Lights, Camera, Acme!

I did it. Back in late April or early May, I entered Acme Comedy Company’s annual Funniest Person in the Twin Cities contest. My original performance date was scheduled for June 5th but with Natalie passing on the 19th of May… there was no way I was going to be ready. I emailed Acme and the coordinator was kind enough to reschedule me for August 23rd. Even with all that extra time to prepare, I was still utterly unprepared. It took six weeks for me to even be able to get downtown without having a panic attack.

Sunday night I texted my boss asking if I could have Monday or Tuesday off to prepare. I got Monday off and I CRAMMED. I’d gone over it enough to attempt the Open Mic night. What an experience!

Nothing spectacular happened, not in a good or a bad way for me… It wasn’t my first time. I’d done other open mics, been on stage and under the lights, the scrutiny of judgmental drunks… but for a few others…

Really one in particular… I won’t mention her name because it is my hope that she was so shitfaced that night, that she was in a blackout and won’t remember a thing.

Her name is called. She gets on stage. Her voice is strong and loud. She starts with the self-deprecating humor that affords many comedians leniency when it comes to their act. She moves around, she’s animated, she’s wearing mismatched clothing so she certainly entertaining but her material… was shitty. It was really too bad because I knew, if she’d had anything even remotely funny to say, she would’ve been a hit!

Each performer gets three minutes. That’s it. At 2:30, a solid red light comes on. At 2:50, the light begins to flash. That’s your cue to get off the stage. It’s written in at least one place that those who go over their time, will NOT get time again.

Miss Sunshine is still onstage, seemingly unaware of the gigantic red light. The light starts to flash and she ignores it. THEY TURN OFF HER MICROPHONE AND SHE CONTINUES TO TALK! The audience, from what I can tell, is split down the middle. Half of us are frozen in horror over the blatant disregard for the rules, while the other half are sitting on the edge of their seats, smiling and waiting to see what the club will do next… They turned off the lights. A booming voice from out of nowhere stated “MA’AM YOU NEED TO GET OFF THE STAGE, NOW!” She sort of stumbles off the stage and ironically, this is when the crowd erupts with laughter while I dread my new worst nightmare.

But that was Monday night. Practice night. Tuesday was the big day. I worked for a few hours and crammed again, with new material.

More specifically, “the Natalie jokes”. The jokes I’d agonized over telling or not for weeks. I decided to tell them for three reasons. One, after the open mic, I went out to smoke. There was a man already smoking. “You did good up there” he said to me. “Thanks. I think I did alright I guess.”

“Comedy is hard” he said.

I nodded and said “I have a few jokes I’m debating on telling tomorrow, my sister died of an overdose and while I feel like if I can laugh about it -anyone should be able to, I don’t want to scare people away or alienate anyone…”

“My son was on stage tonight too. The guy joking about his crazy aunt? Sometimes tragedy is gold. It can work. His aunt he was talking about? That’s my sister, Natalie.

So, I kinda took that as a thumbs up from her that it was okay to do those jokes.

The second reason was because while talking to Shar, she told me a white dove was out in front of her house. Just sitting on the sidewalk. She looked it up and one of the meanings is to let go of inner turmoil over a subject. Ok, DONE.

And the last reason? Lots of people told me Natalie would be with me on stage, I figured she’d want to be in the spotlight.

So, I opened with my Natalie jokes. They went over well, I thought. No crickets on their end, no tears on mine…

Then I went into my main joke, which was more of a story about THE ONE TIME I had my eyebrows waxed.

I felt good about the job I did. The people who came to see me agreed that it was between me and one (of 5) other guy.

The other guy won. Sorry other guy, I don’t remember your name… I didn’t even get to hear your set but I could tell by the way you were NOT at the open mic/practice night and the way you were actually reading a book instead of pacing the floors or constantly looking at and resetting the timer on your phone that you were much more prepared, rehearsed and deserving of the win.

Saturday the top 25 scores of the summer will be posted and I may or may not advance to the semi-final rounds. Either way, I’m really glad I went up and did it. It’s important for me to keep some balance and even if I only made my friends laugh? That’s good enough for me.

 

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Fooled You

Grief is a horrible tormentor. It mimics dementia, insanity, depression and at times, serenity.

