A Rude Awakening

My eyes were opened… and not gently. No, I felt like Alex DeLarge at the end of “A Clockwork Orange”. Strapped into a chair with my eyelids pried open and kept that way.
A lot of you know that I am in a therapy group. It is a trauma processing group and a lot of times there is what’s called “parallel processing” where one or more people have had similar experiences to whoever is sharing. It can be very difficult and rewarding.
A few years ago, when I was pregnant with Noah, a new group member started. She had recently suffered a miscarriage. I felt awful. I wanted to quit the group, not to be a constant reminder of what she’d lost. I loved my group though and one of the main “rules” we have, is to not “treat each other as fragile”.
As God, or fate, would have it, I lost Noah a week or two after she started. I could be wrong but I’m almost certain that within a month, she was pregnant again.
Then Natalie died.
There was so much grief, I was drowning in it and I wasn’t sure I’d ever be able to get another full breath.
The following months that passed were brutal, for both she and I.
She was expecting her rainbow baby (a baby born after a miscarriage, stillbirth, neonatal death or infant loss) …in a way and also, not really “expecting” anything to go right, terrified she would lose another pregnancy.
I understood, and I tried to be supportive. I can’t honestly say that I was supportive, I don’t know. I hope that I was… and, that time is kind of a blur, further complicated by overwhelming jealousy and grief. I want to say I didn’t talk about the loss of Noah at the time because she had so much anxiety about the health and continuing growth of her baby that I didn’t want to add to it… but I think losing Natalie trumped Noah. Maybe it was both.
It hurt to hear her talk about the pregnancy and all that it entailed…not like a knife to the heart but like a dull, dirty, four-pronged fork.
Spring came, and baby was born. I thought I’d made it through the hard part.
I had made it through A hard part.
She took a break to recover and care for her newborn.
When she came back, she was still filled with fear that something would happen to baby and she would lose him.
More time passed, as it does, and she had friends who had miscarriages. They were triggering for her and she wanted to be there for her friends and also to have the support she needed from the group.
By now, I was getting to the point of being ultra sensitive. Even the mention of the word “baby” and I tensed up, started to zone out. I found myself irritated with this group member, she spoke excessively about her loss, her friends’ loss, her new baby… etc.
“Why am I getting so upset?” I’d ask myself. Her happiness, her grief, her joy and loss, they take nothing away from me…
Somewhere inside of me I heard or felt a voice saying, “I want to be heard too”.
“I hurt too”.
I bring all of this up to finally make my point.
Last Tuesday, I feel like I flipped out on this group member. I had very little sleep the night before. Tayla didn’t go to school, in fact, she ended up in urgent care. Work was crazy busy and we were short drivers…. I was worn out.
Even though I was trying my best to be skillful, I fell short. I said things in a way I wish I hadn’t. If I had it all to do over again, I would simply say “thank you”.
Thank you for being you. For sharing your struggles and joys and your journey. Because of you, I looked deeper into my own feelings and acknowledged that I haven’t yet grieved Noah. That I am entitled to talk about him and mourn him. Thank you for not treating me as fragile.
It has taken me nearly a week to write this and as I reflect back, one thing sticks out the most.
I know she felt attacked and unsafe. She said she wasn’t coming back. I told her if she didn’t, that would be treating us both as fragile. She said something along the lines of “that sounds manipulative” and we all laughed, except her. Maybe she wasn’t joking. Generally, when people are manipulative, it is to get something they want or for their benefit. That’s not exactly the case here. Yes, I do want her to come back… I want her to have her safe place. I want her to have support.

I want that for both of us.

 

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Choices

Don’t deny your strength. You do have a choice and you continue to choose to be strong.

Often times on social media I see things that say “People tell me ‘I can’t believe how strong you are… How do you do it’ and I say ‘I didn’t have a choice'”.

Well, you do. Suicide is an option. I’m not saying it’s a good one, but it is there. In these last 17 months, I’d be lying if I said suicide hadn’t crossed my mind. The date, the photographs, sickness, and death of people around me… Sometimes I do want to just hit the fuck it button. I think that’s normal.

