Category Archives: Addiction

Love now; look forward; live with grief

I canceled today’s visit with my shrink because I didn’t want to pay him. He kindly offered to meet with me now and bill me later, but that would have defeated my intent to not spend money at all. I rescheduled our appointment for next month. In the meantime, our new insurance will kick in, and I’ll go and find a psychiatrist who can prescribe my meds at a fraction of the price. He’s a great guy, my psychiatrist—old-school shrink and counselor all rolled into one. Four years ago, the old man put me on the right path. Now, I’ve outgrown him.

I outgrew many things this autumn. Amidst the grief and the sadness, opportunities have presented themselves. It just took me some time to read the signs.

My husband and I take “signs” quite seriously. The week after I met him, I sent him a goodbye email on a Saturday morning, only to run into him later downtown on his way to a free concert. Ten or eleven blissful hours after that, I warned him not to read his email. We’ve been together ever since, thankful that, at that time, he didn’t have an internet connection at his place, and I didn’t go out of town that day like I had planned. What would our lives be like now if he had read that email, if I had left town? I shudder at the thought. These are the signs we reflect upon when life doesn’t work out as planned.

Over the years, more signs came our way, inspiring bold decisions. Big changes in our lives came in clusters. 2011 was a pivotal year. During that year, we moved to a new city, thus solidifying fifty-percent custody of his young children who had moved there with their mother three years prior. I became certified to teach ESL, opening up a new path of career possibilities for me in this new city. And I got my Master’s degree in Nonfiction Writing, something I didn’t necessarily need in my field (most teachers went for the subsidized M.Ed.s), but something that I wanted, and something that allowed me to teach at the college level. It was a big year, marking a complete shift in my lifestyle and my thinking—I became a parent, for real, not just on Wednesdays and every other weekend; I set myself up to leave public school teaching for good (big sigh); and I made peace with the suburbs and a quieter life.

Just as everything changed after 2011, this year looks like it’s gonna be another big one.

In the fall, four things happened: my mother was diagnosed with and quickly died from pancreatic cancer; my husband started a new job; we bought another house; and I was offered a full-time position at my college.

My husband’s last job was going south quickly. He was unhappy, and he took a risk with another company doing work outside of his comfort zone. Because he knew that the first six months of this job, at least, would require tons of travel and training and meetings, he told me he was thankful that I had a light and flexible schedule at the community college where I teach ESL. He would need me to be around more often to help him get the kids to one of their many lessons, practices, games, or activities. I was secretly happy to put off looking for a full-time teaching job to help out at home.

When I taught full-time, I did it because I needed to. I didn’t want to arrive at work at before the sun rose and stay until it went down again. Even when I could get out of there on the earlier side, I paid the price by taking the work with me. While a full-time community college position would not demand as many physical hours of my time as a public high school, I’d been part-time too long to appreciate the difference. Some people, when they’re underemployed, don’t feel busy enough or whole enough, or (I don’t know, I’ve never felt that way)… something… when they’re not immersed in their career. I’m not one of those people.

Then there’s the house. We didn’t buy it to move into it. We bought it to be an investment property. For nine years, I have been stalking real estate as a hobby, watching prices rise, noting flips and changing values. I tried to get my husband on board with the real estate thing after we moved, when the prices in our expensive suburb were comparatively low, but he thought real estate was a fool’s game. Suddenly, over the summer, he became obsessed with real estate investment (Note on his personality: He has two extremes—all in or all out and nothing in between.). I won’t go into detail on how that happened, I’ll just say that now, he relies on my time and my interest to legitimately pursue this risky venture.

These days, when I’m not teaching or cleaning, working out or cooking, or writing, I’m learning about licenses and inspections, tweaking leases, new software for landlords, value-estimating spreadsheet calculations, gleaning private money. And I like it. My work with this house, with establishing new social networks of real estate investors, and with researching the business has felt like earning another degree, except this one is hands-on, complete with the debt and the with the potential for financial growth that come with conventional degrees.