Friday was the 19th. Three months since my sister’s passing. I’d had several days without crying. Without too many painful memories. Without too much emotion… This is where the serenity came from. It was the three month marker and the final writing group for two very talented writers. The prompt was “goodbye”. I cried silently as the gel ink flowed across the paper, as the tears slipped from my eyes, dripped from my face. It was quiet. And quick.

I wrote about Natalie, of course. And about losing these  two dear writing women to the promise of bigger, better and brighter futures. I wrote about seeing my brother less and less as he grows into the role of business man, promoting his livelihood, planning his life. I even wrote about my therapist, as he took a couple of days off to travel out of state (WI) to watch a football game with his wife.

I felt abandoned. Silly, I know. Irrational, I could feel it. I couldn’t help it. And, it was over quickly. I felt relieved… and like I was getting a handle on things.

These were a normal part of life. It was ok to be sad… and I know you “get to go there, you just don’t get to stay there”. I felt my “visit” was an appropriate amount of time and that I was really getting the hang of grieving.

Jessica called me after an out of the ordinary Friday shift at work. I’d just gotten home and was looking forward to staring blankly at the walls. I saw her name come up with a photo of her and Natalie. I reflexively pushed the phone away from me. After a few seconds of debate, I answered.

She came and picked us up, Tayla and I. We got to walk in the rain and play with her adorable puppy. We had good food and better conversation.

She also had the memory cards from Nats phone that the investigator FINALLY returned. (Three months they had it and did jack shit.) I spent the rest of the night pouring over 1,000 plus photos she’d taken, committing them to my memory before falling asleep.

I made it. I’d gotten through The Day, survived it with very little hysteria.

Saturday I worked on some comedy and managed to get to the pharmacy to set up “convince packaging” on my meds. Shar came over and we had great time, just sitting on the deck, talking.

Today was fairly productive. Unril late afternoon. I don’t know what triggered it, talking about the new found photos with Don I guess… but I cried. In the car, as I hugged the steering wheel close to my chest. My body shook with grief but even this lasted only a few minutes before I was able to calm down and go into the store for a quick for the necessities.

At home, Don made dinner. I turned on some music and smiled when I heard Natalie’s voice fill the kitchen.

“I’ll be there, I’ll be EVERYWHERE…”

The tears started, as they usually do and it got a little harder to swallow. Memories of her last text to me, “whatever you need my darling, just call, I’ll be there. I love you” filled the empty space inside me until I shook with uncontrollable sobs. I chucked the phone and grabbed a handful of tissues before running into my bedroom and crumpling to the floor on the side of the bed.

I grabbed “Noah” and cried into his tiny chest.

“How could she do this?” I wailed

“I don’t have the answer” Don replied

After what felt like hours, the cries subsided into a whimper.

Until I thought of Noah.

I clutched the replica tight to my body and rode another wave before pushing the lifeless, dead weight from my arms to the floor.

“He” lie there, face up and because I’d held him so close to me, my tears were in his eyes.

Then the screaming started.

The moving pictures in my mind danced in a collage.

Gone. They are both gone. GONE.

I briefly thought of suicide. Not so much the act of it but the longing to be out of pain. To be with my sister and baby. And grandparents and friends…

It was more of a fantasy than an actual thought. I couldn’t inflict this kind of pain on the people I loved. Neither Natalie or Noah did that intentionally…

The phone went off.

“Reminding you to send me the info on your comedy dates and times”.

I’ve been debating on if I’m actually ready for this. I have material written out but haven’t been able to concentrate on memorizing it or becoming familiar with it as to pull off a smooth routine.

At this point, I’m not ready. I don’t want to do it. It’s not funny, nothing is funny.

I took the day off of work tomorrow (now today) to give myself enough(?) time to prepare but I don’t know if it’ll do any good…

I’m caught between healing/growing and just wanting to pull the covers over my head, waiting for life to be done.

I don’t mean to end on such a heavy note but this is my life right now. It won’t always feel like this (I’m told) and I look forward to those days as I go through these days, looking for the gifts they too must hold.

 

 

 

Addiction: Willpower or Disease?

What about both? Or neither? We don’t even really need to label it, do we? Does it help anything? It seems to only divide people and that takes the focus off of recovery. Before you even get started, you’re at a disadvantage.

Yesterday I got to hear Caroline Myss speak on addiction. What I heard, blew my mind, literally expanded my brain. I felt it grow bigger (I’ll have to remember to thank her for the headache). I’m sure much of the reason is because I used to be a very black and white thinker. There was always an absolute. Until there wasn’t.