I won’t do it. I know that too. As painful as life can be, there is so much love and joy to be had and to be shared.

I just watched a TED talk on addiction. How we treat addicts, what our approach is, he did research and reviewed studies… this guy is a genius. I love this idea and subscribe to his notion that “the opposite of addiction is not sobriety. The opposite of addiction is connection.” I still believe there is a “chemical hook” and it does play a role but maybe that role isn’t as big as I thought.

Please watch.

Everything You Think You Know About Addiction is Wrong by Johann Hari

Because I Don’t Feel Guilty Enough…

September is National Suicide Prevention and Awareness month. To honor the theme, I checked out the Netflix series exclusive: 13 Reasons Why.

13 Reasons Why starts with the voice of Hannah Baker, (Katherine Langford), detailing the 13 reasons (people) she has chosen to take her own life. This narrative takes place on 13 audio cassette tapes that were given to (or will be passed on) to the 13 people who caused her such distress.

The journey chronicles Clay Jensen (Dylan Minnette) on his quest to find out what happened to his crush, what he could’ve done and what he can do now.

POTENTIAL SPOILER ALERT

The show, co-produced by Selena Gomez and her mother, touches on a lot of tough subjects. It hits hard but does it miss the point? Maybe a little…

The acting is well done. The story telling in engaging and… two things don’t sit well with me.

The first problem I have with it is Hannah Baker takes zero responsibility for her actions.

Even in the end, when she says she’s going to give life one more chance… if so and so doesn’t do this, then it’s over. What? Most people are not mind readers.

This person did this to me, that person did that and no one cared, enough. As if that’s all it took to prevent someone from suicide. I think when a person gets to that place, it’s much like someone with an addiction. No matter what you do, it’s ultimately up to the person themselves to make sure they are safe.

It’s stated a couple of times throughout the show that Hannah is the one responsible for Hannah’s death, no one else. I’m sorry but mentioning that a few times throughout a series when each episode is dedicated to a person or reason for her suicide is not enough. Sure everyone could have done more. And know what? It probably wouldn’t have made a difference. I’m not trying to be pessimistic, just realistic.

Survivors of suicide have more than enough guilt without having the dead loved one come back and point a finger at them.

The part that especially ticked me off was when Clay confronted Tony and asked “Am I the reason Hannah killed herself” and he said yes. What bullshit is that? She even said so on the tape, “Clay you shouldn’t even be on these tapes”.  I guess I have to chalk that up to needing ratings? Cliffhangers?

I understand the stigma around suicide and I’m not saying Hannah should be shamed for what she did but people, blaming everyone else for our own misery isn’t the answer either.

The second problem I have with the series is that when a suicide happens, an explanation is a luxury. Many times there are no answers. I know that in this case, for there to have been a series, there had to be a story but it gives a false expectation of death…

My sister did not commit suicide, she died from an accidental overdose. All that was left was speculation. There was no ongoing relationship, no instructions or list of reasons why she was gone. I understand the difference, she didn’t know she wasn’t going to wake up but this show, it explores in depth why she did what she did and it gave the illusion of being able to work through the problems and make people… be better?

That’s not how it works.

This series was very emotional. Its heart was in the right place, I just don’t know where the brains were.

 

If you do feel depressed and need help:

Text- CrisisTextLine

Call- 1-844-550-HERO (4376)

Visit- OnLineChat

 

 

 

International Overdose Awareness Day

I thought I’d share the free write I did on Friday with my writing group. We started off by reading the obituary of Brian Doyle, writer and longtime contributor to The Sun magazine. If you’d like to read the beautiful tribute to Brian, click here.