Finally, that opportunity I had thought I always wanted came my way—a full-time teaching position at my college. Full-time positions at the college-level, even non-tenure-track positions like this one, are rare these days. And even more rare is one invited into the position. I’ve spent four years at this college demonstrating my worth. My students respect me. My colleagues respect me, and for at least the past two of those four years, they have encouraged me to try for full-time. That is why I got the TESOL degree—it was the one last step to a full-time position in this field. I was finally getting what I had said I wanted for six years. Except I didn’t want it anymore.

For twelve years, I worked long hours and lived for a paycheck. Then I moved here, and I began to explore life outside of constant work. The new path that I have chosen by reading the signs this fall is a riskier one. I’ll be doing all kinds of work from now on—teaching, raising the kids, writing, researching investments. I won’t have a single career to point to when people ask me “what I do,” which I think is a stupid question to begin with. So much more defines us than our careers—the opportunity, for instance, to watch our oldest disappear through neighbors’ yards on his way to the bus stop as the sun rises; or to drop our youngest off at school in the morning because his cello is bigger than he is, and he can’t manage it on the bus. That’s what I signed up for years ago when we moved away from my urban life as I knew it, to this quieter, slower suburban life. No more excitement, no more regular happy hours and foody hotspots with tattooed waitstaff and disturbing art on the walls. And no more road rage, no more anger and prejudice, no more living only for the weekend, and resenting the kids for ruining it. These days, I look forward to our weekends with the kids as much as I look forward to those weekends without them. I just look forward to being here, period.

When I received that full-time job offer and realized that I had the opportunity to turn it down, to pursue anything that made me tick, I felt very, very fortunate. Since then, I’ve gone to bed sober every night and awakened every morning without a headache, feeling optimistic instead of rundown. Because I can be happy.

Yes, I still burst into tears at random when I, say, look at the Christmas gift list that I had started for my mother, or even when people ask me about her. I still can’t keep it together if I really think about her. But grief can’t define life, just affect it. And while it affects my life every day, I believe I can live with that. I wouldn’t want to forget mom, and I wouldn’t want to stop feeling that sense of loss. It’s a tattoo. And while my father would think I was crazy for turning down a full-time job, security, benefits, to be a part-time housewife, part-time teacher, part-time writer, and part-time investor, my mom would toast me with one of her special alcoholic drinks that she only drank on cruises or on New Year’s Eve, a “Dark and Stormy” or something else that’s more sugar than booze. She never had to articulate it. She was always in my corner.

According to Facebook, Life is Bliss

My husband bought me a load of cooking gadgets for my birthday. Basically, he bought me every cooking gadget that I have asked for over the past two years, which is odd. Ordinarily, we don’t do gifts on birthdays, except for small stuff. We usually treat ourselves to a weekend away or sometimes to nothing at all. We’re not big on ceremony. This birthday was quite different, but it wasn’t a milestone. I guess I’m still drawing a pity card.

For my birthday, I got a programmable pressure cooker/crockpot/steamer device. I got a convertible indoor grill/griddle/Panini maker. And I got a raclette, which is just SO seventies. Only problem is I’ll have to socialize with people in order to use it. I’m putting that baby on the shelf in the basement where I put all my party stuff that I stopped using—my fancy stainless steel chafer and my big glass water dispenser. God, I’m sad.

I’ve always been kind of sad. Self-deprecation can be amusing, and psychoanalyzing myself can be fun. But these days, I’m not even the funny-hah-hah kind of sad. I’m the too-fat-to-fit-into-any-of-my-clothes kind of sad. I’m the “thus, I wear my mother’s clothes, which are not my style and consequently creep out my husband because, really, who wants to look at his wife and be reminded of his mother-in-law?” kind of sad. To further this unsexy scenario, I cut off all my hair off last month, and it looked good for a couple of weeks. Now, it looks like a lackluster wing hovering awkwardly over my puffy face.   Yup, I’ve got it going ON!