I’ve been learning the DBT skills for a number of years and if you’re unfamiliar with DBT, I encourage you to read up on it! It has helped me so tremendously. The basic principle says it is both/and vs either/or. Just because something is one way, doesn’t mean it can’t be any other way. Childbirth is a great example. Happiest day of my life, finally becoming a mother. Also, saddest day because she was very premature, was born not breathing and it was touch and go for months afterward. But just because I was sad and scared, that didn’t take away my joy.

Anyway, after being steeped in this new way of looking at life , I couldn’t believe I’d neglected to see the dialectic aspects of the willpower vs disease argument.

I learned early on that addiction was a disease. I believe that, to some extent. On the other hand, I didn’t like surrendering to a Higher Power. Not because I don’t believe in God or because I thought I could handle it on my own but simply because it sucks to feel powerless.

If I turned it over to God, was he supposed to freeze me in my tracks every time I came close to a liquor store? Sour the taste of alcohol on my tongue? Come down from Heaven to personally lecture me on the evils of drugs and alcohol? That part wasn’t so laid out for me.

In her talk, she got my attention right away by saying “there is no way we’d ever think of treating a person with any other disease by suggesting that they first admit they were powerless”. That’s not an exact quote, it was more like, if anyone suggested I treat my illness that way, I’d kick them out of the room… That made sense to me.

I didn’t like the notion that when an addict (I use the term addict to include alcoholics, compulsive eaters etc just because it’s easier for me to write) had a relapse, there was very little in the way of consequences. Sure there are the natural consequences of the behavior but as far as family and support, the reaction (if you subscribe to the notion of addiction being a disease) is mostly, if not entirely, encouraging. Just pick up where you left off. It wasn’t you, it was the disease… I’m not suggesting you berate anyone for a relapse, that won’t help… AND, drugs (or whatever the harmful behavior) does not exist without the person. Heroin has never robbed anyone at gunpoint. A fifth of vodka was never pulled over for drunk driving… See where I’m going? We do have some control.

And, I get it. It is REALLY HARD. That’s why we need support groups and sponsors and activities to keep us engaged. There are far too many practicing and deceased individuals who want(ed) to quit and it didn’t happen. Natalie wanted to quit. She had quit… and, there is a reason I don’t have any regrets about how we as a family, handled “it” (her addiction). Like someone said to me earlier, “when you have the flu, that’s not the time I want to hear about how washing my hands will help me in the future”.

We couldn’t stay with her 24/7. Or even if we did, there’s no guarantee she would’ve stayed clean. I know I talked about this already and I don’t mean to ramble…

My point is, in addition to Caroline explaining her viewpoint (which by the way, odd as it may seem, really was a very non-judgmental way of looking at things. It was more just fact to her, let’s figure out where the problem is so we can find a working solution) there was an article I read that looks at addiction as a learning disorder.

Addiction is basically a maladjusted coping method. If we can look at it that way, without the shame and the stigma… acknowledge that yes, a part of the brain is affected but it’s not a degenerative illness we can focus on the recovery aspect. We can STOP debating the cause and concentrate on re-learning.

Caroline Myss has videos on YouTube, this particular one was part of a paid course so I can’t create a link to it. I will include the article about school of thought on addiction being a learning disorder though.

The NY Times “Can You Get Over an Addiction?”

What are your thoughts on addiction? Or your views on how addicts are treated? Do you have any ideas on how to make things better? I’d love to hear from you in the comments section!

Ps: I am still doing the GoFundMe campaign to help #EndtheEpidemic and #ShameEndsWithMe event to be held on October 15th, 2016. Time is TBD. If you can help with a donation or a share of the link, I’d really appreciate it!

EndtheEpidemic

Thanks so much! ❤

It’s Complicated

The word of the day is complicated. Is that ever an understatement! Life has always been complicated, hasn’t it? I mean, always as in, after kindergarten? Post high chair, I think it’s safe to say. Then you had to start making choices. Decisions. Even if it’s not about anything important. What should I eat for lunch? Some days that question is enough to send me to my room, bury me under the covers and just avoid food altogether… Stupid food, demanding I choose… The nerve. That reminds me, actually, of the million dollar breakfast idea I had this morning. A peanut butter and jelly sandwich only the build would be: strawberry jelly, peanut butter, grape jelly! Aha! I’d call it the peanut BETTER and jelly!

