Archive for the ‘issues’ Category

Strange trip

My walkabout has not gone as planned, but I am making necessary adjustments. I learn new things about myself every day, even if it is not fun. It may be trite, but baby steps are sometimes just the right size.

I have managed some barbie photos, though not as many as I expected by this time. The girls visited a couple of hot springs, and I took pictures of their enjoyment. The dinosaur has made a brief cameo appearance but needs a more starring role in future pictures.

I visited with my beloved friend Joey today and she was so good for me and to me. She lets me be the strange person I am right now and gives good advice and big hugs. Then had a crazy good time shopping for stocking stuffers at the 17th Street Market, my favorite place in Tucson. Friends and family beware of oddness in your stockings this year. For once I got the cool weird stuff that can compete with the cool weird stuff from mom and sisters. Neener.

I’m going to see a 3D movie with Joey tomorrow, and take a walk-n-talk. I’ve been cutting cactus at my in-laws and wiping out packrat homes. Move along little fuzzballs. The unseasonably hot weather here in Tucson has finally mellowed into the comfortable 80’s. Yay! Meteor shower tonight! I probably won’t be able to wake up for it.


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Thanksgiving is traditionally the kick-off for the holiday season, with everybody’s thoughts turning to Christmas shopping, entertaining, baking, college kids home for vacation, etc. I had always loved Christmas as a child, and most of that love rolled over into adulthood. There were some frustrations over the years: the joint custody tug-of-war when my son was younger; the fact that most of my family lived someplace distant, requiring package mailing to multiple destinations; the ever-present lack of money to buy presents; dogs eating presents and kittens attacking the tree…

But this particular Christmas I was having serious difficulty getting into the spirit. I wasn’t getting along well with my mother, which left me feeling claustrophobic and angry. Dealing with her the previous Christmas, when she dragged the package-mailing drama out for months (oh, I really need to get a box for those presents…), which ended with us having a fight over her stupid package, had left me feeling negative about having another Christmas with mom.

I just wanted to have my own Christmas, minus other expectations. I didn’t want to go through another round of package drama. I didn’t even feel like baking cookies, which I had always done. I was fed up with having to bake cookies as gifts because we had no money to buy presents. I really wanted to have a Christmas where I could actually go out and buy nice things for the people on my list, but that wasn’t going to happen because we were as broke as ever. And baking cookies, which used to be something I loved, just became a chore, with the added chore of having to package them immediately and get them in the mail while they were fresh. Which meant that I couldn’t have a gradual lead-up to Christmas, buying a few presents in September or November. No, everything had to be crammed in right before Christmas, on a tight schedule.

At one point, mom asked me something about Christmas cookies, and I told her that I was thinking about not making any. She got all bummed out. When I told Steve that I was thinking about no cookies and that it made mom sad, he brought up the cookies she let go completely stale the previous Christmas, because she let them sit and sit and sit, long after we were out of our own cookies. Steve finally tried to eat them but they were too stale. The whole subject of cookies was just getting steadily more annoying.

Then I decided to see if I could make a few extra dollars for Christmas by catering some holiday desserts. I made up a small list of desserts with prices and deadlines, and gave copies to Steve to post at his work. I told a few of mom’s friends. Then I waited. Nobody ordered any desserts. So much for that idea. (one of mom’s friends finally did put in an order, but it came in a day or two before I left town, after I had decided to bail on Christmas and my frustrating life).

The next and final trigger came the first week of December. Every year, the geology department has a Rock Auction. It is a huge fundraiser for the Geology Club, and a big gift-buying holiday event for many in town. Every year I donate a bottle or two of my homemade kahlua, which always goes for a high price tag. Since I can rarely afford to buy items at the auction, at least I get to contribute a small amount to their fundraiser with my kahlua. I’ve been doing it for many years.

