Tag Archives: alcohol

Long Ago: Community Entry #18

May we open ourselves to the gift of self-expression with empathy and courage.

As you may know, I am spending a few months in the dormancy of winter, working on a book. And, like last year at this time, I am offering my blog to you. Last year we looked into our Breaking Points and found community and grace in grief and vulnerability. This year we are looking into our past, and finding the weaving of community that stitches us to our present. I will be posting these pieces at These Here Hills. Their authors will be happy to receive and respond to your comments.  Here is the blog post I wrote about this subject.

Contest submissions closed. Winner will receive a scholarship to one of my upcoming Haven writing retreats in Montana, announced mid-February…

Now I am further stepping into the wilderness of Montana and the wilderness of writing. If you’d like to create haven for your creativity…come to a Haven Writing Retreat here in Montana. June, August, and September retreats are now booking and filling fast.  Email me for more info:  Laura@lauramunsonauthor.com

Gifts are everwhere when our heart calls for them.  We just need to have the courage to see them when they come. Thank you, Tara, for giving us permission to receive them.  yrs. Laura

Gros Bon Angeby Tara C. Trapani

I remember the man in gold—the large figure almost bursting with a flamboyant abundance of lamé.  He was a constant in all the times I’d been there–like the river; the quiet garden behind the Cathedral; the ancient bar on the corner, pregnant with ghostly conspiratorial whispers that had been there practically since the beginning of time. Like all of these, he remained my personal fixture in the unchangeable landscape of the city as I knew it—as I wanted it to be.

I was young, or it feels that way now—at the time the weight of the world made me feel old as the river itself. I had come to the city once again with the man for whom I deeply cared. We had been “together” in some strange, unconventional way for several years and had traveled here to New Orleans multiple times. He loved the food, the 4 a.m. revelry, the festivity. I was overwhelmingly drawn to the heady blend of an all-too-present past and the infusion of spirit that flowed through all—the haunting echo of African tribal traditions blended with old world grace, new world spirit, and a sheer veil of social and racial tension. This potent mix gave the city an energy I could not resist.

But this particular time, neither of us had any desire to be there. He had just weeks before experienced the anguishing death of his brother (“suicide by cop,” the papers called it), and his grief permeated every breath, every cell. It defined him now. I offered what support and comfort I could, but in the end, that kind of grief is a labyrinth we each must navigate and emerge from alone—or not (I was to come to understand this with terrible clarity several years later). But his family insisted, pushed hard, convinced him that we must still make the journey. Plans had been made, tickets paid for. So we headed off on the vacation that felt like the last long mile.

A drinker by nature, his grief had catapulted this tendency to new heights of self-medicated inebriation. It soothed him in the airport, on the flight down, and upon arrival he made a beeline for the corner store, leaving me standing in front of the hotel, mouth open, bags in hand. By the time I emerged from the bathroom refreshed, the bottle of no-name vodka lay empty on the nightstand. We headed out to see our beloved city—three steps out the door, he was face down on the pavement.

The trip progressed pretty much along these lines—he drank to anesthetize himself; I drank to deal with his drinking. He migrated from bar to bar, telling any stranger who would listen the story of how his baby brother was gunned down by the LAPD in the early morning hours of Martin Luther King Jr. day, with his family looking on. I was disgusted—I thought it shameful, using this tragedy like some sort of cheap party trick, designed to attract attention (I’ve since realized that as an extremely social creature, perhaps this was his own way of processing the grief, in a manner that my inexperienced, introverted self just couldn’t fathom. I’m so sorry now for my lack of understanding).

By the third evening everything between us had eroded like loose soil along the riverbank–irretrievably lost in the murky water. He screamed at me through a drunken haze, hurling insults and cosmic ire that I was too fragile back then to weather. My marriage to my very best friend had dissolved in part because of my feelings of profound connection to the intoxicated man before me (and in part because we were too ridiculously young to survive the tides that life would send our way). If this was now over as well, then it had all been for nothing—then I had nothing left.

