Garbage

I stepped outside this morning for a run and found two trash bags ripped and strewn about the road. As I picked it up like a pissed off Yosemite Sam, I realized this was no ordinary garbage.

A dozen cans of Keystone Light…a cheap looking bottle of Tangerine Vodka…a half-drunk, capped half gallon of OJ (would you like a sugar coma with that blackout?)… plus – most puzzling of all – an empty box of Townhouse Crackers.

I could play all high and mighty, but the sight of a flattened can of Keystone Light took me back here. 

Disclaimer: though the above picture is actually me at age 19, I am not actually pregnant. I have a pillow up my dress and did not look this cute while carrying actual human beings inside my uterus. I faked pregnancy in order to confuse a gas station clerk long enough to buy two six-packs of Keystone Light at the beach. It worked. This was far from the most desperate thing I did in the name of alcohol. I’m so glad camera phones weren’t around in the 90s. 

I like to think the Keystone Light-Tangerine Blackout party I picked up after this morning was from teenagers. Drunk teens might be more likely to throw empties out the window of a moving car. But would teenagers have the forethought to pack drawstring trashbags? What about the townhouse crackers? Can somebody please explain the townhouse crackers?

Aside

Like lichen

The split rail fence was already here when we moved in years ago. 

“It’ll be perfect if we get a dog,” one of us said. Still no dog, though we haven’t given up on the idea. We’ve also never treated the fence and so watched it silver and soften and thicken with lichen.

Lichen are not one organism but a fungus and an algae growing together in a symbiotic relationship. On Saturday morning, I tackled the fence with a paint scraper, carefully prying up each one in what felt satisfying in a mindless, meditative way. I also felt a bit like a monster destroying tiny, perfect worlds.

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british soldier lichen on a rail

Nature abhors a vacuum, which is never more evident than on an old rotting fence. Take away one thing and another fills in. I scraped and thought how true this is for vices. Love is the only thing that truly fills, but even love isn’t without pitfalls. 

After the fence scraping and lunch, I scrapped plans to run on a trail by myself and brought my littlest kid along. In June, I’d like her to come along on a 5K I’m planning to do with a couple sober bloggers. I wanted to see if 3 miles is doable for pint-sized legs. 

We were full speed ahead for the first mile. The second mile saw more breaks to rest upon benches, peer down ominous looking grates, pet a giant poodle, and stare in fascinated horror at one long-dead deer that appeared to be melting back into the ground. 

The third mile is when we both got covered in tar. Tar! One second we were leaning over a bridge to get a better look at trout wiggling in neat rows in the stream below and the next my little girl said uh-oh and raised her chubby arm to show it was coated in shiny brown tar. 

I decided it would be best to wash it off in the creek, which is really code for “here, you can’t keep all that tar for yourself – let me smear some on my hands so they’ll stick to the steering wheel!” Not only was I unable to clean off any tar, I sunk my new running shoes into a thick stew of mud. 

On the rest of the walk back, my little girl held her tar arm behind her back when we passed others. “What if it never comes off?” she asked. In her mind, she had already graduated kindergarten and gotten married and raised a brood of babies, all with a gummy coat of tar on her good arm. 

“We’ll get it off,” I said and smiled to show her I meant it. 

“But what if you can’t?” she asked, already wise to the fact that parents can’t fix everything, especially ones with muddy shoes and sticky tar all over their driving hands. 

We made it back to the car and a canister of wet naps, which occupied her until we reached home and warm, soapy water and a good scrub brush. 

Now, if I’d just gone those 3 miles on my own like I’d planned before scraping lichen, I guarantee I wouldn’t have come home covered in tar. I also wouldn’t have noticed the melting deer or pet a giant poodle with my little girl. Relationships are messy, and we are richer for having them and letting our hands get dirty. 

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lichen love

 

He drinks and that’s cool, though it might also be the jean jacket

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This is my husband, Joe, and me. We’re sitting at a table meant for children and I’m wearing my oldest kid’s jacket, but I think we both look pretty cool. I look 85% cooler in sunglasses. All my husband needs is a jean jacket, though his glasses are pretty sharp too. I put this picture up on facebook and people all of a sudden started noticing Joe looks like Keith Olbermann. I always thought Joe looked angry in pictures because he never smiles, but now I see it could also be interpreted as quiet thoughtfulness or a  dedication to cutting edge journalism. This is the longest caption I’ve ever written but it’s too late to back down now.