Quite a few years ago, when most universities went through a big anti-alcohol phase, campuses across the country started banning alcohol at school events, and even removing their pubs and any other alcohol outlets. Our school was no exception. We used to serve alcohol at the auction, along with food, but it had been several years since that was allowed. What had happened though, was that there were often private bars for such events, and our auction was no exception. For the last couple of years, one of the grad students, a close friend of mine, had set up a small bar event in his office, all hushy hush, so that people in the know could have a drink before the auction.

This particular year, my friend was not in town because he was at a different university, but he still wanted to fund the bar in his old office. So I got him to send the money to my husband, who then went out and purchased supplies. The whole thing wouldn’t even have happened if I hadn’t acted as facilitator. Yet, when my husband bought supplies, he bought hard alcohol and mixers only, with no beer or wine, even though he KNOWS I do not drink hard alcohol. He couldn’t have bought one lousy sixpack of beer or a bottle of wine? NO!

So we get to the auction and go down for a drink. That’s when I realize there is absolutely nothing for me to drink. Old friends are stopping in and fixing themselves drinks. I’m just standing there with my hands in my pockets. The more people who arrived to fix drinks, the more left out I felt. I felt like Steve had been a completely oblivious ass to leave me out. The longer I stood there, the worse I felt. When I asked Steve at one point why he hadn’t gotten any beer or wine, he said something about thinking we didn’t need it. I reminded him that I didn’t drink hard alcohol and that I was part of the group too. He didn’t seem particularly bothered by his oversight but asked if I wanted to go get some. I said no, because the rock auction was starting in just a few minutes, but then I said maybe I would. People started drifting out to go get seats. I was torn about just forgetting the whole thing or going to get something to drink. But at that point it wasn’t about the actual drink. It was about being left out, about not being considered in the equation. By my own husband who knows me. I told him I would catch up, and that I might go get something, but I just walked to my car and drove home. I didn’t feel festive anymore. I didn’t feel like I mattered. I just felt alone. So I went home alone.

I sat at home and thought about my life, about expectations that I just take care of everybody’s basic needs but nobody pays attention to my needs. I thought about how frustrating it was to live with my mother. I thought about how Steve had a satisfying job where everybody loved him, but I was stuck cooking and cleaning because I couldn’t find part time work with a regular schedule that let me be home in the evenings to cook dinner. I thought about how invisible I felt, simply taken for granted but not accounted for. I thought about how disconnected I felt, as though I didn’t really exist in the world with everybody else. I thought about how I had no friends, no career, no money, nothing really to look forward to each day. I thought about how I was drinking and smoking too much because I really didn’t have anything else to do. I thought about how I hated being stuck between the hated ocean and the claustrophobic coast mountains. I thought about how much I missed wide open spaces and big sky.

And I decided to leave.

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Hole in the ground

I saw it coming. I said, “No, please, no.” On our trip to the Warner Mountains, the first day, when I was tired from the long drive, I recognized my old enemy. It is pretty inevitable in my situation, but I have worked hard to stave it off. I have done everything I should do. But it came knocking at my door, and now I can’t ignore the pounding on the door. My boogeyman has come calling. I am depressed.

Yes, when your son gets violently murdered, you can expect depression. Many people get medicated to keep it at bay. I have trouble with medications. I can’t go down that path again. Now alcohol is creeping back into my life, trying to take up the slack. Shouldn’t go that way either.

I first suffered severe depression when I was 14. It hit hard again when I was 18. At age 21 it struck once more. Each time I struggled out of it. I finally gained equilibrium and didn’t see my old enemy for many years. Then, in 1996, as I struggled to complete a graduate degree I had become disillusioned with, it hit me again. That time I succumbed to the “wisdom of the day” and went on medication. That and two psychologists and one psychiatrist. All to no avail. I began to suffer panic attacks. Finally I bailed on my drugs, my doctors, and my grad program and spent the next several years pulling myself back together. Safe again for a while.

