That Was Huge…

I’m sorry for inviting you all (Facebook) to my Improv showcase and then uninviting all of you (in my head).

Here’s what happened.

Back in April, I started taking an improv class at Huge Improv Theater. (Improv 101, taught by Will Roberts, awesome guy). I didn’t know what to expect… He/she/they (everyone at Huge Theater) was super cool and very helpful, even with the uncomfortable stuff… We actually played a game called “Loserball”.

We did some, ok, a lot of things that were outside my comfort zone! Most of them were fun, some of them… not so much but they all served a purpose and help me to grow and develop.

It was 10 weeks, two hours a week and at the end of our last class, we had a showcase! I was excited and made an announcement on Facebook with very little information. The closer the day came, the more unsure I was that I would actually be able to perform…

It’s so much different than stand-up. At Acme, I’m prepared. I know the material and what I’ll talk about and say. I’ve been able to practice. I’m confident in the material I’ve written.

There’s no such thing with improv. Not only do I not know what I’m going to do, I don’t know what anybody else is going to do… and neither do they! No forethought, no plan, suggestions from the audience?!?!

No, I figured I’d just better keep this under wraps.

So I just didn’t mention it again.

Well, the big day came. I did perform. I had a great time, and I’m super glad no one I knew saw me!

I do plan on continuing with the improv but after Olivia is born. The next session doesn’t start until right around her due date.

Now that I’ve had some experience, you can be sure you’ll all be invited to the Improv 201 showcase!

 

Two Years & 20 Weeks Today

“I’m so tired, I can’t even think straight. I don’t know what to do…”

“Just go lie down, we can figure it out when you wake up.”

Wake up.

Wake Up!

WAKE UP! I scream into her eternally sleeping face.

Two years ago today, my beautiful and talented sister died from an opioid overdose. Every day since has been a nightmare.

This is a nightmare. A fucking nightmare.

For me, for our family, for our friends…

but of course, not for her.

She sees the complete picture.

She knows we are not separated.

She can see, hear, feel, touch and taste beyond the physical

She is the one who is awake

and I am the one who is sleepwalking amongst the dead.

Today is also the 20-week mark.

I am five months pregnant today, Olivia is “viable” today.

What about Olivia?

Is she asleep or awake?

Maybe we only fall asleep once we are born into this life, our mission, to rediscover our purpose and bring each other closer together…

Can she still feel God?

Does she remember Heaven?

Is her spirit still there, getting ready for the life that awaits her here?

Is Natalie teaching her, does she know the aunt that will never get to hold her?

Perhaps she is holding her now.

Holding her for me, until I can.

I am trying to balance the two, I did honor Natalie today by doing what she would want me to do (write) and I had a Dairy Queen Blizzard in her name. I also honored my pain and cried the same as I did two years ago. I ached and hurt and got angry…

For Olivia, I played some of Natalie’s music, headphones on my belly. I told her how much I love her and how I can’t wait to meet her.

Until then, goodnight, Natalie. I love you.

Natalie Nicole Allen

9/11/79 – 5/19/16 ❤️

Honestly… Pregnancy Update and an Explantion for Why It’s Been So Long.

Wow. It’s been a few months… I’d wanted to blog along with my pregnancy, but something held me back. Fear, mostly. And feelings, not mine.

Here’s the deal. Very early on in my pregnancy (5 weeks, I think) I was told by the doctor that my baby was not a baby. There had been a “fetal pole” visible on a previous scan that was not visible now. It was a blighted ovum. A blighted ovum or anembryonic gestation (anembryonic pregnancy) is a pregnancy in which the embryo never develops or develops and is reabsorbed. It typically results in a miscarriage.

I was devastated and asked emotionally if there was a chance the ultrasound tech was wrong. “Well, I suppose so. Why don’t you come back in a week and we’ll reexamine you?”

The wait was nearly unbearable. I prayed every day that they were wrong.

I even went to see a psychic medium, a woman I respect and trust, to help reassure me that everything was going to be alright.

Two minutes after we started talking, I wanted to bolt. It never occurred to me that she would give me bad news.

I can’t find the recording now, so I don’t remember how it was phrased but essentially, she told me that the baby was a boy and wouldn’t make it. Oddly enough, she mentioned seeing me with a baby but it was more likely through a volunteer program (I’d looked into volunteering at the local NICU -Newborn Intensive Care Unit to help hold babies that are born addicted to drugs and going through withdrawal).

I left feeling defeated. I still had a day or two before my next ultrasound and I wanted to just crawl into bed and stay there, indefinitely.

Of course, I didn’t. I got up and went to my appointment where not only did they find Baby, they saw the heartbeat!

After confirming that there was an (at this point) a viable pregnancy, I was scheduled for a slew of appointments. I met with Endocrinology, Nephrology, Rheumatology, Cardiology, all the “-ologies”, Internal Medicine and General Surgery (there was a concern of a hernia but it turned out to be nothing). They took 11 vials of blood and a 24-hour urine collection. They ordered a stress test (like this schedule wasn’t enough of one!) and also wanted me to be seen by their Perinatologist, asap.

All of this on top of my regular therapy session, group session, psychiatry session, and work. Wait, I take that back. She wanted me to quit working because of my blood pressure. It was already too high.

I did it all, gladly. Whatever was going to be the best for me and Baby.