I believe I might be having my midlife crisis now.   I’ll bet ya that’s what it is—the drinking, the death, the complete lack of interest in social activity, the looking like my mother, the drinking. Yesterday, I accidently friended about twenty random people on Facebook because I thought the “People You May Know” scroll was the “Friend Request” scroll. I felt really popular for those several minutes until I didn’t. In order to see what some of my new friends would see upon accessing my profile (new friends like friends of my mother’s and people from high school whom I may or may not have EVER spoken to) I took a journey through my uploaded pics. Wow. Facebook is the Land of Delusion for people who are too health-conscious to develop an opioid addiction. Let me explain…

In EVERY picture that I have uploaded since 2008, I am either smiling, or traveling, or socializing, or looking hot, or all of the above! According to my Facebook uploads, my life is an endless party. I spend all my time globetrotting and being adored by my husband and stepchildren. I look sexy in all those pics because why would I ever share a picture of a bad day? Even now, I can still eek out a pic of two in which I look good. I have a keen sense of style when I want to, and I can hide the mid-life-crisis fat pretty well.   My life, in pictures uploaded to Facebook, is an absolute dream.

I’m not saying my life isn’t a dream. I have no complaints at all with the existence and lifestyles of others around me. Nobody bugs me. Nobody will. I just have to face this whole “being my own worst enemy” thing that’s going on here. If this is a mid-life crisis, then it can surely end. Soon, perhaps, I’ll have enough energy to get on that slow train to the fifties and beyond, where everybody’s happy because they’re still alive.

The New Forties Means our Parents are the New Sixties… at Least.

I interrupt my grief mantra to resume this blog’s original flavor—the 40s are the new 40s. This blog is about the forties, for better or for worse. Last week introduced my 46th birthday. I am finally the age that I have been calling myself for the last year. For some reason, I never even acknowledged forty-five, that middle of middle-age that you’d think I’d want to cling to for as long I possibly could. Instead, I immediately thought ahead, to the years beyond forty-five. I don’t know why, but I have a hunch—I spent my forty-fifth year preparing for THIS.

What is THIS? This is the forties, the real forties. I woke up on my forty-sixth birthday in the same clothes I’d worn the previous day, and the same jewelry, some of which was my mom’s. Like many black-out nights before that one, I hadn’t brushed my teeth because I hadn’t been in control of when I went to bed. On my forty-sixth birthday morning, I completely missed the kids before they caught the bus for school, and my husband both spoiled me with every cooking gadget I’d ever asked for while also reminding me of how much I am slipping.

“Happy birthday,” he said, and he hugged me. Then he said, “Maybe not today, or this weekend, but maybe we can talk about your drinking.” Happy birthday to me—I am a concern to my family.

I guess I am a concern to myself as well. My experiences and memories are sort of pixilated. Sober days are high-definition days. If I take off a ring to put on some hand lotion, I remember to put the ring back on. On a low-tech day, that ring is anybody’s fortune. I never wore rings until my mother died, so if I lose a ring on a low-definition kind of day, that ring is just gone, as is another piece of my mother’s history.

But I didn’t start this blog to talk about my mother exclusively.   However, I have a lot of friends my age who know this kind of grief. It is, in many ways, a product of the forties. I am certain that my focus on the themes of the “new forties” will eventually stray from loss and grief and return to all the other experiences that make this decade so meaningful. For now, I am a skipping record. And if you know what that is, then you know why the forties are NOT the new thirties!

It’s hard to honor a loved one’s wishes when they were gleaned through a medium

I left my students with a sub, once again, in order to attend my uncle’s memorial service last week. My uncle was my mother’s high school classmate, my father’s younger brother. My unreliable memory tells me that she had dated him before she met my father. Small towns in the fifties, you know? I guess I’ll never get the whole story now because there’s no longer any first party to ask. Within a month of each other, two more members of the class of ’59 vanished, leaving the living plagued with distorted memories and random mementos. I say “plagued” because I have very little control over what will trigger my emotions–maybe a sock, maybe a billboard. I cry when I cry, and that could be in the car or before class or when an old friend of my uncle’s or my mother’s cries in front of me.   No matter where I am or who I am with, I am reminded that I no longer have my mother or my uncle. I can’t even begin to imagine how my dad feels about this.  Yesterday was their 57th anniversary.  Today is my uncle’s birthday.