Then, in October of 2007, my beloved dog died unexpectedly, in a day. I spiraled back into depression, in which I floundered for many months. Over a year later, when I though I had beaten it, I became overwhelmed by the expectations of Christmas for the first time in my life. Hello, old enemy. That sent me running for the desert, on the walkabout that gave rise to this blog. I spent a month in a tent by myself, with just my old cat for company. Once again I thought I had beaten my depression. I gained new insight into myself and my life.

Later that spring I lost my beloved old cat to kidney disease. She had lived a long life, but it was hard to say goodbye. I had just managed to raise my chin and put one foot in front of the other when my son was violently taken from me. I handled the funeral with remarkable calmness, only to fall apart when I got home. Almost did myself in with tranquilizers and alcohol combination. Struggled back from that with counseling, support from family and close friends, and reading supportive grief books.

But I seem to have run out of distractions, can’t seem to make progress with my suppportive activities, and, suddenly, with eye-blinking quickness, my old enemy spots the weakness in my wall. Now I find myself going to bed really early and sleeping 10 hours. I find myself standing in the middle of the living room, telling myself to move, to water or weed, to take a walk, to do SOMETHING, yet I stand without moving, unless it is to the fridge to get a beer. I can’t just blame the alcohol, although it is a willing partner. I was taking anti-alcohol medication for a while to force myself to stay away, but the headaches and high blood pressure from the medication were so severe I could not tolerate them anymore. Without the medication my headaches are completely gone and my blood pressure has returned to normal. What is a depressed, alcohol-dependent person to do?

I keep thinking about building a medicine wheel in my back yard, but my back and hip pain have become so severe in recent weeks that I can’t motivate myself to do it. I’m back to daily tylenol and nightly sleep herbs, which I was off for the last month or so.

Today, for the first time in many months, I got out my comfort CD. It is the CD that I played over and over the night I held my dying dog. It is a melancholy comfort, usually more comfort than melancholy. Bittersweet comfort. I hadn’t wanted to add the memory of my son to the memory of my dying dog, so I avoided using it for comfort the first months. But today I needed something, so I put it on. The first song made me uncomfortable, and I thought maybe it wasn’t going to work its magic. But the second song soothed me and calmed me down.

It’s not like I had a bad day. I went downtown and got a good book at the used bookstore. I went to the co-op and bought the rest of the ingredients for my New Orleans bread pudding, and stopped by the liquor store for a tiny bottle of bourbon for the sauce. I spotted my husband and his co-worker driving by and ended up joining them for lunch. All very nice. Then I went back home and was immediately greeted by the enemy I left on the porch. I almost climbed in bed and gave up on the day. But the grass needed watering and I did have a new book. I forced myself past the urge to sleep and now it is time for more distractions. I wrote this post. The sprinkler needs moving. My husband will be home soon. Keith Olbermann will be on in a few minutes. I have almost survived another day.

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Last December I snapped and ran away from my life. Too many expectations, too much loss and frustration. Too much unresolved anger. I went walkabout. I spent a month in the desert with my old cat and my big tent. It was a very cold winter, even in the desert. I was cold most of the time. I HATE being cold. But it was necessary, and I came home more focused, less angry, with a better idea of who I am.

But this year has not been easy. The expectations continue. The loss has been overwhelming. The realization that my mother might not make it through next winter leaves me anticipating more loss. I continue to feel trapped between the evil ocean and the towering coastal range. I struggle to keep a bit of sunshine in my heart while I walk around with a raincloud over my head. In my ongoing struggle against alcohol I find myself eating far too much. Just call me roly poly.