But anyway. I’m avoiding. I’m avoiding because it’s complicated! What is it you ask? Well, today it is money. Money and addiction. More addiction than money but both are in play.

Most of you know by now that I have started a GoFundMe campaign. I started it in my sisters name, Natalie, to help combat heroin use. To raise awareness that opioid use is on the rise and the effects are deadly. Three months ago, it was being cut with fentenyl. According to the CDC (Center for Disease Control) Fentanyl is 100 times more potent than heroin.

!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!

I remember in highschool, heroin was *the worst* drug. Ever. Only people who wanted to die, used heroin. It was the end of the line.

To learn that it is being cut with a drug 100 times more potent? And that was three months ago. More recently, THREE DAYS AGO, the Washington Post reports the latest trend in heroin: carfentanil. An elephant tranquilizer. Ten THOUSAND times stronger.

The fatalities are skyrocketing. Because, unfortunately, addicts are addicts. What I mean by that, being in recovery myself, is that when I heard there was something stronger than fentanyl? My gut reaction was “Oh my God, where can I get some?”. Immediately I snapped out of it and was thinking “WTF? Where did that come from?” The addict in me. The “I feel fucking miserable and I will do whatever it takes to NOT feel like this” in me. That thankfully does not rear its head too often, but more often in these past three months than in quite a while, if ever.

I guess my point is, I understand. I don’t know how many people understand addiction. Up until about two months ago, my daughter thought it was a matter of choice. Of willpower. She’s a teenager. There are plenty of adults who think the same way… To that I say:

If poker is a sport? Addiction is a disease. No, wait… Did I just make my point or undermine it? I don’t know…

Who knows, to the people who don’t understand, maybe they don’t want to understand. It would sure make life a lot easier to think addicts could just stop using if they REALLY wanted to…

But I know better. A lot of people know better. Which brings me back to my other point, money.

I started this campaign to raise money to host a fundraiser. To make products that advertise “Hey, heroin is a PROBLEM! Shame, is a PROBLEM” Let’s get it out into the open and stop the stigma! I’ve been updating the GoFundMe page daily. Here’s where the complicated part comes in. I hate talking about money. Did I already say that? Even if I did, I hate it strongly enough to warrant another mention. So everyday, my friends on Facebook get another update and … I guess I’m worried about annoying people. I don’t want to badger people. I get that money is tight. I really do. AND on GoFundMe’s homepage, people have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for sports, honeymoons, getting out of debt etc. and I guess I kinda feel like I must be doing something wrong. Did I piss someone off? Do people in general not care about this epidemic? Is everyone I know as broke as I am? I guess that last one is plausible…

I’m going to just keep doing what I’m doing. That campaign is like this blog to me. Come Hell or high water, it’s getting done.

Anyway, that’s my rant for Sunday.

What causes are close to your heart?

One More Quick Post

I’ve been wracking my brain trying to think of all the possible ways to publicize my “Shame End with ME/End the Epidemic” campaign.

I’ve Facebooked. I’ve Tweeted. I’ve Tumbled. I started a Go Fund Me account in hopes I can raise money (and awareness) around the horrible heroin epidemic. My family and friends and are planning on hosting a fundraiser. We will be selling various products, t-shirts, mugs, water bottles, hand painted cards, artwork… there will be music, both live and Natalie’s recordings. There will be AT LEAST one energy worker available for a healing session.

The goal is to get addiction out into the open. Disrobe shame so people can get help. It is KILLING people.

Planning for the end of September or beginning of October but it depends on the venue availability, I will keep you posted.

In the meantime, please check out the GoFundMe page at: End the Epidemic

I will be forever grateful if you could donate, like or share (or all three!)- Thanks!

ETE shirth2o bottle

It’s Time

I’ve been sitting on an idea. For years, it’s been in the back of my mind. Natalie’s passing has brought it to the forefront and it seems with each passing day, it gains more energy.

Today, all that momentum has come to a head. Today is the day to let my “baby” out into the world… because I need help. I can’t do it alone and I don’t want to.

The daily word prompt today is muse. One of the dictionary definitions for the word is: “The goddess or power regarded as inspiring a poet, artist, thinker, or the like.”

I remember the moment with crystal clarity. We were driving home, (the old place) down McAndrews Road. As we approached the stoplight, I saw in my mind’s eye, a vision. A flash. An image… It was shortly after Natalie passed and I was drowning in a sea of my own thoughts and grief.