The place where I got hung up, strangely enough, was trying to schedule the Perinatologist appointment. They had an appointment set for April 12th. It was March 8th.

“The nurse I met with said she wanted me seen this week or next at the latest” I explained.

“There is no point in being seen before then. There is nothing they will be able to do for you until you reach 18 weeks,” she told me.

I was in tears. Tears of frustration, of fear and of anger.

I called my insurance company and found out where else I could go.

I ended up at a wonderful clinic with fantastic people although our first meeting was a difficult one.

“With all of your health conditions, this pregnancy may have an adverse effect on you. You may need to terminate the pregnancy, for your health.”

They got me in with the U of M’s Maternal-Fetal Medicine clinic. After an approximately 3 hour consultation and another echocardiogram, I was given the all clear.

Also during that time, I found out via genetic testing that I am having a girl.

After so many appointments in such a short amount of time, there has been a let down, of sorts. Boredom is setting in and there is more time for me to worry and wonder…

Since all of my appointments, I have made to big changes. My blood sugars or A1C went from 8.4% in February to 5.7% last week. My blood pressure has gone from around 155/90 to about 122/75. I’m sleeping between 7-12 hours a night and getting in some exercise. I recently even went back to work, since the blood pressure had improved so much.

As much as I loved the people at the OB clinic, they felt it would be better for me to continue my care with the U of M since they are more equipped for anything that may come up and I am more than fine with that as this clinic and these people are so wonderful.

I really feel like I am being well taken care of.

As for the psychic, I’m still a little worried about my last reading though much less so knowing that I am having a girl and that I am now well into my second trimester. I don’t doubt her abilities or her gift, everyone gets mixed messages or can misread signals, it’s just given me a lot of opportunities to listen to my own intuition, trust my own instinct, and be my own guide.

 

 

Needles, Pills & Alcohol -Oh My!

There is probably a reasonable explanation, I just don’t know what it is. Maybe you can help me?

I use Walgreens as my pharmacy because it’s close and because I can pretty much do everything I need from the app. About a month ago, I was scrolling down my list of meds that I needed to refill and checked the appropriate boxes. The next day, Don picked up my prescriptions. Immediately, I saw a problem. There was a box of syringes. I don’t use syringes anymore, I use pen needles. I must’ve clicked the wrong box. Sigh. No big deal, I’ll just bring them back.

“Can I help you?” Walgreens pharmacist asks.

“Yeah, I accidentally refilled the wrong needles. I need the pen needles, not these syringes. Can you please take them off my med list?”

“Ok. I can’t make those adjustments to your list, you can go online and archive them though. That way they won’t be visible but they will still be a part of your history. (Sounds like a therapy session I had…) I will go ahead and order those pen needles for you. Anything else I can do for you?”

“Yes, you can take this box of syringes back. I don’t use them and I don’t want them.”

“I can’t take those.”

“Why? They haven’t been opened.”

“They’re NEEDLES”. She actually looked horrified and like I should know exactly why what I’m asking is absurd.

“But they’re new and clean… aren’t there places that take used needles?”

She seriously looked like she was going to pass out and/or throw up.

“Not HERE!”

So, I took my needles, my confusion, and my anger home.

A few days later, I had an appointment to follow up on my blood pressure.

The nurse sat at the desk, going through my meds with me.

“Welbutrin, Cymbalta, Prenatal, Metformin…”

I nod in the affirmative.

“Are you still taking your Modafinil?”

“No. I haven’t taken that in years.”

“But you picked it up at the pharmacy last week…”

“It was prescribed to me but I don’t want to take it… wait. You can see what I’ve picked up?”

A sly smile spread across her lips and she started to nod like she had just busted me for something.

“Wow. That’s great! (I swear her smile vanished) I wish you’d been able to do that a long time ago… my sister used to scam doctors for pills, not telling anyone the whole story, so she just kept getting drugs and not knowing what interacted with what.”

“Is she ok now?”

Oh, that moment of truth. Do I tell her? Do I keep quiet?

“She’s not taking pills anymore.” The path of mercy, sparing the nurse the awkward, uncomfortable momentary silence.

“She got help, that’s great. Where’d she go?”

Alright, lady, you asked for it.

“She passed away almost two years ago.”

Eyes wide, face flushed and a stammer.

“Oh… I’m, I’m, I’m sorry. Well, I’m hoping this new system will prevent future deaths…”

“Me too.”

I guess I could’ve said Natalie went to Progress Valley. She did get sober there. I guess I was just pissed at this nurse and my perceived notion that she thought I was a drug seeker or a scammer or trying to pull something over on her.

In the end, I AM really glad that the computer system is now linked and doctors can see what you’re being prescribed and what you’ve picked up. Don thinks it’s a little too “Big Brother-ish”.

Finally, I don’t remember what tripped into falling down the rabbit hole but I came across several ads for Jim Beam (oh yeah, Shim Bean) featuring Bette Davis.

I LOVE Bette Davis. One of the scariest movie mo-fo’s I know of.

 

baby jane

But, here she is in an ad for Jim Beam Bourbon:

jim beam bette davis

I don’t know what the intent was if this was supposed to be a scare tactic… probably not but God if I correlated THAT face with THIS bourbon? I’d NEVER drink again!

…Maybe they should re-run this ad… watch AA numbers and AA Alternative numbers skyrocket!

 

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.

 

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.