The Morphine liquid is put under her tongue with a dropper; no injections, just a disgusting aftertaste. (Later she started getting a Morphine breathing treatment. Ever addicts, Mom and I jokingly leaned in and took a whiff and then teased each other. Addiction runs through my life no matter what I go through.)

I asked Gram if she wanted the chaplain to say a prayer with us and she agreed. The chaplain introduced himself and said that he could come back anytime we were ready, because I wanted the whole family to be together. He, too, asked about her pain and level of comfort. More blessings to and gratitude for Hospice Suncoast from our family.

* * *
We’re all getting together later this afternoon to have a family prayer. The chaplain is going to come to the room. I’m wondering what a Hospice chaplain’s life is like, seeing death so often.

Mom and Uncle David are talking about secrets in the hall and I can’t come. I don’t like secrets in situations such as these. However, I have never been in a situation such as this.

I used Gram to test the emergency response system at Hospice and the staff got a big, fat ‘F.’ We pushed the button. Pushed it again. One minute later, again. Five minutes later, again and again. After ten minutes, I felt the need (as I so often do) to inform the staff of their failure to respond. I told them that it was a test and that they failed. One nurse came in and said, “Were you calling?” and I said, “Yes, we were… ten minutes ago.” Gram told them not to mind me. I was actually upset with them. Then the aide came in and asked if we had called (same answer, “Yes… ten minutes ago!’). She was so busy blaming the left hand that she forgot to answer the call with her right hand (so to speak). Apparently, EVERYONE has a cell phone that alerts the carrier when the call button is pressed by ANY patient. So, a couple of dozen staff members heard our multiple calls and they all ignored us. No one’s perfect, right? I was thinking, “What if it HAD been an emergency?” And then, “What would qualify as an emergency in this Hospice situation?” Gram’s already in both cardiac and respiratory failure and she’s waiting to die.

* * *
I’m writing while I watch her sleep. Coming to visit Gram has become a kind of gift I’m giving myself. When it’s just us, we hold hands, smile, and every once in awhile, tease each other. (She’s still “feisty,” as my mother put it!) Only the sounds of the oxygen machine and Gram’s raspy lungs. I wish I could stay here all the time, but I have to go home and sleep tonight because I got zero sleep last night and had hallucinations at, like, 5 in the morning. I’m still up. And I need to trust that my brother has the same intentions not to leave my grandmother alone. He’ll stay tonight; maybe we’ll trade off sleepover nights. I just don’t want her to die alone.

* * *
Thursday, February 10, 2011, 4:45 a.m.: I still can’t sleep. Gram died last night at 9:30 p.m. We all went to her room last night to hold each other and say our last thoughts. My uncle had to pick me up and drive me because I was so exhausted I couldn’t even drive from my place to Hospice safely. We took family pictures. Josh was holding her hand when she took her last breath. I am so unbelievably grateful that he was there and that, for the last bit of this lifetime, she had company.

I guess some say that we come into and go out of this lifetime alone. Someone wrote that on my Facebook page. I suppose I disagree. I came into this life in a room full of people who wanted me and cared for me. And now I know that it’s possible, possible, to go out of this lifetime surrounded by loved ones releasing you to your next transition, free of pain, free of fear, full of love.

In honor of Wilma Ruth Lorenzen Sidenstecker, March 21, 1924 – February 9, 2011.

The Lord’s Prayer

Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come.
Thy will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.

For thine is the kingdom,
and the power, and the glory,
forever and ever.

Amen.

* * *
Transposed on March 9, 2011, at 11:59 p.m. I’m tired now. I think I can sleep.

Mended Heart

I was lost and broken, wandering through life as if in a forest of men, not knowing which man was safe to build a shelter with, next to whose roots I could plant myself, which sap would heal my pain. My heart hurt. I had been searching and searching for so long. I was weary from my journey.

* * *

I am complaining in a meeting about my latest sour relationship. And then I see him, across the room. Our eyes meet. My heart skips a beat. I have to know everything there is to know about this man. We go out for hot chocolate. I am still wrestling with the demons from the end of my latest relationship. But he listens to me. And he is patient for three days. And then I am free. And then I call him.

When next we meet, he immediately offers me his heart. I look at it: raw and scarred and pure. I stroke his heart, bring it to my lips and kiss it, hold it and tell it that everything is going to be okay now. I give it back, feeling honored to have been given such a gift.

