Sober September

I’ve chosen to challenge myself to a Sober September. I am not an addict, nor do I feel myself heading down a path of dependency on substance. I do, however, feel like I need to clear my mind, body, and soul. And one of the easiest ways to do that is to eliminate things such as alcohol. Admittedly I have been experience a bit of anxiety and stress that leads me to look forward to my days off – more for the socialization than anything, but IPA is almost always involved. In my head, I don’t want to condition myself to start subconsciously associating days off-with-friends-with-booze. I should also make a note that I don’t get drunk every weekend, but I have a deep-seated insecurity that forming a habit involving a substance will turn me into my mother. September 26th will be eight years without her already, and I’d like to bring an awareness to the importance of healthy, conscious decisions.  

It all comes down to simply clearing my soul. It feels cloudy right now when I close my eyes and try to look at myself. I’m not a fan of that – not going to lie. I feel like I’ve been trying so hard to do everything at once that I’ve forgotten what to be grateful for. I kicked up so much dust and then complained that I couldn’t breathe, that I couldn’t see. When I went through my break-up this winter, and all the funerals, I went into serious overdrive by applying myself to whatever my desperate little tentacles could grab. 197 job applications (no joke. Wish I was joking. Not joking.), constant travel, minimal downtime; an injured animal wildly throwing its body around at whatever unseen force it senses in a last-ditch attempt to scare the being away. The being in my situation was (is) life. I got sloppy. I never stopped once this summer to think that maybe the thing in front of me was just my life, and my healing. I kicked around whatever I could as if I could outrun myself. I just assumed that life wasn’t good to me for a while so I was going to make it worthwhile on my own terms, and as a result I forgot about all the good that’s already there. I have been “self care” button mashing for months and it’s gotten me nowhere except gifted me more anxiety attacks. Self care is a slippery slope, because sometimes the things that are best for us don’t feel so great. Sometimes you need to stop and acknowledge you are hurt, that you are scuffed up, and that you’re only going to hurt yourself more if you don’t let the wounds be for a while. 

For September, I wrote down what I’m grateful for: 

  • I have a roof over my head that I’ve sustained on my own for over three years.
  • I have a wonderfully goofy, giant, loving puppy who challenges my patience and also forces me to socialize and exercise.
  • I have a job that pays me money regardless of how little each month I get to toss into savings.
  • I have passions like writing, painting, and collecting old books.
  • I have been able to be a good friend, and I have good friends.
  • This year alone I’ve traveled to three states, gone out of the country, and have a trip booked for my birthday week at the end of October – something not everyone is able to do. 
  •  I did not become my mother, and used her tragic loss and my experience with addiction to share my story and help others.
  • I’ve been in love, even if that love hurt me. 
  • I’m a damn good cook.

I am equal parts cynicism and hope.

I Broke up with my Therapist

Jodi has been my email therapist since my break-up in February. It was when I was still sleeping fourteen hours a day, not showering, not eating, not leaving my house that I realized it was probably best to reach out to someone. I stopped recognizing myself and that frightened me, because I spent so many years trying to get to know me better. Suddenly, I wasn’t there anymore. It wasn’t being in the dark – it was being the dark. 

The break-up was the breaking point, I guess. There were the deaths before that; the stress of the relationship before it imploded and then released an amalgam of lies and cheating and false identity. It amazed me how repulsed I became by someone I loved so deeply, and the true root of it was he didn’t know who he was – he never got to know himself. He couldn’t face his past in a way that allowed him to grow upwards out of it, rather, he rolled around in the filth and tried to play himself off as polished.

Polished shit is still shit.

I just didn’t think I was able to have my heart broken further than it already was. I didn’t think anyone could hurt me after seeing the hurt I had been through for sixth months prior. But that’s what’s funny with people – selfish people – they do what they want, oftentimes devoid of conscience. And I still loved him for a time after. I wanted him to be alright because I knew I was stronger than him and I honestly thought he broke himself in the process. I knew he didn’t break me, because I already know me. I just became afraid of myself in the end. That’s when I reached out for someone to talk to. 

