My people. They get it and they don’t try to fix it. My people listen and hug me and remind me I am loved and doing great. I am loved and I’m doing great! Yes, that is true. Sometimes, I am loved and not doing great, that’s just as real.

I was a mother of two and nearly twenty-three years old when I got clean and sober. A counsellor named George helped me to see there was more to life than substance abuse and a marriage destroyed by domestic violence and addiction. George met me where I was at and helped me move along the path to a better way of living. He introduced me to authors whose work changed my thinking and my life’s trajectory. George would say at the end of every appointment, “You haven’t had your best day yet, kid!” He was right.

Wayne, my AA sponsor found me pretty humorous. He would chuckle while I belly-ached about something or someone, then give me some wisdom to live by via a question like, “Who can you change?” or  “What’s your part in this?” He would remind me, “This thing isn’t gonna crawl up your ass and into your heart, sweetheart! You gotta do the work!” Wayne was the first man I knew in my soul, loved me for me. He never expected a thing from me. He also did not believe my bullshit. He was the first man I trusted with my truth, no holds. 

Those were the early days of change for me. I was a single mom and trying to figure out a creed to live by. I was learning to adopt the 12-Step program into my way of life along with the wisdom of authors like Leo Buscaglia and Hugh Prather. 

Since those days I have been blessed by the addition of tremendous women into my life, the same women I have walked the path with for more than twenty-five years. Most of these women hail from the addiction recovery world, however, two come from my church background and a couple of them are past colleagues. Two recovery women in particular, made the ride much richer and more bearable because they chose to love me no matter what. Wendy and Anne stayed the course, whether I was sitting, singing or squawking. Forever, I will be grateful for the heavy blanket of unconditional love and acceptance they have covered me in.

Being connected to others has been life-restoring for me. My journey has been shaped by all kinds of learning; physical, emotional, spiritual. A few years ago, I read enjoy every sandwichby Lee Lipsenthal, M.D. (2011). In the book he speaks to what we can do when we are living within “four small walls” of pain, depression, self-pity, etc., those things that make us stuck:

“…scratch away with prayer, meditation, yoga, exercise, laughter, art, movement, gratitude, acceptance, and love. Scratch away with the knowledge that there is so much more to life than what we imagine it to be. There is so much to death than what we imagine it to be. And there is so much more to living and loving and being than can be seen from inside our little walled-in world. If you choose not to, there is no one else to blame.” Lee Lipsenthal, M.D. (p.193)

Long before I read his book, I had utilized all of Lipsenthal’s suggestions. I add to his list, my own items that encourage growth and change in me: therapy, 12-Step meetings, service to others, workshops, silent retreats, running, writing and reading. Where would I be without writing and reading?! 

I just keep making the effort, and when I am unable or unwilling to do what is needed, I have folks in my life who encourage me, wait for me, push me, sit with me, pray with me, and prod me when it is time to change forward. These are my people, changelings like me, people doing the work, the ones whose magic fairies have not yet climbed up their asses into their hearts to fix everything. These are the ones who stayed, they are tellers of their own truth, they light the path should the path be of interest or need to others. It is a path of love. And I am surrounded by it, enveloped in its juicy, healing heat.

The Red Plaid Rambler

Lipsenthal, L. (2011). enjoy every sandwich. New York, NY: Random House Inc.

It happened again recently. I completely zoned out, lost time, just 10 or 15 minutes this time. I come to. She is still ranting, gesturing, intense. I stand up and announce “I’m done”, or “I’ve got to go”, words to that effect. They look at me, questioning with their eyes. I want to explain but, in that moment, I have no words to do so. I blame my abruptness on the subject matter. The repeated discourses have exposed the ignorance and discrimination behind her politics, the unbridled contempt for my children’s people. I did not decide to check out. There was no imminent danger,  no logical reason to disappear, to leave the reality before me; but it happened. This time there was ranting, that’s all, an elevated, hateful tone and it triggered me. I was outta there! 

The last time I disappeared or turtled, was around ten years ago, in the lounge across from Rexall Centre after an NHL hockey game. I love watching hockey in person! I don’t care what age group or who is playing. It’s not the same on television but live it’s fun! That night I was with a bunch of folks I didn’t know, some of them coworkers to my spouse. It was a booze schmooze for my husband’s work. A colleague was doing his best to show my spouse and myself a good time after receiving some tremendous support for his business, requiring my husband to be away from home for over two months. A three-hour supper (pre-drinks), great seats at Rexall and drinks afterward for the show of gratitude. Perhaps, I should have felt more grateful.

Nearly all of those present had been drinking steadily since 4:30 p.m. I hadn’t touched substances for 20 years or so at this time. By midnight I could feel myself going in and out of presence. I was tired, I had become bored with the crowd, the drunken discussions. I felt trapped, I didn’t want to be the one to spoil others’ fun. I was feeling the pressure from my spouse to accept the celebrating, to take it easy, put up with the bullshit. I remember leaning over to him at midnight and quietly, with venom in my tone, telling him if we didn’t leave soon, I was going to take a cab back to the city we live in (better than 2 hours away). A little dramatic for the situation! No imminent danger, no one holding me down. He looked at me like I was nuts and said, “No you’re not!” I’m like, “Yes, I will, I have the cash in my purse to cover it!” Sometime after 1:30 a.m., I come to. I’m standing up, I say, “Okay, I’m done.” Everyone else started to move, we all got ready to leave. 

We headed back to the hotel and the men stayed down at the bar for a nightcap. I called my sponsor, knowing she wasn’t at home, just to vent. I felt crazy! Why didn’t I just get in a cab and go back to the hotel? Why didn’t I DO something, anything, not just sit there and take it?!

Familiar questions, these. Why didn’t I do something?! Why didn’t I tell someone?! Why didn’t I leave sooner?! Why did I go back so many times?! Once in a while, even with years of recovery and therapy under my belt, I still get taken out. It doesn’t last long, just a few minutes, but it is still disconcerting. And I don’t need saving, but my brain doesn’t know that in the moment. It’s just doing its best, helping me not be present to what it perceives as a threat. It helped me so many times before, took me away from the childhood predator, the rapist at age seventeen, the violent spouse of my youth, and the verbally abusive boyfriend that came afterward. Anger wasdanger; ranting, elevated speech wasdanger; a drunk man wasdanger. 

Feeling trapped, I took refuge inside myself. There was nowhere else to go. Until there was. I will be 34 years clean and sober in March 2019. I have just finished 38 years of parenting six kids; the youngest moved out on his own four months ago. After years of working as a counsellor in an addictions treatment centre, I shook my whole life up by returning to school at 52 years old. Recently, I completed a degree and landed a lovely position in an agency I enjoy being a part of. 

And still, a trauma response catches me off guard. Yup. Then I call my people, the ones who get it, who know the language I speak and the road I have travelled. They know the illness and the recovery, the healing and the loving. More on that next time…

~ The Red Plaid Rambler