My garden, supposedly a reliever of stress, is one long struggle against powdery mildew, deadheads, weeds, earwigs, slugs and snails, rust, little green worms, keeping everything watered, those STUPID tigridia that bloom for 8 hours only (that really pisses me off), the broken lawnmower that is impossible for me to start when it is not broken, the dumbass who keeps throwing the weekly advertising paper on my flowers, more fucking deadheads, the wind blowing over the sweet peas…

My mother got the results of her pulmonary function test. She is at one third of normal lung function. The doctor said that on the continuum of moderate to severe emphysema, she is now approaching severe. That essentially means that this coming winter could be a death sentence for her. One cold, one round of bronchitis, a bit of flu…  Any of those can kill her. She is at relative peace with that. Her paperwork is done. Her memorial is planned. Her POLST is posted on the refrigerator. But I get to watch it happen. I am NOT at peace with that. It leaves me worrying about winter in the middle of summer.  I KNOW I’m supposed to live in the present, but the future hangs over me.

All of this has caused me to start planning a new walkabout. No sudden bolt this time. I have decided on a planned escape in October. I am going to go to Arizona to spend a couple of weeks with my in-laws. They are also getting old enough for me to worry about not getting to see enough of them before they depart this existence. So I’m going to spend time with them now, before it is too late. They need some help around the house and yard anyway. It is getting to be too much for them.

Then I’m going to spend a week or so in the desert by myself, while it is still hot and sunny. Long walks and moonlit nights for thinking. I need that to fortify me for a sad task already marked on my calendar. Dia de los Muertos has become a family tradition. This year I will spend it with my son. I will arrive in the San Joaquin Valley soon enough to spruce up his gravesite. I’m sure that the stupid American rules won’t allow me the traditional all-night vigil, but I will spend what allowed hours I can with him, during the three day celebration of the dead. I will probably have to make a brief trip to the Sierras after that, sans people and traffic and death, before heading home to assume my regularly scheduled life.

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Early to bed, early to rise…

Who made up that crap about healthy, wealthy and wise? Once again I have the Monday early morning blues. Monday morning is garbage truck and curbside recycling truck morning. They start driving around my neighborhood about 3:30 or 4:00 am. Not just one, but several. With squeaky brakes and banging trash containers. And breaking glass when they dump the recycling.

I have always been an early to bed, early to rise person. In the summer that’s a good thing, especially when I’ve lived in a hot climate. And if I had been born into a farming family, I’d be the one up starting the woodstove and the coffee. But not being a farmer, and especially in the dark of winter, it is just lonely to be up alone in the dark.

I’ve tried staying up later, but I still wake up early, only tired, and then I end up going to bed even earlier the next night. I don’t like going out in the evening, and I have trouble concentrating on tv shows, movies, or books in the evening, even if I’ve had a nap. I’ve worked hard at training myself to sleep in until 5 or 6 am, and if the cats don’t get restless and start playing on top of me at 4 am, I can manage to stay asleep until 5 or so. That’s a big improvement over the 3:30 am awakening I was stuck in for a couple of years.

I’ve been quite proud of myself lately for being able to sleep until 5. EXCEPT ON GODDAMN MONDAY MORNINGS!

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Many people struggle with various forms and levels of addiction. I am no exception. Even as a child I engaged in binge eating of my favorite foods. One hot dog was not enough. I had to have four. One orange was not enough. I ate the whole bag. I once consumed seven tacos (not those little Taco Bell ones but homemade fat ones). Luckily, I was a hyper kid who ran around climbing trees, so it didn’t make me a fat kid. And my binging wasn’t across the board, just favorite foods. When I became a lonely, disgruntled teenager, it became bags of candy, whipped cream, hot jello (yes, you can drink the stuff). And of course, ice cream.

I began to struggle with a weight problem. Not obesity level. Just the same twenty or so pounds that has pursued me ever since. I’ve often thought that I should have become huge and obese, and I honestly don’t know why I am not. Willpower? Don’t make me laugh. The only willpower I have is at the store when I’m buying food. If it makes it to the house, I eat it. My best guess is a deep and abiding respect for moderation. Perhaps that is what keeps me from going right over the cliff.