My counselor was at the tips of my furiously typing fingers for months. I was reaching out to her multiple times a day, lost and wandering around in the shell of myself. I had zero guidance and for the first time in my 28 years I truly was unable to figure out how to unlock my torment. Things came out of me that I thought I cleansed years prior; moments and experiences that unfolded like a flower and I realized that no, I was not completely OK to begin with. But that was OK. I needed an unbiased third party who I could tell my darkest secrets to without having to look them in the eyes. It was critical for my healing to say things that I never said to anyone, for some weird Catholic fear that I’d be punished if the words existed in the open. I whittled myself down – once again – for the sake of un-becoming the dark that I took on in the winter of this year. I realized too, unfortunately, how many awful things I’ve endured in my life. I know I’m not the only one, but there were so many moments that peppered my youth that I thought at one point were normal. The stupid saying panged the back of my head, “God only gives you what you can handle. Remember that!” I chose to remind whoever that I can also handle an abundance of good. 

Therapy made me question if I’m truly grateful for the things I have, or if I’m selfish for constantly wanting more. It helped me to establish for myself a boundary point of striving beyond my means and living beyond my means. I have felt less materialistic in the last few months. I haven’t tried to reach out for disingenuous connections with men who couldn’t care less that I’ve seen death or that my youth molded me into a person who is hardened while maintaining an unbelievably sensitive core. Therapy made me look at myself in a way I wasn’t able to alone. 

Then I woke up today and realized the last email I sent my therapist was a four-month progress photo of my rescue dog, Randall, who I took into my home this April. That was twelve days ago. My mom’s eight-year anniversary is coming up next month and I don’t feel overly anxious or depressed about it like other years.  I am no longer ashamed to say that I resented my mother – not for who she was – rather, for the choices she made that destroyed who she was. Her reliance on alcohol fueled her belief that she could not function as a human without ether as a catalyst. Booze was her God and her Devil – her Heaven and her Hell – and she just existed somewhere in the middle. And while I don’t find myself reliant on booze to be someone in the world, it scares me to be like her one day. It’s why I ask for help even if I’m embarrassed or afraid because, yeah, sometimes we can’t handle it all on our own. That’s when we get sloppy and selfish in a way that is detrimental to ourselves as well as those who care about us. 

I emailed Jodi and I thanked her for her help. I told her that I’m me again. I’m not the dark anymore – not completely enlightened either – but I’m balanced. I unfolded upwards and I look down at all the dirt I came out of, and I am appreciative of how the mess below me nurtured me to be the person I grew into – someone my mother would be proud of, more importantly someone I’m proud of. 

Trunk space

I’ve lived with anxiety and depression for the majority of my adult life. Rather than say, “I’ve struggled” with either, I’ll take away any controlling factor and simply state, “I have lived.” They are like annoying roommates who mostly keep to themselves and then one of them clogs the toilet and doesn’t say anything, so it just overflows until I find it and then I’m stuck with the mess. I use the analogy of the toilet because a clogged toilet both makes me anxious and also a little sad. Feel free to insert whatever analogy works for you.

When my anxiety creeps up, I want to impulse eat. I want to yell. I want to run away. When I feel depressed, I want to hug my dog and live in my bed under the covers until dark and never come out. Luckily for my dog, I have extreme issues with guilt and an overwhelmingly responsibility to take care of others so it never lasts long and he inspires me to go outside, or for a trail walk, or to play fetch.

Tonight was a little different, though. I just really wanted to take a nap. I really wanted to drift off for a couple of hours and wake up a little less drowned in my own thoughts. This didn’t happen, though. The universe – and nature – decided a flash flood would be scheduled for 7 PM and I was woken with what sounded like a tornado running down my street. My dog and I both shot up and I heard my phone going off to the emergency alert system. I looked out the window and saw my neighbor Joan’s car parked with the trunk wide open.