While Mom was dying, I cried over all of her stuff, like pairs of shoes she’d kicked off in the landing a couple of weeks earlier when she could walk. I cried over those shoes because it was just dawning on me at that time that she would never put those shoes on her feet again. I cried over shoes, bathrobes hanging on the bathroom door, half-empty tubes of cleanser, and Walmart receipts.

The week after she died, I hardly cried at all. I had my husband to keep me company and my family all around, and I was busy writing obits and making preparations for her viewing. I felt some kind of temporary high of relief that lasted until I walked through my own front door, after.  When there was no one to nurse, no memorial preparations to make, no family to joke around with, all I had was this feeling of “after.”

I’m in the “after” now. I guess it’s where I’ll always be. There was life when Mom was here, and now there is life after she’s gone—two distinct lives. I’m not really enjoying life “after,” if I may be frank. Something big is missing. I feel it everywhere—that absence. I know Mom anticipated this absence and wanted me to fill it up, and I’m certain she didn’t want me to fill it up with Jim Beam or become the crazy dog lady who has one-sided conversations with her dogs all day (too late). She was too vain for that. She was proud of me and my brothers because we gave her something to feel pride in. None of us are slackers, despite my self-deprecation.

At my fingertips, I hold all the anticipated clichés in response to her last wishes—things I must do to honor her daily, things that ultimately end up honoring me by cleaning up my own bad habits. Honestly, I don’t know what she’d want. When Mom was here, she’d want to take a trip or go shopping for solar-powered lawn decorations or drink some salted-caramel and vanilla something-or-other from Starbucks. She’d want to tell me all the latest news about the family that she’d gleaned from Facebook posts. She’d want recognition and a travel/shopping/gossip buddy. Now, after she’s gone, and all I can do is be sad. I don’t know how to live for her, or me. I’m just lost.

 

 

Death on a Budget

Despite my well-intended delusions of gallantry, staying awake for two nights in a row just made me a useless, hot mess. And taking a nip or two from the bottle of bourbon in the kitchen during these sleepless marathons made me even more useless. So tonight I eschewed the alcohol, bought a pack of cigarettes, and let Dad propose taking half-night shifts. For four hours, I slept well, even with strange dreams of hiding myself and a bunch of children in secret compartments under furniture in order to escape some kind of unearthly menace in female form with an army of fugitive-sniffing cats. That’s a new one. I should be keeping a dream log as well as a death log.

When I left the warm bed to take my 2:00 a.m. shift, I found Dad sleeping on the couch. Just dozing, he said. Just dozing under a comfy quilt. Let’s face it, we’re not RNs or home health aides. We’re tired family members who crave our beds, with or without apocalyptic nightmares.

Mom asked my sister-in-law what happened to the local hospice facility where my grandmother had died twenty years ago. I think she had envisioned herself staying there when the time came and not in the middle of her living room being cared for, largely, by tired family members. Apparently, our local hospice facility had been shut down because it wasn’t “feasible,” its staff of PAs, RNs, and aides turned into traveling pill peddlers instead.   It’s a sinisterly brilliant way to cut corners. The professional caregivers get to keep their jobs, and the operating costs disappear. Now we have a solution that’s “feasible” because the dying can still receive their care twenty-four-seven, but in the comfort of their own homes. Oh joy.

Here’s where the plan gets more brilliant: our loved-ones definitely can receive care twenty-four-seven. Whenever we make the phone call to the emergency number on the whiteboard magnetted to our refrigerators, our questions and concerns are relayed to a nurse on call, who will call us back and answer our questions. Sometimes, if we sound sad enough, she’ll even offer to come out to the house for an hour or two—even more if we want. If we don’t call, however, we get a daily visit from a nurse (on weekdays), and a daily visit from an aide who will do the yucky stuff like bathe and change catheter bags. In a rural area like this one, where people spend their wholes lives NOT asking questions, removing the whole hospice facility from the equation is most certainly a feasible plan.

I decided that I prefer the 2:00 a.m. to whenever-Dad-wakes-up-again shift because it’s a perfect time to call that hotline and ask questions without Dad knowing I’m calling the hotline and asking questions. The very first hospice nurse I met this week stayed at our house for six hours so Dad and I could go out to dinner for his birthday. We were only gone for three, but she stuck around long after and helped Mom and counseled me. Dad, being Dad, just wanted her to leave. Me, being me, wanted the help and guidance. Why not? If a hospice is going to close down its facility and leave all the dirty work to us, we should accept as much of that help as it will provide.  We should not accept the death-on-a-budget excuse.