But my addictions don’t stop at food. I went several rounds with alcohol early on, with the typical teenage drunkfests and early adult drunken behavior. They embarrassed me deeply, and I could waffle and say that shame and embarrassment kept me from becoming an alcohol abuser back then. But that really isn’t the truth. The real truth is that I found an addiction that suited me more. I discovered marijuana. It became my drug of choice. I did some early experimentation with other drugs, but they were just stupid in my view and I stuck with weed.

I have smoked marijuana for most of my adult life. It is a mixed blessing, some good, some not so good. One of the first things I discovered about it was that it kept away the nightmares that had terrorized me as a child and young adult. When I stop or cut way back, the nightmares come back. It is just that simple. I also tend toward both anxiety and depression, and it has always mitigated those to some degree. I know far too many people who are on a steady diet of Xanax and antidepressants. With my addictive tendencies, the last thing I need is MORE stuff to get hooked on.

But weed is also illegal, and costly, and gives me the munchies. And, as a lifetime smoker, it is damaging my lungs. As a thinking person who obeys most laws and cares about my health, these things bother me. My response is a constant focus on moderation.

Back to the alcohol. A few years ago, after a bad graduate school experience that resulted in me dropping out of the program, I noticed that I was gradually increasing my drinking. Wine was my drink of choice. I love wine. I love good wine. But lurking behind my appreciation for a good glass of wine is that buzz effect, which for me is not about social lubrication, but about quieting the nonstop conversation in my head. So often I have wanted to scream, “SHUT UP! SHUT UP! SHUT UP!” But brain often doesn’t listen, so I would pour a bit more wine to quiet the conversation. Unfortunately, we all know that thing about alcohol. It is too easy to have another if you get to a certain point. Being both an addictive personality and a believer in moderation, I had a system of deciding on a specific amount and keeping track. That actually worked for a while, but under stress the counting went out the window.

Finally I decided that I had become too accustomed to drinking wine in excess, so I decided to switch to beer, which I liked well enough but not with the same appreciation I have for good wine. The games we addictive types play with ourselves. The beer conversion actually worked for several years. I drank moderately and kept track of my consumption. Then in stepped stress again. My consumption climbed. And I also noticed the long term effect of beer, the beer belly. Being a middle aged woman, I know the danger of belly fat for women in particular. Lots of studies out there showing that belly fat in post menopausal women raises risks of heart attack and stroke WAY UP. Oops.

Now, many folks reading this might at this point be wondering why I don’t just go join AA and quit altogether. That is your right to think that. For many people, that is their only salvation. I don’t happen to think it is mine. I refuse to spend the rest of my life fearing alcohol, beating myself to a pulp if I “fall off the wagon,” and beating up everybody else who dares to try the path of moderation. I want moderation back.

Once, many years ago, I felt like I was smoking too much weed, so I got the bright idea to go to a NA meeting for some help. After listening for an hour to people tell horrendous stories about their lives being destroyed by drugs, I slunk out the back door, completely embarrassed by the thought of standing up and saying I wanted to cut back on weed because I thought it wasn’t really good for my lungs.

This last winter, when I became severely depressed and angry at being the caretaker of my live-in ailing, advanced-COPD mother, my drinking increased noticeably. Warning bells went off in my head. I got on the Internet and found a forum about alcoholism. I asked politely if anybody knew about a program other than AA, as I basically disagree with much of their philosophy and was looking for a secular-based organization that was interested in helping people with drinking problems even if they weren’t planning to quit drinking. I was attacked viciously by these people, who yelled that WHEN I ended up in the gutter I would crawl to AA on my hands and knees, begging for their help. Needless to say, I left that place and did my own research.

Because my little sister was trying to help me deal with my anger and depression about my mother, she sent me some DVDs about buddhist mindfulness, by Thich Nhat Hanh. They were helpful enough that I ordered some of his books and also stumbled on an excellent book by buddhist psychologists who deal with addiction. That book is called Mindful Recovery, by Thomas and Beverly Bien.