Joan is elderly. She’s sweet, the right amount of nosy that any old woman should be, and my dog is her number one fan. She always forgets to close her trunk. Her husband had major surgery recently and she’s been inundated with helping him. There have been nurses and family members in and out of the condo next to mine in order to make sure Joan’s husband has the proper care. It makes me think of my grandpa and how rough the medical care was on the family and him for the last few months of his life. Her husband has improved, though, which makes me happy to hear.

So back to Joan’s damn trunk. I don’t even think about it, just say, “Dammit, Joan!” I throw on some pants and a tee and run outside like a mad woman and slam the trunk before the rain gets too bad. I don’t tell her. I don’t make a scene; just prevent a soggy trunk and run back into the house. When I closed the door it hit me – no matter how stuck I feel, regardless of how fucked up things may seem, I (or you) always have a purpose. There is always a purpose to do even the smallest thing for an unwitting person. I (you) always have a place in this world, even if it’s just closing some old lady’s trunk in a flash flood.

Self Actualizing Shit Show

The phrase, “I really love you,” in American Sign Language is awfully similar to the sign for the Shocker, which is funny because that’s the same phrase my ex kept telling me while we recounted all the ways he fucked me over during the span of a year. He, like other uninformed hearing-abled people who might not understand what a person is signing to them, got the phrase, “I really love you,” confused with fucking me over. It’s the twist in the ASL sign that throws people off, I guess.

The day after the Super Bowl, my boyfriend texted me to tell me that he wanted to hang out before he had work that night. I welcomed it, because he went home early from his brewery job the night before and I didn’t get to spend much time with him. He said he’d felt sick that whole weekend. I felt bad for him. He worked so much we’d barely seen each other – I even wrote down in my journal that most of our time spent together in December was asleep in bed. So, I welcomed his visit. When he showed up he looked like he had two black eyes and like he hadn’t slept. I asked him to tell me what was wrong, but he just held me. 

“I haven’t been honest with you, Kait.” 

Weird, how I almost knew it was coming. Strange how I have a habit of stuffing down bad vibes because I find difficulty trusting myself, even though I knew I should have walked away from him the first time he “lost his phone,” or, “didn’t really use Facebook that much,” or even, “I don’t know why my mom didn’t accept your friend request; maybe she doesn’t remember your last name.” Funny, those rose-colored glasses that make all red flags look like flags. Hindsight being 20/20, I should have broken up with him when he returned one of my Tupperware containers before washing it out. Disrespectful.   

I sat next to him on my bed and found myself unable to cry. As someone who can practically cry on command, I couldn’t understand where this physical response was coming from. His whole explanation felt rehearsed. I realized it when he blindly handed me a tissue.

“I’m not crying.” I handed it back and he looked at me with giant, wet eyes and blew his nose with it. I saw a tinge of disbelief on his face; he knew I was a crier.

Maybe, at the time, my mind simply couldn’t process enough of what was going on in order to make appropriate reactions. Maybe it was shock; maybe I could see through his bullshit and even my subconscious knew he was undeserving of the same tears I shed for my grandfather only three weeks earlier. I truly believe for a while that night that I was just cried-out from all the heartache I endured in January. All the vulnerability – all the trust – I allowed someone to see me in a light that very few people witness, and he accepted it and moved onto others with the same goal of emotional conquest in mind. I felt betrayed, let down, defeated, and foolish. He lied about Pop. In that moment, his deceit held the upper-hand on my self-assurance. And that’s when I cried.

I hate not understanding things, on a whole. People, though, absolutely blow my mind and I am in a constant internal struggle about understanding and trusting them. Back to my extreme frustration in math class; to what motivated my mother to drink herself to death. Not knowing how or why a thing operates always dwelled on me. It took years to accept that I’m just destined to write and not worry about calculus; I still have not fully accepted why people do the things they do. 