I felt some measure of pride hearing about how Brian Doyle was unashamed to cry in public. Maybe to tip the scale a little for how much embarrassment I feel when it happens to me. And last night was an ocean of salt water heart tears. Not just for me but the group- everyone at the Overdose Awareness Vigil, there on Crystal beach. Maybe it wasn’t so much embarrassment but the strong desire to wail, unabashedly. Not just from my eyes, not just let the saline trickle from my eyes but to let loose the riptide that roared beneath. The torrent of emotions, the physical-ness of it. Clutching my heart, swaying with the imagined image of her in my arms. The primal screaming at an unjust world, a life too short.

I’d love to “give darkness the middle finger” but right now, it has me so completely enveloped, I can hardly move at all.

A lot of mothers who’d lost children spoke. There was a common theme among them. Their child, whether the world saw them as an addict, a nuisance or a criminal- they were and always would be their little piece of perfection. Perfectly imperfect.

They were, these loved ones lost, when sober were the artists of the world. The musicians, the writers, the painters. The kindest, most generous of souls. The people this world needs most.

After releasing the balloons, we watched them float up, up and…together. Those balloons stayed together, stuck with each other and with one single balloon (Ian Selleck) as the lead, guided the grouping and our eyes, heavenward. We held our candles and a moment of silence but ended on a hopeful note. The facilitators had everyone who was in recovery to stand in the center of the circle and lead everyone out into the newness of another night.

I want to offer a big thank you to Joanne Kittridge and Pam Lanhart for hosting the event, to and Star Selleck for sharing and being apart of so many addiction related events… I know Ian is proud. And to everyone who attended Thursday evening. We are all in this together.

#NotOneMore

Love you Nat.

 

nat_copy
Natalie Nicole Allen 9/11/1979-5/19/2016          9 Months sober

 

 

 

Why We Need to Stop Comparing Addiction to Cancer

First, I think we need to acknowledge there is a difference between drug use and drug abuse. Some people can use substances recreationally, not everyone can. People are hardwired differently. I don’t know why some people don’t have an issue with having one glass of wine at dinner, while others struggle.

I’ve been noticing the growing argument for “addiction is not a disease” along with some form of an analogy about a kid with cancer. “That five-year-old didn’t ask for cancer”. Ok, I get it. I do.

And I think it’s a poor comparison.

Whichever side of the disease vs willpower side of the controversy you’re on, please know that addicts don’t choose to be addicts either. I understand no one “held a gun to a drug users head and made them inject drugs”. On the other hand, do you understand that when you’re cancer free, you don’t have to work every day to stay cancer free. You don’t have the temptations surrounding you or when the stress builds up or a family member dies and you need that relief, you don’t think “man, I could really use some cancer right now”.

I once heard someone say that if there was a cure for cancer half way around the world, nothing would stop that person from getting their treatment but if there was a pill that could cure depression sitting on the table across from someone who is depressed, they might not be able to get up off the couch to get it.

Depression is a chemical thing. Addiction is a chemical thing. How terrible is it that the affliction some people deal with destroys the mind to logic out? It doesn’t seem like a matter of willpower to me. It’s more believable to me that there’s a glitch in the brain.

Comparing addiction to cancer doesn’t make any sense. They are not the same thing.

It’d be a little easier to compare it with diabetes. Type two diabetes can be passed on genetically or a person can live a lifestyle that leads to diabetes. That person wasn’t asking to get sick. Sometimes it’s possible to make lifestyle changes that will help get blood sugars under control but that person has to be very aware of everything they put in their body.

I know firsthand what it’s like to have unmanaged blood sugars. I have made many changes and in turn, my sugars are lower and I am getting healthier. I also know how difficult it is to maintain those changes. Sometimes I just want handfuls of chocolate. Or cheesecake. Or pasta. Sometimes I indulge. A lot of times I don’t.

Addiction runs rampant in my family and I lost a sister to a lethal mix of rx drugs and heroin. Four days before she died, we had an intervention for her. She looked into our eyes and told us she was done. She wanted to be clean (and had recently celebrated 9 months of sobriety before this last relapse). She knew her lifestyle could kill her. She did it anyway. I don’t believe it was simply a matter of willpower. It’s not right to think that had someone stayed with her that night, everything would’ve been ok. She needed 24- hour supervision. Sometimes it’s not a “day at a time” it’s a minute or a second at a time. Do you think anyone in their “right” or healthy mind would conspire and lie to loved ones just to be able to essentially kill themselves?