 

In early recovery, I secretly worried I was doing everything wrong. I worried I wasn’t going to enough meetings or I wasn’t going to the right kinds of meetings. I worried because I wasn’t working with a sponsor and then worried I’d rushed into one too soon. I worried when I wasn’t working steps, and finally started working them only to worry I was doing them all wrong.

I then worried when I quit going to meetings and dropped my sponsor and stopped working steps. This makes all those other worries seem moot, but there is one worry I’ve carried consistently and I don’t write about it much because it involves another person.

I worry what it means to be married to a drinker and have access to a fully stocked bar in the kitchen. It may not be ideal to be around alcohol all the time and, in fact, it might be a terrible idea for some people trying to quit drinking. But it can be done. It can feel really challenging at times. It isn’t black and white. The real stuff never is.

The reason I’m writing about this is because two things popped up this weekend.

The first thing was we had lunch as a family in this lovely indoor picnic spot, which probably sounds strange but spring is still more lion than lamb in these parts. We almost had the place to ourselves except for an older couple lingering over lunch and a big bottle of wine. They noticed the specialty beer Joe was drinking and the guy even walked over for a closer look at his bottle.

Would anyone even do this over food? It’s a secret language, this shared love of craft brews and fine wine. I used to speak it and still understand, though I sat sipping coke zero from a plastic cup almost wishing it was a sissy juice box. Go ahead, make fun and I will cut you. Seeing older couples enjoy a big bottle of wine together is a trigger for me, apparently. I am mourning a future Joe and I have not had, nor will we ever if I’m lucky.

When the kids are grown, we’ll never get to tour wine country or swill beers from matching steins in Germany or linger over a big bottle of wine in an indoor picnic house. I blew it and that’s a fact and a blessing and, well, because it’s both it feels complicated.

But the fact is I don’t mourn anything about my decision to get sober 2.75 years ago. And Joe and I get along better than we have in years. I find more patience and joy in the little things and the best kept secret about sobriety is that everything is just as fun without alcohol. Even moreso without the hangovers and guilt. Some of you are nodding your head in agreement and some have it cocked to an odd angle because maybe you’re not there yet, but you’ll see too if you hang in there. I had to see it to believe it.

The other thing that popped up this weekend is a friend who is newly sober told me she shared with her boyfriend that she wants to start going to recovery meetings and was touched and maybe even a little surprised by his support. He still drinks. Oh man, do I get this.

When I told Joe I wanted – no, I probably said needed – to stop drinking, he looked surprised and/or skeptical, but he didn’t try to talk me out of it. He has been my strongest pillar of support aside from the overwhelming belief deep in my core that I am doing this for a reason that matters more than I can possibly understand.

Joe used to rush home from work on Tuesday nights when I wanted to make a certain recovery meeting. He still makes it work when I want to go on longer runs on the weekend. He buys fancy schmancy waters and green teas and copious amounts of jelly beans because he gets that enabling my other addictions might very well save me from the one that could kill me, or, worse yet, kill what we have now.

I would be lying if I didn’t say I hate that he still drinks sometimes. In that same picnic house, I could smell his beer and hated how good it smelled. I wish the smell made me sick or, better yet, did nothing for me at all. But I have to imagine if I’d given up chocolate for the last 2.75 years, it still would smell pretty fucking good. If I have to look for a silver lining in being around it constantly, it is that it reminds me how powerless I still am and will always be. It still smells just as good and I would still fall sideways into drinking if I tried moderating just one more time. Nothing has changed.

Most days when he drinks I only notice that he is drinking. I usually don’t pay mind to what beer or cocktail or how many. My brain has made alcohol invisible or at the very least translucent as a kind of coping mechanism. When he’s hungover and crabby and impatient, I know the cure for that. But I also know sobriety is a very individual choice and it’s a gift that not everyone gets or it’s a choice not everyone takes. I feel lucky I got the gift and took that choice, and I wonder if Joe took it, would he also threaten to dump clothes out the window like I did that time in early recovery when I was stuck in the seemingly insurmountable swamp of sorting out our youngest’s closet? Recovery is hard work, yo.