Fractured, I staggered out into the night alone, wandering the streets, but no measure of pavement pounding could erase the pain. I headed for the waterfront—undoubtedly dangerous, both at that point in history and at that time of day, somewhere after midnight and before the return of the sun. I didn’t care. My stupid, young self actually hoped that something bad would happen—some physical harm that might distract me from the unbearable emotional hurt. Or perhaps I might just become one with the river and let myself be carried away by the current (the pollution would probably kill me if nothing else did the trick). I had such romantic, Russian-esque notions of life and death back then. I thought about my little girl at home, three years old at the time. She’d be better off. She had my mother, her father. She loved them more, anyway; she’d never wanted me. I was an unnecessary third wheel in any gathering.

I stumbled along Jackson Square, devoid of hope, trying hard to catch my breath and still the sobs, rubbing the mascara from my wet, red and blue eyes. From the heavy air came a voice—I turned to my right to see the mystical man in gold I had watched from afar so many times as he told fortunes along the cobbled paths surrounding the green. “Are you alright?” he reached out his hand. I stared back, dumbfounded—I’d honestly forgotten the rest of the world existed. “Would you like a reading…free of charge?” His expression pleaded with me to sit and stay. The depth of compassion in his large eyes took me by surprise—such genuine concern for some silly girl he’d never even met. I could find no voice. I may have attempted to whisper my apologetic refusal, or I might have just wordlessly waved away the offer as graciously as I could muster. Either way I continued my lemming-like journey toward the massive Mississippi.

But something had shifted—a silent crack in the stone. I couldn’t wipe his face from my memory, his kind eyes. He had—with just those few words—brought me back to the land of the living. Whether I wanted to or not, I noticed the people all around me once again—a twenty-something couple hand in hand, laughing lightheartedly; brightly plumed young women draped across wrought iron chairs, dusted with soft white sugar; the familiar old man on the corner, bent and twisted, tufts of white hair stark against the folds of his deep brown skin, humming contentedly for himself alone.

I stopped just before the water, picked up a pay phone (my only option in those innocently primitive, pre-cellular days), reached out to the one person I knew would always be there on the other end, and asked for help. In that moment I chose—I chose messy, difficult, complicated, unromantic, beautiful life.

It’s fourteen years later, now, and I’ve returned to the city with my daughter, almost grown. She’s asked to come here so many times. I’ve resisted, until now. I’m happily married. It’s been a long, hard road to get here, and I embrace the cliché like a badge of courage.

I was never able to help my troubled lover. I tried so hard for so long—too long. He passed away several years ago, alone. I choose to remember the joyful moments and hold him close in my heart. I think he knows.

Every day we are here, I eagerly look for my long-ago savior. We wander by the square each morning, midday, and again by night. I really wanted him to be there; I needed him to be there, somehow–a selfish need. He never materialized, and still I wonder about him.  Did he set aside the Tarot, the palm, and his polished crystal ball to pursue some other pastime? A realtor? An electrician? A writer, perhaps? After years in the heart of the Quarter, he must have had an abundance of stories to share. Did Katrina carry him off to some other, unlikely town? It’s hard to imagine him anywhere but there by the square—such an intimate, integral part of the city he was to me—a limb, an organ, to remove it seems an aberration. Has he crossed over? I wonder about this one a lot. So many who have meant so much to me are gone now. Has he joined my friends and lovers on the other side? If so, I hope they were waiting there to joyfully welcome him. What has become of the man in gold? I don’t imagine I’ll ever know.

As I sit here alone on the balcony I can see clearly down St. Ann Street to the spot where he sat that night—every night that I ever saw him. The flicker of fortune tellers’ votives dot the dark, but none of them are his. So I light the lemon yellow candle bought around the corner, and will waves of gratitude to the man in gold, wherever he may be.