Loyalty though; honesty, commitment – should be clean cut. That I understand. If I tell someone they can trust me with something, it’s because they can. If I don’t think I can be trusted, I don’t accept the responsibility. It comes down to morality. With my ex, it made me question my own judgment and how bad I thought I was with trusting who I thought was the right person. Eventually I took my head out of my hands and wiped my face. 

“How am I supposed to trust someone again?” The question was rhetorical. I stared off into space as I said it. He stupidly answered.

“Don’t worry. You’re an amazing person and someday you’ll find -”

“Shut the fuck up.”

His clammy, guilty hand retracted from where he placed it on my knee and he recoiled into himself. Something deep inside me snapped in that moment and I swear to God it’s what a Pokemon must feel like when it’s evolving. I turned into a motherfucking Charizard. I inhaled a room full of hot, gross lies and self-doubt and sadness, and exhaled and absolute hellfire bitch-rage of done with this. He started to sob. I felt the veins in my neck pulse as I screamed and shook the walls and maybe a light bulb blew out I don’t really remember. He kept crying and turning his head away from me. I didn’t care.
“I can’t look at you. I can’t look at what I did to you,” he said through sobs. That made me angrier. This escalated inside of me to something that surpassed just my relationship with him. It was a dissemination of my self-doubt. It was a double barrel, sawed-off shotgun point blank at my past.

“Look me in my fucking face.” I was met with the eyes of a terrified boy. I suddenly felt disgusted. He was scared. He had no idea what he caused but he still caused a whole pile of shit. I didn’t feel bad for him. I pitied him – someone who was almost 30 years old and clearly never had experience in one of the greatest gifts on this earth – a genuine human relationship.  

“Who the fuck are you?”

The evening disintegrated. There was so much crying and him begging me to not leave his life – me foolishly considering taking him back because I still couldn’t entirely believe that he did all the things he did. After he left my house that night he told me he really loved me. I went back upstairs and sat on my bed, alone, with the stench of regret and the death of our relationship hanging in the air. The girl he cheated with reached out to me. He left her a two-minute voicemail on his way back from my house, begging her for a second chance too. I got my house key back three days later; he wouldn’t respond to me for fear or shame – I don’t really know. More tears, more anger – but most of all, confusion, and I was rid of the situation. I never deleted his number. I couldn’t. No one could hate him more than he hated himself, and it felt good to know he knew I was still there, existing in the world. His actions were unforgivable. Then again, even Mark Twain asked, “But who prays for Satan?”  

Magenta

I have a garden that’s in front of my condo and unfortunately the soil is a sand/soil mixture but mostly sand and not many of my flowers flourish in these conditions. Sand/soil mixtures are great for succulents or cacti but I prefer a nice menagerie of color in the summer. My main reason for maintaining a garden in the warmer months is because my condo sits on a busy street and everyone on my row has a garden – manicured, clipped, mulched. The first year I lived at my home, my neighbor asked me probably a dozen times if and when I was planning on putting a garden in.

“Everyone here does a nice garden.”

Well keep your eyes open, lady. As a houseplant mom, I prefer to keep the inside of my dwelling sprawled with greenery but I can get dirty no problem. I used to manage a greenhouse in Massachusetts. I know how to not kill things.

This year I completely disregarded a color scheme and slapped every possible flower that I thought would live in my front garden. Of the mess I made, my African daisies bloomed. They’re an amazing shade of bright magenta and they basically just scream at me when I walk past them to get into my house. I love it. They stand out so much and they’re loud and vibrant and they bring me joy. What I learned about magenta, though, is that it isn’t actually a color.

Magenta is defined as “an extra-spectral color, meaning that it is not found in the visible spectrum of light. Rather, it is physiologically and psychologically perceived as the mixture of red and violet/blue light, with the absence of green.” I find that absolutely fascinating. It’s amazing that our brains are so thrown off by the absence of something as common and known as the color green, that it creates an amazing hue using whatever it has left to work with. It also makes me wonder, since magenta is our own brain’s perception – how different magenta will look to other people who see it. Do people walk past my house and see the African daisy as loud and bold and beautiful as I do? Or is it perception, like happiness or sadness?