The nurses know this. The whiteboard on the fridge says “for emergencies call,” leaving it up the caller to determine the scope of an emergency. Luckily, I was counseled by a hospice nurse before I had even seen this semantic deterrent. Call any time, she said. No question is a stupid question, she said. That’s what we’re here for, she said. So I do, and I will, just not when Dad knows I’m doing it.

It isn’t that Dad doesn’t care. He cares a whole lot. His love is infinite. This morning, the RN assigned to our case watched him interact with her and said, “They clearly love each other. It’s adorable.” It was adorable, five weeks ago, now it’s very heartbreaking. The man needs two shoulder operations. He has a bad back. He carries around his own, permanent, catheter bag. And he just lost his brother. This is too much for him. He isn’t healthy enough, physically, mentally, or emotionally to be caring for a wife of fifty-five years round-the-clock. He needs a place where he can go that’s away from his grief, like his home. Oh wait, his home is now a makeshift hospice.

If I can do anything around here besides be in the way, and I often feel like I’m in the way, I can call in the professionals to help Mom instead of leaving Dad to do all the guesswork. I’m confused, and I’m younger, healthier, and more alert. I can’t imagine how he manages to do anything, let alone almost everything. I’m gonna keep calling that number because it helps and because I refuse the let “feasibility” and bottom-line win here.

The Next-Day Regretsies

This afternoon, I was horrified to “discover” an unedited, terrible blog post that drifted into incoherence by the fourth paragraph—my very own post. I remember writing it, and I remember checking the Word .doc this morning and taking notes on it—“add transition” here and “delete this entire paragraph?” there. I DON’T, however, remember posting it. I have a void where a memory should be. Comes with the territory.

So I deleted it, just like my addled brain deleted those moments when I opened up WordPress and put some poorly-written piece of garbage out for the whole world to read (I wish). If you are one of the four people who read it and “liked” it, I thank you, and I apologize. Figures that the one post I was forced to delete got the most traffic in one day of anything I’ve posted thus far. I’m not the most effective blogger, but I sure like doing it! When I’m conscious enough to edit, that is.

I’m actually seeing an addiction therapist, and we’re making a little progress together. Today we talked about my friends. Who is a good influence, who is bad. I really don’t have any friends whom I would consider a bad influence anymore. They all kind of drifted out of my life with my ex-husband. He was the ultimate bad influence. He was cheap, narcissistic, alcoholic (my doing, he claimed), and selfish. And he brought out all those qualities in me. With him gone, all the lousy people that he attracted like flypaper are gone, too. My only remaining friends from that union went straight-edge and vegan, and their former debauched selves are unrecognizable. When we crazies put our minds to something, we really go all in, eh?

I’m still waiting for that “aha” moment when I finally go all in on sobriety. It won’t be today. I can hear the grocery store calling already. My favorite checker is waiting there to crack a joke about my odd assortment of items that inevitably contains alcohol. I’m fond of waltzing in there around 11:00 and buying things like beer and oatmeal (“Breakfast of champions!” she said), or red wine and beef jerky.

This post is also unedited, but far more coherent than last night’s. After I hit “publish” this time, the laptop is going off for the evening. There’s a way around every problem.

 

 

Embracing Rock-Bottom

Although the forties are the new forties in many more ways than one, sometimes we get snagged on one feature that plagues us throughout the decade, like alcoholism has me now. And while these snags are not just a forties thing, I suspect they’re a distinct characteristic of the forties in the Western world. The Washington Post recently published an article titled, “Under 50? You still haven’t hit rock-bottom, happiness-wise,” in its “Wonkblog” section (soooo millennial… the blog AND the title). The writer contends that our general sense of happiness reaches its nadir in our forties, supporting the claim with evidence from a survey designed to determine the life-satisfaction of over a million subjects. In one more line, I can summarize his point: people in their forties are the most unhappy people in the Western world.