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Blog series-- Long Ago: Community, My Posts

Breaking Point: #18

I have been busy writing my novel during this Breaking Point series and so I’ve handed over this platform to you brave souls.  Though I haven’t been responding to your comments, I’ve read every one and I love how people are reaching out to each other with such love and support.  It’s such a testiment to the power of sharing our pain.  You are all amazing human beings.  Hamlet talks about The thousand natural
shocks that flesh is heir to… 
Natural shocks.  Pain is natural.  Normal.  When we resist it, we make it worse.  A deep breath for us all, from this Montana morning.  Thank you to Joy and Karly for today’s brave Breaking Point stories.  yrs. Laura

Here’s an affirmation for you from a GREAT book by David Richo called:  “The Five Things We Cannot Change”:

As I say yes to the fact of suffering, may I accept the dark side of life and find a way through it, and may I then become an escort of compassion to those who also suffer.

Submitted by: Joy Weber

I was 22 years old and lonely as hell. I had moved from Minnesota to upstate New York in hopes of a geographic cure for the pain in my heart.

I was a new RN, working a new job and scared to death that I couldn’t do it. I had very few friends and those I had, I thought I would lose if they ever knew the real me. So I hid in a world of lies and pretended to be whatever I thought they wanted.

And through it all, I drank.

I had been a daily drinker most of my life since I was 15. Sometimes I had to drink in secret. Now that I lived alone, it was easy. I came home from work, closed the blinds, and drank until I “fell asleep” into that desired oblivion.

I drank so I wouldn’t be afraid, I drank so I wouldn’t feel lonely, I drank so I wouldn’t remember my childhood, I drank because it hurt too much to be alive in this world. I drank because I hated myself, I drank, well, because I’m alcoholic. I was completely lost.

And then one night, the alcohol didn’t work. It didn’t take away the pain. I was raw, aching, and desperate. I paced the floor. My chest ached so badly I could hardly breathe. I wanted to die but was too frightened to kill myself. It was 2 in the morning, pitch black in the country, and I was more alone than I had ever been in my life. Morning was still much too far away. My pain and anxiety escalated as I paced. Finally, I stumbled and fell to my knees and something inside of me broke and I began to cry. “Please!” I half-cried, half-yelled to a God I didn’t believe in anymore, “Please!! Help me!!” and the flood of tears finally came.

I wept from the very depths of my soul. Wept all the tears that hadn’t come for years. I cried for the little girl I was who grew up too fast in the face of physical and sexual abuse. I cried with the pain I wasn’t allowed to speak when Daddy left. I cried for all I’d lost and all I’d never had. The sobs wracked my body and the waves kept coming. I cried out my self-hatred, I cried out my fear. I wept for my lost faith which had once been so precious to me. And still I cried through the night with the tears ebbing, flowing and finally, at last, quieting.

The morning dawned with gentle birdsong, glorious orange sunrise, and my heart, for the first time in my life, beginning to know peace.

I went to my first AA meeting that morning.

I am 26 years sober.

 

Submitted by: Karly Pittman, who blogs here.

For most of my adult life, I’ve suffered from various forms of mental illness – over 20 years of eating disorders, 15 years of on and off depression, and lifelong challenges with anxiety. I also cope with several other traits, that while not mental illness, are often shamed by our culture – like high sensitivity, distractibility/ADD, insecurity, and low self esteem.

I’ve felt terribly guilty about these traits, as if I should be able to will myself into being different. (To put it another way, I’ve felt insecure about feeling insecure.)

Yes, I’ve made progress; I’ve seen growth. And yet as the years go by, I’ll be honest – I don’t like the fact that I’m still – after all this work, and all this time – having to cope with anxiety, or depression, or a spinning, stressed out brain. I’m frustrated that I’m still, well, me.

If I examine my beliefs, I see that I approached my healing journey with a very closed fist and rigid, high expectations. My expectations went something like this:  if I do all the right things (forgive and let go and take the high road) and undertake this healing journey (God knows it isn’t easy), then I want a reward. I want a guarantee that all my pain will just go away; that I will be wealthy and happy and healthy and loved.

When I didn’t receive these things, I blamed myself. My pain was proof that there was something very wrong with me. This, my friends, is suffering.

I thought if I did all the “right” things – that if I pray and do yoga and meditate and look at my stuff and surrender and forgive – that I could turn myself into a being of pure light, pure radiance, and all my human messiness would fall away.