People can be lacking so many things, like money, or a new car, or a boyfriend, or a parent – but what magenta are they creating? What, with every other color available – with every other thing they have (or blessing, however you want to see it) – are they creating? If magenta was a life, how bright would it be? I get down sometimes and I always embrace a good cry, but I also have one of the brightest fucking African daisies on the block. How does everyone else see their own garden?

Just Read

Just Read

I have been feeling hopelessly uninspired lately and also over-aware of other people’s actions, which is an obvious sign that I need to put on blinders and focus on my own shit. After my mom died I spent a solid three years deliberately judging people around me because bad things were clearly only happening to me and I had self-loathing tunnel vision. I questioned, why does everything bad happen to me? Honestly I don’t blame my past self for thinking like that. I still sometimes find myself, after a string of bad events, think why me for a moment. The difference now, though, is I learned to check myself.

As a former judge-y person myself, I know the primary reason I was so observant of other people and their actions was because I was absolutely terrified of taking a gander into my own life. At the time, I felt wildly out of control and didn’t even know where to begin to make things better in my bubble. Judging what other people do runs parallel to the saying, the grass is greener on the other side. It’s easier to judge your neighbor for how they trim back their rose bushes than to risk pricking yourself with thorns planting your own. My garden of life was an absolute disaster for so many years that I became accustomed to witnessing how other people landscaped their own lives. I preferred to live vicariously through my neighbors’ decisions and fantasized to myself how my life would feel if I did and lived the way other people did, without actually putting any effort into living.

When I used to put blinders on it would be to wallow in my own misery. It would be to emotional eat and blame the universe for everything bad happening as if I was special enough to be singled out by the creators of time, space, and existence, and be personally tortured for living. The long and short of it all is that none of us are that special – and with the magnitude of the cosmos in comparison to the size of a human life – we should be thankful that we don’t garner that much attention from whatever powers exist beyond our line of sight. But there I was, thinking how unfortunate my life was for turning out how it did by the time I was in my early 20’s, wondering when I was going to get mine, wondering when I was going to be handed a torch of happiness. Here’s another fun fact, the universe doesn’t give a shit what you think you deserve. We all have free will and that includes the free will to give up on caring about what other people are doing – especially when it doesn’t affect you, and focus on your own damn joy.

When I was feeling hopelessly uninspired in the past I would sit on Tumblr, or Instagram – or eat myself sick – as if any of those things would help. Social media presents itself to us like a hunk of deli meat that is incredibly convenient and also undeniably devoid of nutrition. It’s all fillers and flavor and everyone has indulged in it at one point or another. It doesn’t nourish us and it’s advertised to make us think we want it when in reality it’s just a bunch of weird odds and ends put together to come off appealing but is entirely unappetizing when separated and placed out individually. Now, when I’m feeling hopelessly uninspired, I read. Right now, I have Homo Deus out and ready to be devoured like a fat-ass Thanksgiving turkey my grandpa spent all day roasting. I have to set the table, carve it, serve it out, and enjoy it. I can’t judge other people when I’m learning. I can’t worry about what everyone else is doing when I’m expanding my lexicon. I can’t care about all the empty calories of society when I’m devouring something that will nourish and inspire me.

So to anyone a little (or a lot) in the dark – just pick up a damn book.

Leeches

The more I’ve stepped away from people not vibing with my life the better I’ve felt. I’m a textbook empath and I had a conversation last night with a friend about how, if I’m in a social setting with too much going on, I feel absolutely drained and exhausted and want to just go home and take a nap. I’ve written once before somewhere that I feel like people’s energies siphon off of me and I can’t make it not happen but I don’t know why. It’s frustrating to be self aware but not understand how to protect my energy from other people.