Not my gift to give, not my decision to make anyway. We might make another 17 years with him still sipping beer and me whatever zippy name the future calls diet soda. Today I am oh so grateful for the subtle ways sobriety has smoothed out my rough edges and the layered effects it’s had on our marriage.

whiskers off kittens (a few of my unfavorite things)

I’m afraid of geese and cat whiskers if you must know. I realize it’s not smart to put my biggest vulnerabilities out there. What if my arch nemesis subscribes and is now loading a pillowcase with whiskers and angry geese? Do arch nemesises have to be mutual, or can mine be someone I’ve never even met? What is the plural of nemesis anyway?

And let me clarify that I am not afraid of whiskers on kittens, but rather when they fall off and are discovered loose on a blanket or, you know, on top of my pillow. Which is where my husband threatened to put one this morning when he found a loose one on a blanket.

He also sent me this picture he snapped this morning of our roof.

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And now I’m not sure where I’m going to move on such short notice.

The goose fear stems from a traumatic memory of getting bit on the butt by one during a kindergarten field trip, but I should probably clarify it was not even my butt that got bit. I was definitely bit on the butt by a dog in second grade, and am proud to announce I am not much afraid of them anymore.

I regularly encounter dogs and geese when I run. I make eye contact with the geese, but do not add a respectful nod like I do with dogs. If the geese start to charge, I usually clap my hands and yell. My husband threw pinecones to get the two off our roof, which seems less efficient but more fun and also not as congratulatory.

Last week I had a close call with a dog I never even saw when I was jogging down a familiar road. I had earbuds in, but still heard a spatter of angry barking behind me. I slowed my pace but did not stop or turn around. I kept waiting for the bite and thought how my butt must have looked like an overly plump set of tenderloins. But the barking eventually stopped and the adrenaline gave a nice energy boost for the rest of the run home.

I often think what I would do if attacked by a dog or a goose. I like to think instinct would kick in, but maybe I should run with some mace. At least then I could accidentally mace both of us and wouldn’t have to remember the pesky, humiliating details. One summer I worked at a camp where some kid “accidentally” sprayed a canister of pepper spray in front of an industrial fan during the farewell dance. Farewell indeed.

I’m less afraid of pepper spray and dogs and getting that way about geese. Whiskers are next!

What goes around, comes around – a guest post by Whistler

Whistler doesn’t keep a blog of his own. I wish he did, but he doesn’t and so I’m grateful for his comments, which started popping up around December of 2012 like little word balloons of kindness and encouragement we get to carry around for the day. 

You may remember his one-year sober post he wrote here, which came together after a gentle nudge from Christy, and I should probably give the Universe credit too. Thank you for bringing another meaningful connection not only to me but to those who are reading. 

Yesterday I had my last post on trees freshly pressed, for which I am embarrassingly thrilled (thank you, Krista!). When I told Whistler and said I was still planning to run his piece today, he insisted I post something I wrote; that any new followers would expect that. But I’m a big believer that things happen for a reason and it’s a great piece and who knows who was meant to read it today. Besides, you are reading my blabber right now. 

Please join me in congratulating Whistler on 1.5 years sober. While he doesn’t track the exact date, today is the first day of spring and seemed a fitting time to post about new beginnings and full circles and the little (big) miracles that come with sobriety. 

US Dry Counties Map

US Dry Counties Map
Blue – Wet Counties
Yellow – Semi-Dry Counties
Red – Dry Counties
Grey – no data

 

When the choice came down to working full time or going to college and working part time, I naturally chose the latter. I figured delay the inevitable as long as possible, right? That was a long time ago, way back in the 70s, and the location of my institute of higher learning was in a still totally dry county.

As in wet vs. dry. There was no alcohol for sale. You had to buy your hooch out of county and bring it back over the line. No driving down to the corner store to buy a six pack. You had to plan and work for your booze.

This inconvenience did not sit well with college-age voters, so we did it the American way and got enough signatures on a petition to make the ballot and then voted parts of the county wet. And so it stayed for lo these years, some of the county wet, some dry. Through no fault of my own I have lived in one of the remaining dry precincts of the county for most of those years.

But progress being what it is, last November my fellow precinctians voted us wet. That means beer and wine can be bought and sold at the corner gas station, and liquor stores can move in and sell the hard stuff. And sure enough, wouldn’t you know a couple of years ago a doctor in town and his brother built a bunch of those larger twelve pump convenience stores around the county, and one of them is only a couple of miles from my hacienda.