It is a subtle, perhaps the most subtle, form of control. In the wake of this control – or rather my lack of it – I feel ashamed. I feel perhaps the deepest shame, a spiritual shame, that I’m failing life 101 and it’s all my fault. I feel like I’ve flunked some spiritual test because I haven’t created my life in the way that I’ve wanted.

We feel so, so ashamed because we can’t control. We can’t control the challenges in our lives, the pain that needs healing, we can’t even control our emotions – they just arise. But this shame is based on a false truth:  that we should be able to control. We were never meant to control life in this way.

Perhaps viewing my mental health challenges, my inherent sensitivity, my humanity itself as something I can control with enough spiritual practice is unkind. Perhaps if I surrendered to it, instead, I may find a much gentler – and wiser – way of relating to it. And perhaps in this kindness, I will find a freedom, a peace even in the midst of anxiety, or sadness or sensitivity.

If I’m honest, I can see that my spiritual seeking was about trying to banish my pain, not care for it. I just hated it. I hated the dark muck of depression, the panicky spiral of anxiety, the wobbly feet of insecurity. I have come to see that as long as I’m relating to my pain from that place – a bargain of, “If I care for you, will you go away?” – I will suffer. I will feel guilty, like I’m being punished, and ashamed, like it’s all my fault.

But to release this suffering means to let go of control. To open my heart and release my expectations, my focus on how my life looks on the outside, my need to have a guarantee for a positive outcome. Big, deep breath.

So as I sat last week, with fresh grief in my heart and tears dripping onto my keyboard, I bowed to my pain. I surrendered. I said, “It’s okay anxiety, I love you. It’s okay depression, I will care for you. It’s okay sensitivity, I’m here.” I stopped fighting against my pain and turned towards it in love and care, allowing it to be.

I think there is no greater love than this – to open to all aspects of ourselves, even our deepest, muckiest, ickiest, most shameful parts, and to wrap them in our arms and say, “I will not abandon you. I will stay with you and I love you.” Maybe my deepest pain, all the mental illness and suffering and food stuff, is just that:  something to learn to love. If I don’t love these parts of me, who will?

When I stop judging my insecurity, my anxiety, my depression, and just allow it to be, I feel free. I feel free because I’m not so tense, fighting against myself. I don’t blame or punish myself for feeling sad or lonely, I reach out for support. I don’t feel so caught in, “It’s all my fault.” Instead, I surrender to the wisdom of detachment. As my friend Deidre says,  “It couldn’t have happened any other way.” Another way of saying this is, “You did the very best you could.”

This morning the Beloved whispers to me, “Dear one, you were never meant to be in control. You were never meant to take on so much. You were never meant to carry so many burdens. Let go, dear child. Let go.”

There is so much about life that is not in our control. Do we have the courage to let go, to accept this, and to open to grace? This journey, as all journeys do, comes back to love. Can I love all of me – even the dark, most painful bits? Even my very, very messy humanity – humanity that may never go away?

Rumi put it this way:

Learn the alchemy true human beings know:
the moment you accept what troubles you’ve been given,
the door will open.

Perhaps our brokenness – our humanity – is the call that brings us back to love. We fight against it, try to evolve out of it, hide it, overpower it, and then, exhausted and discouraged, we return to love. Can we just love ourselves, right now, in this moment – where we’re feeling afraid, or anxious, or distracted, or lonely, or depressed? Can we care for our pain, just to care for it – and not for any other reason but that it’s simply a very kind thing to do for ourselves?

May we all remember who we are:  fully valuable, enough and worthy with all our tender humanity. The New Testament says, “the truth shall set you free.” This is what I know to be true:  that each and every one of us is lovable, is worthy, is precious, just as we are – with all our human muck, all our challenges, and all our pain.

We are wonderfully and beautifully made, and we are good; very, very good.

 

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Breaking Point: #1

I am hosting an end-of-winter series featuring stories from the trenches of pain.  My hope is that in sharing these breaking points, we will feel less alone.  Thank you all for your bravery.  You are helping the world to heal.  To participate and for more info go here.

yrs. Laura

Submitted by: Brian Farr Addictions Counselor

“I own you, you know.”

“Yes, I know that you do.”

