come on home, girl.

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We can all breath freely. Order has been restored to the universe. Wounds have been healed. Life as we know it is returning to the way it should be because after a really weird and sad, booze-fueled feud, Ann and Nancy Wilson of Heart have reunited and are back together and on the road. Listen, the Trump era has done some fucked up shit to a lot of people and Ann and Nancy apparently fell victim to these shitty, sad times. But they’re back and so am I.

Back from where, you ask?  I’m not sure, exactly. But I sort of got derailed by the holidays, which isn’t really a thing and I know this. Like the holidays are just normal days with more delicious food and tinsel covered depression. It’s not like I was abducted or became paralyzed. I was just being fat and lazy and watching Christmas specials. Nevertheless, the aforementioned season knocked my seanologues writing off the track. Shockingly, I hadn’t written over here at all in 2019.  Sure, new works could be found elsewhere but I wasn’t here.  But it wasn’t the same. I wasn’t home. “Come on home, girl,’ he said with a smile,” Nancy Wilson sings on the track “Magic Man.” (Also fun if you sing it in a 90’s way like “Come on, homegirl!) So that’s what I’ve done. I’ve come home to this blog.  Oddly enough, the whole idea of coming back and returning has been fresh on my mind lately.

If you are lucky enough to stick around in the halls of recovery, you get to see it. People come back. Back after a relapse, back after a period of isolation, back from a near death experience. It’s like the cycles of Elizabeth Taylor’s life but in real-time. These phoenixes rise out of the ashes and miraculously show back up for more crappy coffee and rambling stories to let us know that they’re still alive and that they still need help. When I first got sober, it would really depress me and rattle my cage when people would relapse and come back. It poked holes in this ridiculous fantasy I had that sobriety was forever and easy to hang onto. I would become obsessed as to how it happened and why they relapsed.  I wanted to why and how and mainly what I could do so it wouldn’t happen to me. I wrongfully pitied them and acted high and mighty, like “Poor things! I’m so glad that’s not me!” I’d also keep them at arm’s length, as if getting close to people who relapsed would make me relapse too.  Sure, I was really afraid of relapse but I was also kind of a dumb bitch.

Thankfully, time, experience and lots of heartbreak changed my mind on people who relapse and come back. My judgement is gone. Ditto my need to get down to the bottom of why they relapsed. I no longer pity people.  Seriously. This sounds like hippie garbage but I just love them, no bullshit. Not love them, only if they stay sober. Or love them because their sobriety looks like mine. I love them period. Mainly, I feel love for them because they have a shit ton of courage. They came back, despite the ever daunting odds, and opened their mouths. We don’t shoot our wounded, they tell me. But I can do better than not shooting them. I can love them like people who are suffering from a disease and leave it at that. This isn’t a noble thing to do, you jerk. It’s the right thing to do.

Can you imagine if we were all like, “That stupid whore Olivia Newton-John went and got herself cancer again. What a moron!” We would never. In fact, if you have anything negative to say about ONJ in general, I would suggest keeping that vitriol to yourself. Yet our reaction to relapse (including my own) is soaked in misunderstanding and judgement. But the fact of the matter is that it’s just a deadly disease that is really hard to beat. As deaths by drugs and alcohol hit all time highs, we have to face the fact that most people with this disease won’t make it or at least won’t make it on their first time. I am lucky enough to have many examples of people in my life who came back after a relapse and had a rocking comeback that even the sisters Wilson would approve of.

The first person I ever took all the way through the 12 steps relapsed a few times. Ditto a person I’ve been sponsoring who just celebrated 18 months. Three more with relapse in their stories all newly back have also recently joined my sponsorship family. (For what it’s worth, relapse happens to be a part of the stories of  Robert Downey Jr, Elton John, Anthony Hopkins and Demi Lovato, all of whom I do not sponsor but I am open to the idea!) Likewise, two of my favorite sober friends on the planet had more than a dozen relapses a piece. What all these brave, hilarious and tough-as-nails people in my life taught me is that the more you try, the better chance you’ll have of making it stick. The fact that they keep fighting and coming back, even though they’ve been knocked down a million times, blows my mind. I don’t know if I have that kind of fight or will to live, if I’m totally honest. Plus, my pride is out of control and I don’t know if I possess the humility to ask for help yet again or the courage to own my whole story. I hope that I would and I know just who I’d call if I did relapse and needed to come back.

Yet for as common as relapse and coming back is, there’s the bigger reality: most people don’t come back at all. Where I got sober in Los Angeles, people would vanish regularly from the rooms of recovery and you’d learn later that they had lost their lives to this disease. It sounds morose but you kind of just got used to people dying, although it never made it less sad.  Statistically in the United States, this stark reality is pretty common. Like I said, it’s a tough disease to beat.

At my non-writer job at a hospital working as a recovery mentor, this reality is ever looming. When patients leave the hospital, I get to work with them in the community. But many vanish and it’s hard not to worry immediately that maybe theyre no longer alive. Last week, one patient that I often had that worry about magically resurfaced. She called me and told me she had 90 days sober. Despite a series of dramatic hospitalizations, she had come back. Not only was I relieved but I was overjoyed and it gave me confirmation that I needed to keep doing the work that I do. Because for every 10 people who dies or goes out or varnishes, there’s that one who comes back. And to miss their triumphant return and heroic journey would just be crazy.