As it turns out the dry thing was turning into a huge impedance to local progress. In the dry parts, folks could not order a glass of wine with their sit down franchise meal, so no one would build places to eat in our small precinct. No restaurants equals no city or county tax revenue, which means not only would we starve to death, but we’d die broke and without amenities.

Anyhow, the Doc and his brother have been very anxious to get their gross sales up where they ought to be, and we all know beer and wine will do that because when you buy the twelve pack you also buy fuel, cigarettes, and play the lotto. Apparently alcohol is the backbone of any successful venture.

We can insert moral number one here (there are two). I was part of the original wet move in the 70s and it finally came home to roost. What goes around, comes around. Alcohol sales and all the joy that come with it – noise, trash, traffic, and all the other big and small hassles – are now just a few short minutes down the road.

This is a good time to let you know that when we did go wet back in those heady college days, I took full advantage of local beer and booze availability. As time marched on, I eschewed convenience and opted for anonymity. I went well out of my way to buy my adult beverages in the least frequented spots I could find. I was mortified of being seen buying the stuff, at least in the quantities I was hauling around.

There at the end, the last five or more years, I knocked back close to three 30-packs a week. Looking back, I’m a little surprised I did not get customer of the year at a few of my go-to beer buying spots. Ironically, I even traveled out of the county sometimes to buy beer just so I wouldn’t see anyone I knew.

About a year and a half ago I quit it. All of it. Had to really. My life was falling apart on every front. Hell in a hand basket. One of the reasons I quit was my 21 year-old son. I felt if I stopped drinking, he might stop doping. Made sense at the time.

Well, he came by last night for the first time in a long time and walked back to the garage to hunt me up. I have not seen him look and sound that strong and good in a long time. He’s working, loves his job, his boss, the people he works with. He has an apartment, he’s taking care of himself, all without drugs since September.

He is making his way. We both are. Not perfect by any means. We’ve got other problems, but we’re coming around.

And that brings us to moral number two. It’s a lot like moral number one but with a different ending. Maybe my good choices influence other’s good choices? You never know. What goes around comes around.

Just talk about trees

Birch and pine took the hardest hits from the ice storm of ’14. The frail, sensitive poet and the burly shop teacher in need of a shave hardly spoke before the storm and now they lay side by side on the ground and tumble together in the chipper.

Disaster, the great unifier.

Ice fell evenly from the sky, but some lost a disproportionate share of trees. Others were mysteriously spared, or at least it looks that way to someone just passing through. For every lawn covered in massive branches and entire trunks, there’s one to the side littered only with tidy snow patches. But if you look around, you might notice the white meat of snapped limbs or stumps where great trees once stood.

Some people just tend to their messes quicker.

The trees that huddled together in groves weathered the ice storm the best. It’s possible the ones in the center thought it was only rain and never felt the ice thicken and weigh down and snap.

It’s no guarantee, but there’s safety in numbers.

Of two trees that stand alone in our front yard, the japanese maple came out unscathed while the silver maple shed branches we will still be picking up next spring. Maybe some trees were healthier in ways we couldn’t see or they were pruned carefully over the years or sat closer to a stream during drought.

Resilience and strength aren’t visible from the outside.

The aftermath from the ice storm looks like Nature’s spring clean. She culled and cleared one day when she was in a terrible mood and then said “here, clean this up. I’m going to take a nap.” I guess it was better than forest fire or flood.

Even if it’s a plan I don’t understand, new opportunities come from loss.

It doesn’t do any good to guess why this tree and not that one or second-guess what we should have been doing all along to prepare. What’s done is done and now its time to walk around the yard and pick up branches and then turn around and notice a dozen more we missed.

Eventually we’ll amass a great pile and the sloppy, mossy ground will support new growth and we’ll all treat our trees with more reverence for at least a full cycle of seasons.

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Note: Later this week, in time to welcome Spring, look for a guest post by Whistler, who celebrates 1.5 years sober. 

Cakewalk

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source: wikipedia

The Chesapeake Bay Bridge took part in the slow, kindly intervention that occurred in the last year of my drinking. Kindly might not be the right word, but when you’re spared DUI or public humiliation, private pain feels like house arrest in a home much nicer than you deserve.