But I’m afraid to give him mine. I’m afraid it’s too broken to mend. I’m afraid he won’t like what he sees. Maybe I’m afraid I won’t like what I see. I look down at my chest, feeling hollow and sick. I gently remove my heart with both hands. I don’t like what I see; the bruises and holes scare me. But I’m drawn to him and tentatively make the offer. He grabs it with both hands and hugs it. He rubs my heart until it doesn’t hurt anymore. He kisses the bruises and his lips heal the pain. He takes out a needle and string from his pocket and begins to work. He stitches my wounds, gaping and ugly. Day after day, he sews up each wound: one after another. When the time is right, he holds my heart with both of his hands, lifts it to the sky, and admires his work. He brings it to his lips and kisses it. He whispers to it: Everything is going to be okay now. He gives it a turn to check it out from every angle, and then carefully offers it back. I look at my heart: stitched and soothed, perfectly imperfect. I love my heart. I put it back in and wear it every day. I feel proud with my new heart; I feel like I could do anything just because I’m me. I feel found. I feel safe, us with our mended hearts.

We’re getting married.

Resolutions

I just found an old journal with my (New Year) 2010 Resolutions. Given that I haven’t pulled it out of the drawer in over a year, I must admit that I fell short last year. But perhaps if I resolve to work on it this year, then my commitments of 2010 will not have gone in vain. I am re-committing to them now. A year late is better than never, right?

* * *

From an entry on January 20, 2010:

I will be awake, conscious, present, and intentional in my life, my decisions, and my communication. I will talk less and listen more. I will seek first to understand the person before me, before judging his or her message. I will try to understand before I try to be understood. I will try to find a win-win solution in every situation. I will be respectful. I will conduct myself with dignity. I will stand for myself. I will stand for something, not fall for anything. I will be honest—not just with others, but also with myself. I will cry when I need to cry. I will smile when I need a smile. I will ask for help. I will offer to help—sincerely. I will take responsibility for my actions. I will not minimize the part I play in problems. I will take less and give more.

From January 22, 2010:

I embarked on “Mission: Program Rejuvenation.” I decided that, in order to combat my recent complacency, I will visit all the home groups in the Bay Area & check out the recovery all around the county. I hope to re-inspire my interest in meetings and have fun while hearing some new experience, strength, and hope. And I hope to find and offer solutions, rather than absorbing the same old b.s. through osmosis.

* * *

I am asking, please, for your help to hold me to my commitments. I want to be a woman of my word. My word is everything.

Junkie Love Junkie

I heard this phrase in a meeting the other day: “junkie love.” At first I didn’t understand, but then the feelings and memories came flooding back, and I knew exactly what that meant.

I guess I’ve gotten to a place in my life where I’ve forgotten what it’s like to live in a toxic relationship. I’m watching Jersey Shore on television and, while it’s clearly not the best example of humanity, I see these people in destructive relationships turn their already fragile bonds from bad to worse by drinking and living the “party everyday” lifestyle. Part of me wants to say, “Oh, yeah, it looks like fun.” DJs, night clubs, shots, drink in one hand, cigarette in the other, hook-ups, sexy club shoes, up all night and asleep all day. Fun, right? But then I remember: I’ve been there and I’ve done that. And I could have continued, but I made a decision to stop because it didn’t actually satiate my appetite for love.

I remember that desperate need to be with someone: to feel liked, loved, appreciated, recognized. And I remember that it didn’t matter how I got those things, I just needed them. I believe that I have really been loved in a few of my past relationships, and at these times my need was met in a healthier way. Between those relationships, however, I felt like a pinball whirling inside a machine from guy to drink and back to guy again: without a course, without a reason… bounce, ding… no one to be sure of, no one to be sure of me… bounce, ding… junkie love.

Bringing some of those feelings to the front of my mind now makes me nauseous. I drank because I wanted to be wanted, to feel valid, and to forget that I didn’t already have that inside me. Somewhere along the line, I had convinced myself that the person who was wanted was That Girl, and from there on out, that’s who I became when my needs tugged at my soul.

“Junkie”: a person who derives inordinate pleasure from or who is dependent on something (Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary). Yep, that summed it up.

All the pleasure I received of feeling wanted was temporary and often fleeting, dependent upon when and with whom the next relationship was. When I felt lonely and didn’t know who I was, I selected a sexy outfit, called a friend, and went to a bar. I became That Girl: That Girl who girls wanted to be; That Girl who guys wanted to be with; That Girl who had a glass in one hand and a cigarette in the other.

The next morning I was still That Girl, but in harsh light of the early morning, walking out of his apartment, I looked different: empty, needy. The pleasure of That Girl the night before was gone and I was alone. I thought I was getting what I needed, but I wasn’t. Instead, I was getting drama and chaos—bounce, ding. My sponsor said there’s a difference between drama/chaos and excitement. I thought that being wanted for a relationship meant that I was the person I wanted to be. But I was just addicted to junkie love. I was also a love junkie; I desperately needed to feel loved.

I had to learn who I really was and who I really wanted to be, before I could ever even care one iota about what someone else thought of me. I was addicted to ideas about love, but not to anything real. It’s been a hard road, both before I got into recovery and since getting involved, of learning not to need that vicious cycle of toxicity in my relationships, and learning how to get love, from me—the Real Girl.

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