A line graph attached to the article makes it easier to digest this generalization—our lives seem to follow a U pattern—first, life’s one big party—all the wavy lines are at the top of the graph; then we hit rock-bottom; finally, we turn fifty, and all the wavy lines rise again to the top of the graph, like a middle-aged phoenix soaring from its ashes—life becomes one big party again. How nifty.

Ordinarily, I would ignore or vehemently argue against such conjectures, i.e., the whole point of this blog; however, we experience some pretty heavy stuff during our forties, enough for us to question our own life satisfaction and possibly admit doubts on a survey designed to assess our “happiness levels.” Here’s what I know: the forties are humbling. It’s the decade when we finally start to see life for what it really is—a finite series of choices that we make, choices with results that could affect us for the remainder of our lives. I was unhappy with my job in my thirties, but I was too busy being a born-again single lady to notice. I ignored the really big choice—staying at my job—for the simple choices like where to go for Sunday brunch. I dreaded going to work five days a week, but I lived it up on the weekends, and I thought that was happiness. That’s not being happy. That’s just being delusional. If a representative from the “General Social Survey” had asked me about my happiness levels when I was, say, 33, I might have responded, “Yeah, all good here,” even though I didn’t know what the fuck I was talking about.

The other side of this spectrum takes a different, yet no less delusional, approach to its life satisfaction. Have you ever asked an elderly person how it’s going? How often do we hear something like of “Oh, can’t complain!” That’s right. Once you’ve already faced your life’s choices, once you’ve recognized your own mortality, and your friends and family start dying off, you might feel fortunate to still be breathing. At that age, it’s probably easier to frame the definition of happiness in an “I’m still standing, so what?” kind of attitude. Life isn’t one big party on the young or old sides of the line graph, life is just one big fantasy to get us through our days.

Our forties tend to be the years when we face those life snags, when we start ruminating over questions like, “How much longer do I have with my parents?” or “Is this really the only career I’m ever going to have?” or “Did I really sign up to spend the rest of my days with this asshole?” The term “mid-life crisis” had to come from somewhere. I’ve ruminated over those questions, except for maybe the last one because I chose wisely the second time around the marriage-go-round. These thoughts become big, existential dilemmas in our forties. Rather than considering the forties our time of greatest unhappiness, I would rather consider it our time of greatest introspection.

It takes a lot of strength to confront reality. I think that if you can come to grips with your choices, attempt to solve your problems without ignoring them, and find peace with whatever you can’t change (like crepe-neck or aging parents), then you have a right to label yourself “satisfied” or “happy” or whatever it is that the young and old are saying on this survey. To paraphrase Dickens, it’s quite possible that our forties could be the worst of times and also the best of times.

The $1300 Pee Test

I lived abroad for one year once, and during that time I learned to appreciate the perks of having been born and raised in the U.S. Engaging in a healthy discussion about opposing viewpoints, for instance, didn’t really happen in my host country. Opportunities for women’s advancement, as well, were certainly lacking in my host country as compared to the U.S.

Then there’s that “purple mountains’ majesty”—it exists.   I used to live on one of those old, East Coast mountains, along those ranges that change color with the seasons and even the time of day. Sometimes they do look purple, in certain shadow. In the U.S., one can drive a car for twenty-four hours, from those old ranges in the east to the newer ones out west, and still be in the U.S., and not even near a coastline.  That’s kind of awesome.

But I’m already running out material…

What else? Well, lines certainly aren’t long, not by third-world standards, anyway. You can wait in some semblance of a line in the U.S. and eventually get to the end of it and receive some kind of answer to your question (unless it’s the Department of Motor Vehicles). The answer isn’t always satisfactory, but you get one.

And that’s how far I got in my “perks of living the U.S. inventory” before settling for not-so-third-worldish line organization. There’s something wrong with this picture. Obviously, there is, or I wouldn’t be struggling to come up with five perks of living here, the fifth one being kind of a non-perk because one can compare any social or cultural institution to the worst the world has to offer, but that doesn’t make said institution an efficient one or even a good one.

