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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Happy(?) Thanksgiving

It wasn’t a noise that woke me but the absence of sound. I fell asleep listening to Natalie’s YouTube videos, at my desk. My arms wrapped around this imitation Noah, this plastic, and cloth creation that I somehow thought would mimic the son I lost. His butt is sitting on the desk as I leaned my head into his onesie, one I’ll never have to wash or worry about him outgrowing. My cheek touching his, imagining his breath, his heartbeat, his warmth, and wiggliness. Us, together as aunt Natalie sang us lullabies…

But somehow my subconscious was on alert, knowing the music stopped, that she was gone again, that I lost her again. I panicked and opened my eyes, searching the room for her.

I went to her Facebook page and realized that the dress she’s wearing on her cover photo was the one she wanted to be buried in. I felt this flash of fire in my belly. Lava spilled out of my eyes.

We couldn’t even do that for you. The god damn autopsy scars would’ve shown. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.

I clicked on her photos, trying to distract myself from the realization she wouldn’t be texting me about Thanksgiving plans or reservations or family time or anything. Ever again.

The still pictures, they provoke me, encourage my anger. How will I never see another goofy pose from her? Hear her laugh and snort over funny little things? Be party to another “get rich quick” scheme?

I scrolled through the messages from friends about how they all miss her and love her.

Damn you, Nat.

With all this anger and fury I think about deleting these pictures. Erasing her playlist. Boxing up gifts and remembrances from her.

I know I won’t though. Under all of this heated emotion, anger, helplessness, the real emotion that stays is heartbreak. As horribly overwhelming as it is, it’s what I have left. The pictures and the music, they stir up emotion, sure but I am grateful for them.

Happy Thanksgiving Nat. I am thankful for having you in my life as long as I did. I love you.

Black & White

There is a challenge going around on Facebook. Seven Photos for seven days. Each day you post a black and white picture from your daily life, with no explanation. No kids, no pets.

Today I was nominated to participate. Honestly, I don’t know why I didn’t just do it myself… I wanted to do it, I “liked” every post that I saw (that was participating) in hopes that someone would nominate me. I think it’s kinda funny that it happened today because the writing prompt for today was identity.

I’ve struggled for a long time with the concept of identity and actually, with the concept of black and white thinking (all or nothing- either/or vs both/and) so to get both of those things on the same day… I knew I had to post.

For a few years, “photographer” was a big part of my identity. Not nearly as long as “writer” but I almost took more pride/joy in the role of photographer. As a writer, fear got in my way so much… I was afraid to write. I was afraid to submit anything anywhere. Once I finally did, when I wound up with a rejection, it was paralyzing. The worst time being, I’d quit writing for almost a year. I was miserable. With photography though, it was instant gratification. Pictures were digital, parents were happy, I felt accomplished. Plus, I met some really cool people.

And then it happened. Whatever “it” was or is. The problems with my back. And my legs. The fibromyalgia, the chronic fatigue. I couldn’t do it anymore. I don’t think I could go back to it either. Not as a job, anyway. But it was nice to go out and do something fun, snap a photo and be able to post it.

Thank God I’m back to my writing!

The “feature photograph” is the one I took and posted on Facebook. What do you think?

 

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

Trees, Rain and Magic

There is a tree outside our house that can be seen from my bedroom window, the kitchen window and the deck. It is big, strong, healthy, beautiful tree and last week it started to don its fall attire. In one small section. Not even an eighth of its foliage had slipped into crimson colors. Dandelion and pumpkin colors huddled together, like the cool kids in a clique in high school.

Late yesterday afternoon, I took my book and went to my bedroom and assumed my default pre-teen pose: lying on my stomach across my bed, my legs bent at the knee and ankles crossed. I lay the book on the bed, propped myself up on a pillow and began to read.

In the background, my subconscious heard a noise. It was a comforting sound but one I didn’t really pay attention to until I realized that it was the rain. It was raining hard. I popped up off of the bed and went to the window. It was dark at 5:00, very dark. I opened the window as far as it could go and leaned on the frame of the window, my head resting on the screen.

Immediately my eyes were drawn to the tree. I couldn’t take my eyes off of the kaleidoscope of colors, seemingly waving to me.

I thought of Natalie. How I wished she could see this, with me. My chest and heart were heavy with sorrow and I started my own downpour.

The rain was thick and cold. It hit the concrete patio with a slap. Slap! Slap! Slapslapslapslapslap!

“I wish you were here Nat” I said to myself.

Then it happened.

The rain that had been pounding the ground, the earth, the concrete stopped falling down and fell sideways.

It rained sideways.

For a few seconds, it was raining in my bedroom. The water droplets made their way through the screen and pelted my lips.

I don’t know if I’m crazy, well, I do. I am. But that’s beside the point.

I felt like I’d gotten a kiss from Heaven.

Immediately, the rain resumed the course of gravity and I watched a few seconds longer before closing the window.

Today. Today she would’ve been 38. I woke up around 7 and went downstairs to snap a picture of the tree. I wanted to post a photo of magic, but when I got downstairs and looked out the window, the magic was gone.

The colors were still there, technically but instead of brilliant, individual colors they all matted together and made an old rust color.

I wondered if the dark gray sky had made them look more vibrant but there was definitely something missing today…

It was you, Nat.

You are gone and the world is less colorful, less magical.

I know you are still with me and us and I do cherish the signs I get from you… I guess I will always just want more.

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.

 

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