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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

My ex-husband showed up drunk at his Christmas with our kids. It really, really sucked. I have three kids; one cried and yelled, one would not acknowledge him, and one disappeared until things calmed down. Something in me broke.

I have spent years protecting both him and our kids, in order to keep his healing journey safe, and so as not to embarrass or expose my kids. While I believe I did the right thing for the kids’ sake, I also ignored that I am part of this life experience too, and it is part of my story. Does it need to be public? No, it doesn’t, but in my life purpose of helping others, my experiences can bring meaning, help and hope to others. This is part of my story and I should be able to share it as such.

Pain comes in many forms. Watching my kids that night propelled my pain to a whole new level. There was nothing I could do to make any part of it okay, because it simply wasn’t. We were able to salvage some of the evening, but when I went to bed that night, I was shattered. Do I understand why his drinking has escalated over the past year? I sure do. Does that mean I turn a blind eye to its effect on others? A resounding NO.

Some lessons from that sh** show night:

  1. I realized a couple of ways I’ve been enabling bad behaviour.
  2. My kids (all teenagers) still need me to be their safe place, and to provide a safe place. While I fully recognize I have done a great job, for the most part, this showing up drunk thing is fairly new water to navigate.
  3. It reminded me that I’m not always strong, and that’s okay. I have a reputation for being kind, compassionate and resilient, but there are just some crappy moments that I’m allowed to be upset about. If I don’t handle it perfectly, I will still survive. One of my greatest fears is falling apart and not being able to support my kids’ emotions through the traumas they’ve been repeatedly exposed to.
  4. I am not alone. I know that, but I sure felt alone that night. It’s the holidays, who wants to ruin someone else’s Christmas?! When I woke up the next morning, I reached out to a friend. I vented, she listened, we talked, and I hung up feeling like I could carry on.
  5. I can change how I do things, I can still be kind and compassionate while drawing strong lines and boundaries for my own mental health, so my job as the mom isn’t derailed. After all, if I’m not okay and don’t take care of myself, I am not teaching my kids how to navigate the deep, dark waters of life either.

Simply put, what I allow is what will continue.

My wish for you and for me is that we will take time during what can be a difficult season to reflect on who we are, how far we’ve come, and how the challenges we face give us the opportunity to become bitter or better.