Addiction at the very least is powerful, can we all agree on that? It’s killing people and it needs to stop.

Can we stop comparing it to cancer? Trying to claim there are no “victims of addiction”? I’ve never done heroin and it’s ruined my life. Because the bottom line is, blaming people doesn’t help anything.

Comedy… and Tragedy

As many of you know, last night I participated in a stand-up comedy contest.

I am choosing my words very carefully because even though I don’t particularly care about burning THIS bridge, I don’t know what other paths it may be connected to…

With that in mind, I will not name the club or the contest so I can tell you that I’ve performed there twice and both times it was a bad experience.

Not so much the going up and doing my thang… just the atmosphere and the audience (which I think has a lot to do with the atmosphere).

The first time I was there, all the lights stayed on and it was a weeknight so people were anxious to get home (I think). No one laughed, at anything. It wasn’t just me. A dozen people went up and no one laughed at anyone. It was super awkward but I didn’t take it personally.

So here’s the play by play of last night:

Actually, I’m going to start with Monday night when I got an email stating that there would be extra points awarded to people who brought more than 10 people, more than 15 people and more than 20 people.

Great. So, it’s a popularity contest? Ok, well, all I can control is what I do. Their goal is to fill seats and sell alcohol. My goal is to get up and perform. I haven’t since August and I need the practice. I hope people think I’m funny but it’s not even my main objective at this point.

Last night. I’m supposed to check in with the promoter between 7:00-7:15. I’m (unbelievably) early. I check in and he reminds me I have 6 minutes and to watch for the red light. Got it.

Get inside, order some food, because I’ve been running around all day preparing and my sugar is starting to drop. Minor panic sets in.

No one knows the order of performers. I mean, someone knows but no one is telling. They want everyone to be there on time, so show up- you might be first.

The show starts, the MC did some jokes, complained that no one was laughing, and explained that 13 amateur comedians each had 10 minutes to perform.

What?!?!?!

Shar looked at me and said, “You’d better talk reeeeaaaallll slow”.

I was the second performer on stage.

It was so bright. So bright.

I felt comfortable enough, going through my spiel… until I saw a guy in the front row actually TRYING NOT to laugh. Part of our score is based on audience response, so he was there for someone else and didn’t want to give anyone else any help. Ironically, this made ME laugh.

The time ended up being 6 minutes, instead of 10. I got cut off on my last joke but overall felt good about the performance.

The rest of the show was hard to sit through. Not in an all bad way. I was tired, I had a headache, I was super glad to be done with this contest and there were some really disrespectful people in the audience.

People having conversations with each other, trying to talk over the comedian. People playing on their phones. Arguing.

The worst was near the end. I don’t remember the guy’s name but he was doing a decent job until someone yelled out “nigger”! He was shocked at first. Then there was some banter between the two. This woman had been talking throughout the entire show and other people were getting pissed. Someone yelled out “Go home lady, nobody likes you!”

“Shut up” someone else said.

I could feel my muscles tighten in time with the tension in the club.

“Where’s security?”

Eventually, security DID arrive and escort her out but not before she grabbed a glass and threw it at the manager’s head! All the while, this 50 something-year-old, football player structured woman is screaming at her scrawny boyfriend “Stand up for me nigger!”

A lot of my friends had left early because she had been such a disruption.

By the time the MC was reading the names of the winners, I was relieved to not be one of them!

“Are you ok?” a friend asked

“Hell yeah, it just means I don’t have to come back!”

On the plus side, seven people told me they thought I was great, I did a good job etc. That felt nice.

I have signed up for another comedy contest that will run in June, I think, but I plan on making comedy a more routine part of my life.

Thanks everyone for the best wishes, encouragement, and affirmations… I appreciate the support. I did what I set out to do, I’m not discouraged and I’m already writing new material.

Afterall, who doesn’t need more laughter?