In 2015, police in MN seized 18 pounds of heroin. That is equivalent to 8,200 doses and heroin has been steadily on the rise.

“This HAS GOT to stop” I thought.

Then I saw it.

FullSizeRender (5)

I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with it but it has been one of a handful of times where I was sure I was merely the instrument for some higher purpose.

A month or so goes by and I am realizing how much shame plays a part in addiction. “We’re as sick as the secrets we keep”. If people can’t talk about it? They aren’t getting help for it. Addiction has been scientifically proven to be a medical illness. Even if it wasn’t, I still don’t see the good or the point of shaming anyone because of it… if they are talking about it, it’s because they want help.

Anyway, I was reminded of a very low point in my life. I had a lot of shame. A ton of it. So much so, I figured the word shame and my name could be interchangeable. “It even SAYS me in the word” I thought. A minute later, I realized the “me” in shame is at the end. Shame ENDS with me.

This is what we need to realize to stop the stigma.

FullSizeRender (9)
Sample of a cell phone case.

People are dying everyday from this shit. We can not afford to pretend this isn’t a problem or that this doesn’t affect us. My life, my world was shattered nearly three months ago from heroin I never touched…

I keep hearing the mediums voice in my head.

“She says she doesn’t want to be just a number”

The only number Natalie will ever be to me is number one.

I am (hopefully soon) starting a line of products, cell phone cases, t-shirts, magnets etc. to raise money and awareness. A percentage of the proceeds will go to Progress Valley, the treatment center where Natalie stayed and The Steve Rummler Hope Foundation who is committed to ending the problem here in MN. I’ve included links to both organizations, check them out!

We do better together… It doesn’t have to be this hard.

Please, help us?

Steve Rummler Hope Foundation

Progress Valley

 

 

The Gift of Powerlessness

“I just wish I KNEW there was nothing more I could’ve done” my mom said to me this morning.

“Mom. There WAS NOTHING more ANYONE could’ve done. As a mother, I know you would’ve done anything for her. We all would have. That’s the one thing that haunts me. I can’t help but think, if it were all to happen again, I don’t think I’d do anything different. We did what we could. If I had known how much she was struggling, or even struggling at all, I would’ve done whatever it took to help her. I know though, she would’ve outsmarted me. Even if we kidnapped her, babysat her, watched her like a hawk… we couldn’t keep it up forever. Natalie was an adult…”

“Thank you for saying that. I needed to hear that.”

“Well, good. It’s the truth.”

We talked a little while longer and I told her about how Monday was so hard for me. Facebook was out to get me, with its postings of new mothers, days old baby boy, another little boy who didn’t make it. I couldn’t get away from it.

Out of the frying pan into the fire, I turned my attention away from the computer and once again, tried to clear my desk from the mounds of paperwork.

A picture fell off the cork board. A snapshot of Natalie and Niles, in Florida. Under a stack of papers was an envelope from Target, more pictures of Natalie. I collected them up and put them in a box.

“God dammit Natalie. How could you do this? How could you leave, now I have to put you in a box in my closet because it hurts too much to look at you.”

Tears had been slipping, intermittently until I heard her voice. So strong and clear, I had to look up to see if she was actually sitting next to me.

“I’m sorry Melly” she said.

I dropped the box and crumpled to the ground sobbing.

The hurt is so near to unbearable, I don’t know what to do.

Part of me says to be grateful.

And, part of me IS grateful. I know that she is around me.

The other part though… is so angry and confused. So hurt. And SO VERY SICK of hearing “she’s in a better place”. I know people mean well, I guess I’m just selfish… I’m not worried about where she is. I KNOW where she is. I’m not crying for her. I’m crying because I have to fucking figure out how to live without her. How to be without her. Who I AM without her. I am in a worse place. Yes, she’s out of pain. She’s in heaven. Paradise. I’m stuck in Hell on Earth.

And if I had it all to do again? I don’t know that I’d change anything. We didn’t have things left unsaid or unfelt. She (I believe) knows how it all works out now. She knows my and our family, our wishes, intentions, hopes and we have to wait patiently for the day when it all makes sense to us.

We didn’t have the power to control her or her addiction anymore than she could control her cravings for the heroin.

And there’s an odd sense of relief with that knowledge. A slight satisfaction, knowing, we really did everything we could.

That is one small gift to come of this horrific event and if that’s all?

I’ll take it.