It must be my mood today that got me thinking about how many things actually suck about living in the U.S. I’ve been attending the odd assortment of AA and SMART recovery meetings, the latter being a free hour or so of cognitive behavioral therapy, which definitely appeals to my pragmatic side. I’m following through with what I said I would do and getting help. Isn’t that what my closest friends and family have suggested I do for twenty years or more? To get help?

Yesterday, I got a bill in the mail for the remaining costs of that sham of a treatment center I visited for one evaluation. I was in the place for three hours—I took a breathalyzer and a pee test, then I talked to a zombie doctor for another hour or so, and then I received a summons to arrive at 9:00 sharp the next morning for five weeks of treatment. After paying an initial $160 upfront, the remaining costs of that afternoon, after my insurance kicked in a healthy sum, was $605. That pee test alone cost $1300.

This treatment center represents my view of how the U.S. works. There’s a lot of wealth floating around, and our business and institutions thrive on it—charging insurance companies $1300 for pee tests and whatnot.   The desire to “get help” in the U.S. is as profitable for some as the desire to buy the latest electronics—it’s big business. But desiring mental well-being for your own health and the sake of others around you really shouldn’t be a desire like buying the latest Samsung. It’s a need, not a desire. In the U.S., however, where everything’s for sale, there is very little difference between our basic needs and our base desires. Nothing is free, except for maybe groups like AA, and unsolicited advice from acquaintances.

In the U.S., if you’re not born into a family or a community that can provide you with opportunities, or if you’re not savvy, you will sink. Many of us do. And many of us drown. Getting that bill for the remaining costs of a $1300 pee test yesterday clearly drove that point home. Knowing that I potentially got screwed by this treatment center is enough to make me want to buy a box wine and check out for the remainder of my weekend. Perhaps last week I would have done that.

But this week, not so much. Perhaps it’s the week of sobriety whispering in my ear, “There’s so much more than anger.”  I’m going to do a few searches and make a few phone calls. Perhaps the $1300 pee test is an error.  Meantime, I still have my five perks, like the purple mountains’ majesty.  It’s a lovely morning.

 

Drunks and Reprobates… bring ’em on?

I have many skills and abilities. Some are useful and some not so much. I’m a good cook, for instance. There’s a useful ability. I can also give a decent blowjob, also a useful skill, especially after several years of marriage. I can edit the hell out of anything in print, sometimes useful (sometimes just an annoying voice in my head because most people don’t concern themselves with using correct object pronouns and active voice and such). I can plan and deliver a pretty good lesson, especially if it involves grammar!

Among my less than useful skills are my keen knowledge of nearly obsolete Office programs; my ability to see a vehicle from a distance and know the exact make, model, and ballpark year of assembly; and my keen introspection, which does nothing for me at the moment but bring on waves and waves of guilt.

Here’s what I know about myself today (because, like the subtitle of an old blog of mine once read, I’ve been psychoanalyzing myself since the seventies):

My alcoholism has indeed progressed to a new stage. My cousin’s method of “following skinny bitches on Instagram,” i.e., using women who look hot for inspiration to lose those extra pounds, ain’t working anymore. I don’t even fit into the fat clothes I bought at a thrift store last month to tide me over until I lost my extra weight. That was during a blissful week of sobriety, when I had almost reached that “how could I have done this to myself for so long?” stage. Almost. Then came the concert, always my undoing.

Anyway, my introspection makes me aware of this problem. My alcoholism doesn’t care. And my intelligence can’t ignore my alcoholism. We’re a strange trinity.

Today I thought about some of the infamous drunks I’ve known in my lifetime. There was the friend who, after a night of drinking with me and my ex, ate a whole pizza in our half bathroom. We woke up to no leftovers and crumbs all over the bathroom floor and thought, “What the fuck?” I display that kind of behavior now—the double-binge—when I drink too much and feel like I need to put something else in my stomach and that something else becomes everything I can get my hands on. That’s new.

I also thought about the two friends my ex and I drove five hours to visit one weekend. Infamous drinkers, they were. I had been drinking with one of them since I was twenty-two (a year of firsts in debauchery and experimentation, by the way). We knocked at their door, and knocked and knocked. Finally, one of them answered the door in his underwear, bleary and vaguely coherent. They’d been drinking all day, knowing that we were coming to visit. That truth didn’t stop them. Because, eventually, nothing does.