I felt my heart racing and the panic raced through me as the vomit rose in my throat to the back of my mouth, cutting off my airway. Sitting up quickly, I put one hand on the cold, hard ground and felt a thick, chunky puddle of some sort between my fingers. The vomit in my throat receded as I rose, leaving a bitter, copper after taste. My head began to pound – a low, rhythmic thrumming of pressure and tightness that I knew would increase in intensity shortly. I closed my eyes for a moment to release the pressure, only to find that in the darkness the nausea quickly returned. There would be no escape.

A brief thought crossed my mind then to pray – to ask for relief and an end to this – and then the moment passed. Why bother? He’d had his chance and blown it. And so had I.

Instead I tried to visualize a quiet, calm place that might temporarily take the pain away. A happier time, perhaps, when every morning did not include dread, and sickness, and counting down the hours until I could once again return to sleep. No such memories offered themselves in this endless moment, and the tent in which I had awoken offered little solace. The stench of damp fabrics and my own toxic odor mixed with spilled alcohol and other fluids in this small area engulfed me then. The cold and dankness also began to seep in from all around, and I realized that the rotten freezing rain had never stopped all night.

I sat alone in silence and listened to the wet chilled wind beating a cadence on the tent. There was a time, a time which I thought was not so long ago, when the weather would not have seemed so foreboding. Now I felt its cold sneer like a judgmental statement from a trusted friend about the condition of my life, and my decisions, and the consuming sorrow that seemed to grow closer each day, each hour, each breath I took. It reminded me, without my asking, that if I dared to leave this place of sickness that what I would face would be insurmountable, unending and filled with disappointments and pain. Once outside there was no place to hide, no relief anywhere.

A whisper came from somewhere nearby, maybe somewhere within.

“Another drink could solve this. It could solve everything.”

From the projection room of my mind the clicking of reels began and an old film started to play, a grainy and faded tribute that I have seen before to my only true and lasting love.

It began with a young, anxious, hyper kid opening a can of beer and recoiling from the biting, harsh first kiss. He quickly moves in for another. Soon the scene switched to the same boy, drinking with his new friends – the friends whom he never felt comfortable with before. Not without the booze. This portion of the film included laughter, games, and drunken songs around various camp fires. The laughter continued as the film changes scenes and shows three young couples dressed for Prom night. Parents are snapping pictures as the sun shines down on the idyllic portrait. The film advanced to later in the night when all six are drinking in the borrowed van and feeling like royalty as they are chauffeured around through the long evening. More laughter and a familiar Phil Collins prom song plays into the next scene. The boy is slightly older now, in front of a college fraternity house in a large mob of people on a day filled with sunshine. He holds a plastic cup filled with beer and stands in a circle of other young co-eds kicking a foot bag and smiling. Reggae music plays in the background as the students smile and soak in the sun and the day and youth. The music continues into a fade out. Switch to a cold winter scene now inside of a ski gondola. The camera pans around to take in the majestic mountain panorama. Four happy, laughing friends huddled in the gondola dressed for a day on the slopes, passing a bottle of whiskey around while recounting events of the drunken night before. The film fades out again and opens on another scene, one looking out at crystal clear waters from the shore of an exotic beach. But something is wrong. The film begins to skip, and replay, and go out of focus now, and the sounds become distorted. The ticking of the reels gets louder and louder and lounder…

The retching began without warning inside of the small tent. No time to find the metal pot that undoubtedly is in here – somewhere – for just this purpose. I rolled onto my hands and knees and tried in vain to unzip the entrance. I was aware as this horrible, humiliating, unnatural process played out that I was expelling liquids, and I wondered how that was possible. How could anything be left inside of me? I wanted nothing more at that moment than to be completely empty of everything. To get everything out in the open.

As the horrible wave passed, leaving me shaking, and cold and helpless I dared to open my eyes again, and I focused on the red pool of blood on the tent floor. It was complete silence for a moment before the whisper came again:

“I own you, you know.”