Unfortunately, I was in a deep depression already, and some expectations from my mother and others about the approaching holidays triggered my panicked departure from home before I had a chance to read and absorb some of the new information I had found. But I was smart enough to take all of my new books with me, and I spent many lonely hours in the desert reading them.

The first couple of weeks I lived in the desert by myself, I spent part of my small stash of living money on beer. I also took the last of the weed I had and smoked it up in those first couple of weeks. When the weed ran out I stopped buying beer. I did promise myself that I could have a couple of beers on Christmas eve with the pizza I also promised myself. I set aside my Christmas eve fund.

The next few weeks, except for Christmas eve, I lived without my addictive substances. I discovered during those weeks that I had no real cravings for weed, as much as I like it, but I did have alcohol cravings. That really is one of the major differences between them. Weed can be psychologically addicting but has no lasting physical addictiveness. If you decide not to smoke it, your body adjusts quite quickly and says, “whatever.” Alcohol has a much stronger pull, both in its psychological pull and its physical effects. I was a bit surprised by the difference, having always preferred weed to alcohol. We really are never too old to learn something.

Luckily, I found some good information in the Mindful Recovery book, about what they called “urge surfing.” It has to do with the limited time that a specific urge will last, and developing the ability to ride the wave until it fades. Very useful stuff.

Since I have been back home, I continue to struggle daily with my alcohol urges, sometimes successfully, sometimes not. Another valuable lesson I learned from that book, that directly contridicts the message of AA, is that slipping is just slipping, and you can always just get back to working on your problem. AA treats “falling off the wagon” as a major catastrophe that is virtually life-destroying. I’m exaggerating a bit, but not much. Since I don’t want to “be on the wagon” anyway, but instead reintroduce moderation and consumption for appreciation instead of numbing, I’m not going to beat myself up every time I break my rules and drink too much. I’m just going to focus on mindful living, dealing positively with the things that make me crazy, and practice urge surfing. I’m going to work on changing what Thich Nhat Hanh calls my “habit energy.” Humans are habitual creatures. Our habits create their own energy. The first step is to recognize that energy (“Hello habit energy!”) and then sow the seeds of more healthful habit energy. To paraphrase Thich Nhat Hanh, I am going to turn my garbage into compost and grow a beautiful organic garden.

I could go on and on about this subject, as it has been a major focus of my life for the last year. But I will stop now and provide an interesting link on the subject.


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Blog instead of journal

As I attempt to sort my baggage, one of the most common suggestions I read is to start a journal. I have tried in the past to journal, but paranoia and self-censorship have always gotten in the way. When I was a disgruntled 14 year old, somebody gave me a diary. I began writing in it like a good little diarist, only to have my little sister find it and make obnoxious comments in it. She was the epitome of brattiness back then, so her actions should have come as no surprise to me, but I was quite traumatized by the experience and never kept a diary again.

Many years later, I confided to my mother some of my feelings about my father, thinking that she understood that they were confidences. But she did not treat them so. Instead she wrote a nasty letter to my father (they had been divorced many years), harassing him about some of the things that I had told her. Well, naturally, that caused an uproar and made even worse the very poor relationship I had with my father. I took away from the experience the belief that it is safer to keep your thoughts to yourself, in your head. No diaries, no journals, no confiding.

But that causes its own problems, not the least of which is that I keep having to add on to the giant mini-storage facility in my head. So, as I started my walkabout, the issue of journaling came up again. I decided to try a new tack, to journal through a public blog, by using stories as a way to talk through my issues. So here it is, for the whole world to see. Perhaps as I follow this path I will get brave enough to dust off some of my deepest, darkest secrets. Who knows. But for now I will tell stories about the objects, obstacles, scenery, and people I encounter on my journey. Serious stories, silly stories, real stories, made up stories.

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