Am I there yet? God, I really judged all those reprobates that my ex-husband loved so much. Now, I’m secretly one of them. Secretly. I can still call some shots and avoid mimicking the behaviors of people I have respected least in my lifetime.

Instead of reading this, you should probably be following the news…

Kool Aid Man… but the news is terrifying, so let’s talk about the state of mental health treatment in the United States instead:

I gave it a shot. I dutifully called up a recommended treatment center, I filled out a stack of papers and answered hundreds of questions about my personal habits. I gave them everything except my social security number, which they asked for, but which I declined to give. And what did I get in return? A bad, bad feeling in my gut.

That’s how it began anyway, with a bad feeling in my gut. Since this brief encounter with a profit-motivated addiction treatment facility, my feelings have evolved.

Have you ever felt that mixture of sadness, foolishness, and indignation after you’ve realized that someone is just trying to sell you the Kool Aid?

(It stings much worse when the peddler is a friend—For instance, I have a very good friend who started getting weird about a year ago, seemed to be trying too hard to make me happy. I attended one of her life coaching sessions, mainly to show my support for her newfound bliss, and I thought it was quite useful. Fast forward about six months, and I’m on the phone with her, trying to explain my need for peace, and she offers me a special private life coaching series, taught by hers truly, for the low price of $3000. Enter bad, bad feeling in the my gut—but I digress…)

 

I think the majority of mental health professionals in the U.S. mean well, but they’re just little people in a much bigger, much more powerful system. I think this judgey humorless robot doctor who now possesses a lengthy checklist that vaguely represents a lifetime of my impulsive behavior and alcohol and even sometimes drug use probably means well, but to put this whole stream-of-consciousness post into simpler terms, “She don’t know me.”

After getting steamrolled through her reductive questionnaire, which now, unfortunately, will become a part of my permanent record—there to fuck me if I want to buy life insurance or join the police force or what-have-you in the future—I waited in a very calming room on a very cushy couch while she scuttled off down the hall to consult with some other “professionals” with administrative-type titles about a recommended treatment plan for me. I never actually saw these people who attempted to decide my fate, and now I wonder if they existed at all. Perhaps, my charmless robot doctor just took a trip to the loo and read a magazine for a half an hour while I wondered about gravity of my “condition.”

When she recommended a treatment plan, a very expensive and time-consuming plan that would require me to spend every day of the next five weeks attending group therapy and doing yoga at the center—this is after I explicitly told her that if she recommended such a plan, I would not do it, that if she couldn’t offer a less-intrusive outpatient program, then we were just wasting our time (and my money)—I told her I needed time to think about it and discuss it with my husband.

Dr. Robot then handed me another stack of papers and told me I could discuss my decision with some other professional (whom I had never met and whose phone number I never received) when I came back next morning for “processing.” Man, this bitch was itching for my signature.

As you probably already figured out, I didn’t sign and I never went back. Like the time I slipped out of that weird job interview in the nondescript office building, but unlike the time I bought the timeshare, I didn’t drink the Kool Aid.

Sadly, I think that if this doctor had been more charming (or possessed any people skills at all), I might be sitting in a costly treatment center right now, costing my family so much more money than just insurance deductibles for child care and animal boarding, losing a potential new job, and losing and the job I already have because I’d be scheduled to do yoga at same time I was scheduled to teach. Since my stepkids’ mom is in charge of the neighborhood social committee, everyone I know would also know I was in rehab. NOPE, nope, nope. I’ll explore other options.

Even AA is starting to look good to me right now. Those people might be trying to sell me an ideology that I don’t entirely agree with, but they’re not asking for my money. I’d rather join a cult for free than join a group therapy treatment that costs thousands of dollars.

Ah, the things in this country that should be a part of our basic rights as human beings—basic health care, mental health care, addiction treatment—are all treats for the wealthy… But I digress again, and if you’d read this far, I’ve already taken too much of your precious time.  Thank you, and Namaste.