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Boozing the Muse

Originally for Author Magazine

Fitzgerald.  Hemingway.  Steinbeck.  Faulkner.  O’Neil.  Poe.  Kerouac.  Bukowski.  Capote.   Dorothy Parker.  Katherine Anne Porter.  And so many many others.  Why is the muse so thirsty?  I want to know the answer.  Allow me then, to muse upon the muse.

For the sake of this pursuit, I’m going to make some assumptions/projections about writers, as a woman who’s been writing for half her life.

Writers think we have something to say.  And not just that.  We’re not sure we’ll be okay if we don’t say it.  It’s that tree-falls-in-the-woods thing.  What if no one’s there to hear it?  Do our words matter?  Does all that widening of the third eye count?  Does all that standing in the intersection of heart and mind and craft that is writing, risking the soul’s “life” and “limb,” matter if it’s just a confluence of country road?  Crows and scarecrows and maybe a few crickets?  Most of us would say an emphatic “no.”  We want the trajectory met.  We want our readers.  And still…we write.

And here’s the thing:  we’re not supposed to complain about it.  Because…it’s not like anyone asked us to write.  It’s not like we’ve gotten sword taps on the shoulders by the royal Queen of Literacy.  We’re just poor slobs who get off on sitting in dark rooms staring at computer screens making shit up.  And without those computers and dark rooms, we’d be poor slobs walking around asking someone if we can borrow a pen to write on walls, and if someone objects, we’ll write on our hands.  But we’d still want someone to read our hands.  And not for fortune.  We don’t expect fortune.  Just a little daily bread and a few people who say, “I read what you wrote.  And it helped me.”

Some writers write to understand.  Others for the greater good.  It doesn’t really matter.  It’s just that we have to.  We can’t not.  Sounds dramatic, I know.  But it’s true.  And here’s the thing:  it doesn’t have to be our undoing—not being read, not being published.  Unless we truly consider it bloodsport, and for some, maybe that’s just the way it needs to be.  But not for me.

Have you ever seen that painting in the Met in New York—of Joan of Arc being called to war from her country life in the garden?  Have you ever seen her face?  Have you noticed the ghost-like spirits over her shoulder?  Looked at her outstretched hand?  She wants it.  She can’t help but listen.  The voices are too loud.  That’s my girl.  That’s me.  I martyred myself for a long time with my writing.  You wouldn’t know it from the outside.  But inside I felt so called to do what I did/do every day, that there was a level of entitlement.  And then the inner turmoil and pain of meeting with rejection.  A LOT of rejection.  How could the publishing world have a grid boasting cracks through which I would fall over and over and over again?  Especially with an agent.  Especially with such positive rejection letters.  I knew I could write.  I knew that I had something to share.  I just couldn’t make being published happen.  And I was miserable.

So I gave up.  Not on the writing.  On the publishing.  The alternative was to self destruct.  And I didn’t want to do that.  I have a great life.  Who cares if I’m a writer.  I have a husband and kids and horses and land in Montana and a house and a garden and friends and…life is good, just like the t-shirts say.  So after a huge publishing deal fell apart, my father died, and I found myself in a red wine daze crying on my office floor, I decided that it was total insanity, basing my personal happiness on things outside my control.  What I could control was:  writing.  Creating.  Submitting when what I wrote was good.  And then letting go.

Writers don’t have to martyr themselves.  That’s a story we tell ourselves.  We aren’t our writing, as much as we’d like to think we are. 

Our writing is of us.

But it…is…not…us.

We need to create a new paradigm for writers.  Writers may walk around with empathy as their middle name, channeling the human experience, but the beauty and heart break of that can be filtered through the fine mesh of an inner agreement that we do not have to suffer because of it.  We can go with the pain.  We can use the pain.  Just like we can use the joy.  And to feel the pain does not mean that it then has us wanting to numb it away.  It does not control us.  We control us.  And I’ll say it again because it took me a long time to understand this:  we can control what we create.  And then, I believe, it’s best to let go of the rest.  The real freedom lies therein.

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Drinking Diaries


http://www.drinkingdiaries.com

Check out my interview in Drinking Diaries. It’s a great blog!

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Filed under A Place For Writers To Share, My book: This Is Not The Story You Think It Is: A Season of Unlikely Happiness, My Posts