When I was a kid, crossing the Bay Bridge on a Friday night in summer symbolized a week in near heaven. It was the only way to the beach and my beloved Punchy raft and sandbars at noon and Mr. Softee ice cream cones that dripped melty globs of rainbow sprinkles on the tops of my brown, bare feet.

When I was ten, my family and I walked one side of the dual-span 4.3 mile stretch during a Bay Bridge Walk. The steel suspension bridge had never felt more alive, especially since we could feel it sway beneath us. Leaning over the guardrail at 186 feet inspired my very first short story about a toll collector who stole $100 from the register and (spoiler alert) plummeted to his death when he escaped on foot and dropped the bill and scurried after it.

Why didn’t he just drive in the car that he’d obviously used to get to work in the first place? Why didn’t he take more than $100? Which asshole had paid a $2.50 toll with a Ben Franklin anyway? I wish I could ask 10-year-old-me.

My second short story was about an alcoholic who fatally slipped on a broken bottle of booze, so if I could go back in time, the first thing I’d do is pat 10-year-old-me on the back for spinning dark, fatalistic morals and then I’d grill her with questions but not pointers since my work hasn’t progressed.

I lived a real-life drama on that bridge several years ago – almost to the date – when I drove over in the most hungover state I’ve ever been upright in. This particular hangover hadn’t been helped by a 2-hour drive and careful rationing of orange juice and vodka. Or maybe it was gin. The things I drank often matched the desperation I felt inside.

Alcoholics don’t drink in the morning for the buzz. Just like smokers don’t take their first drags for the fresh air, I drank secretively and at desperate times to make withdrawal symptoms go away.

Hangovers on a good day were a strip of tight pain that ran across my forehead and maybe a mouth that tasted like something had crawled in and died. A couple ibuprofen and an afternoon nap usually did the trick. On a bad day, hangovers were a rising tide of panic and nausea and doom, with a good measure of I’m not fit to be alive, let alone a parent.

The day I drove over the Bay Bridge in full blown hangover, I had been taking small sips to keep withdrawal at bay. It just hadn’t worked. My wretched drink ran out and I felt worse than ever. We met my extended family for lunch at a quaint harborside place just before the bridge. The beer I ordered came too little, too late. If I’d been with my husband, I would have ordered three more and I would have made him drive. Instead I drank my useless beer and muddled through small talk and ate actual food and grinned tightly before getting back in my car and silently praying for death.

Now I’m glad that panic attack happened because it forced the biggest wake up call of my drinking career. There is nowhere to pull over on the bridge and heave your guts out, so the fear and nausea grew with the realization that I might throw up all over myself – or just die, which felt a very real possibility – while my kids watched from the back seat, already silent because they could sense I was barely holding on.

My husband called as I was driving over the bridge and I cut him off with a “Can’t talk…think I’m having a panic attack.” I didn’t even tell him why; I just hung up. When I finally crossed over, the swell of nausea fell until I reached my parent’s house and feigned the flu and crawled into bed and rocked myself to sleep. I swore I would never drink again, which was absolutely true until the next night.

That wasn’t rock bottom – a moment so horrible I had no choice but to quit for good – but it was the most physically painful place my drinking took me, moreso because I suffered it alone. I can’t remember what labor pain felt like, but I acutely recall the bite of a bad hangover.

The hangovers got unpredictable and worse in the last year of my drinking. Sometimes drinking more made them go away, but more and more often it only made the pain feel worse. This is why I say the hangovers saved me.

This fall I’m signed up to run a Bay Bridge 10K with my younger sister. It will be the first time they’ve opened the bridge to runners in nearly a decade, though it’s a big deal to me for other reasons.

I am excited to bond with my sister over running. I’m eager to see how my fear of heights has beefed up over the years…maybe it’ll lead to another preachy short story.

The run and the bridge in general also symbolize how far I’ve come from that dark moment of panic and shame and just a really low shit-point in my life as a parent and a human being. While I’m a little nervous about running across a gently swaying hulk of metal suspended two-hundred feet above sharks*, I’ve lived through hell of my own doing the day I drove over in full-blown hangover and panic. Anything short of that feels like a cakewalk.

William Preston Lane on Bay Bridge (source: Wikipedia)

William Preston Lane on Bay Bridge, 1952 (source: Wikipedia)

 

*not really, but sharks sound better than sea nettles.