 

 

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every second of the night, I live another life

C9QqL74All I know was I was with people I work with and we had to jump off a bridge onto a moving train. It was all very dramatic in an early 1990’s way. Like Sandra Bullock could have sped by in an out of control bus at any moment. Anyway, I jumped and completely missed the platform I was supposed to land on. For a split second (which when we talk about really dramatic near plummets to our deaths, are the only kind of seconds allowed. Take your normal second elsewhere, pal.) I thought well I’m screwed. Guess I should have been nicer to people but now I’m fucked because my brain is going to splatter all over the pavement. Meanwhile, my coworkers had landed successfully and ran off to the next dramatic challenge, I’m assuming. But instead of my brain splattering, I floated. I just kind of hovered like one of those dumb looking seagulls that flies in place during an ocean breeze. I was out of breath and terrified and then I woke up. I rolled back over and fell asleep and started dreaming again quickly. I was immediately greeted by a creature who was part bear and part armadillo. And not greeted like he was gonna give me a hug. But in the way the he was standing in the path I was walking down and looked like he didn’t want to move nor did he want to be fucked with.  I woke up again with my heart pounding and decided that maybe my subconscious was telling mine it was time to get up.

I’ve had pretty intense dreams my entire life. Granted, this sounds like one of those conversations your  dramatic friend in college would have right before she launched into a confession that she might be psychic or at the very least an empath. But it’s true. This imagination runs on overdrive when I close my eyes.  I used to have awful nightmares as a child, primarily dealing with getting attacked by wild animals thus why I knew better than to tangle with bearmadillo. No more than 10 years old, I would wake up screaming and drenched in sweat. Once after a really terrible nightmare, my two brothers stood above my bed with worried faces. While I don’t remember the dream, I remember it was freaky enough to startle me and everyone in my house. I was even given a dream journal at a young age hoping that would help. I can’t say for sure that it did but it certainly helped me start exploring dreams as a gateway to something else and a window into possibilities, regardless of how ridiculous they were.

Through some of the things I read, I learned tricks and ways to wake from nightmares or to shift the narrative if shit got too real, too fast. I learned if I floated above myself, like I recently did as I was falling, I was actually having an out-of-body experience. I learned if I scribbled three words down when I first woke up, I had a better chance of remembering the entire dream later.  It was very much in line with the psychology of the 1980’s and even pop culture. The hot garbage 1984 classic Dreamscape with Meg Ryan and Dennis Quaid explored the idea of being able to project yourself into the dreams of others. With the aid of shifty scientists and terrible government officials, as was the case in all of these films. I must have watched that stupid movie 178 times on HBO but the idea really appealed to me: leave my own thoughts and go somewhere else. The last scary “attacked by an animal dream” as a child I really remember was a large bird trying to rip my arm off as I floated alone on a raft in the middle of a calm lake. No wonder my mind wanted to be somewhere else. One of my dream books from that era said that my dreams of being attacked by animals meant that something was eating me on a subconscious level. As a gay kid not out of the closet or even in the remotest sense sexually awakened, this analysis was a little too on the nose.

With a recent death in my family and about 6 days of the worst sleep ever, let’s just say my current dreams have been off the chain. Non-linear, dramatic snippets of life crammed together with nonsensical narratives of political, sexual and psychological nature. The Heart song quoted in the title of this essay isn’t just to remind you that I’m old and that the 1980’s is my only point of reference. It also sums up what I like about dreams: to live another life, to be someone else. That’s what I liked about drugs too. Dreams, however, are even harder to control and more unpredictable than substances. Especially dreams about substances. My last cocaine dream was about three weeks ago. I snorted cocaine at a party and then spent the remainder of the dream trying to come up with an elaborate lie so that no one in my  life would ever find out I relapsed. Even asleep, I’m a scheming bitch. When I wake from using and drinking dreams, I always travel from being panicked that it actually happened, to disappointed in myself to ultimately relieved that it was just a dream. It’s quite a journey to take when you just open your eyes, honey.

This morning when I woke up, after a dream I don’t really remember, I forced myself to stay in bed as long as I could. I am the lucky owner of a bladder and two cats all of whom want me to get up around 5am. I try my damnedest on my days off to fight the urge to sit in the pre-sunrise stillness of my living room. I try to roll over and go back to sleep, back to dreaming. But this morning it was a no go. There was coffee to be had and internet to be read, cats to pet and so on. I told my therapist I’d been having fucked up dreams and sleeping horribly and he said, “Let’s monitor those and check in next week.” Seems like a solid plan. Treat my subconscious like a recently repaired air conditioning unit.

While there’s no bridges to jump off or wild creatures to battle in my waking life, there’s this brain I get to walk around with. It’s the brain of an addict. It’s the brain of a person with depression. It’s the brain with a whole goody bag of mental health challenges. But mainly, it’s a brain that likes to dream. And dream a lot! Lately, I have a slew of dreams suddenly taking shape and morphing into a real world things, all by themselves. When I think about the people I’ve lost recently and think about their dreams that got interrupted and cut short, I know it’s a brain I’m lucky to have.