The easiest remedy has been to walk away from certain people. The biggest obstacle is my weird-ass form of guilt. The, “But what if something happens to them?” That reaction. It’s super unfortunate that it took for me to be cheated on, for my grandfather’s name to be marred, for some ultimate betrayal by one person I loved so much for me to realize, “Oh wait, they don’t really care how any of their decisions affect you.” The decision then comes to just nut up and move along. Honestly? Feels great. I have been on this wild uptick for four months. Even with the unwavering denials from literary agent after literary agent, I’ve felt the most alive since winter. Some people with literally suck the life force out of us and it’s kind of scary because I’ve realized that we, as humans, are almost too advanced in the sense that we rely so heavily on logic we tend to forget energy exists. There are things we cannot see that exist that have control and influence in our lives. I don’t mean Law of Attraction stuff. Not if I believe it and call to it then I’ll get it. Law of Attraction is great when you choose to also apply yourself to the thing you want. You can’t declare you want a thousand dollars and then spend all your money every week. The good things come, but to those who try. To those who ditch the bullshit people who want a piece of whatever will benefit them. Drop those people. They aren’t people. They’re leeches.

Break the Wall

I’ve become so accustomed to rejection over the years that now when I see an email reply from a literary agency, I brush it off and dismiss it for lack of getting my hopes up in regards to my writing career. I have been submitting (and getting rejected) to agents for the better part of seven years with my memoirs and essays when all I have been focused on other than making a living is becoming a published author. I want a book deal, I want a book out, I want something published. Since 2012, I’ve been published in magazines and e-books from literary contests and other outlets, but nothing substantial like seeing my name on a shelf at a Barnes and Noble and hearing that someone read about my life story – my life – and felt moved by it in some positive way.

Fast forward to this week. Then rewind to January when my grandfather passed away. He was the oldest surviving prisoner of war in New York and served in Germany in World War 2. He was the most bad-ass, sweetest, understanding human I’ve ever come into contact with and his death has been something I’ve had difficulty coping with since the beginning of this year. Not to mention a particularly nasty break-up in February that derailed me from a proper grief, I’ve felt as if I was shot out of a sling shot this year and lost my footing for a bit.

After Pop died, I revisited a box of old letters exchanged between him and my grandmother during the war – most of them from 1943. There are also miscellaneous letters from my grandfather’s twin brother who died tragically in Japan in November of 1942. That always kills me to know that Pop had to live 75 years without his literal other half; When Arthur died, people said he was lucky for being blown up instead of captured and placed into Japanese prison camps. Pop was already a POW at the time of his brother’s death, and wasn’t informed of it until after he returned from the war in the Fall of 1945 to try and keep his stress levels to a minimum.

Anyway, I digress. With the death, the break-up, an earlier death of my dog of 15 years, and work stress I had what I’d like to call a creative snap where I sat down and pumped out 15,000 words in less than three days based off the letters and stories from Pop. It was a necessary catharsis; it was therapeutic, and in many ways helped more than the therapist I began speaking to in February. I continued on with this story – with his story – and after a couple of months, a trip to Savannah for war research at the Mighty 8th Air Force Museum, some exchanges with the descendants of the 388th Airborne in England, and a lot of tears (and a lot of editing), I produced a book just shy of 300 pages that encapsulated my grandfather’s experiences in life, love, and loss during the war.

Like I said earlier, I’m so adjusted to rejection that I sometimes find myself blindly submitting my work to agent after agent after agent in an attempt to see what sticks like spaghetti on the cabinet that is the saturated literary market. Just this past week I received three (or four?) rejections with reasons ranging from, “Thank you for your query, but I can’t market you,” to, “Thank you for your query, but I’m actually not taking on any projects right now,” to, “Thank you for your query. Your writing is really good but I can’t take on the project.” The last one was kind of a punch to the gut honestly. That one lingered a little, mostly because I so desperately wanted someone to take a chance on my own story for so long and I wholeheartedly believe that my grandfather’s story takes precedence over everything in my immediate world. Especially with the 75th anniversary of D-Day, Pop and his letters belong to a group of forgotten heroes; good men who went through unspeakable horrors and came back home and still got shit done. I was present for his nightmares – I was there for his recounts of terror. His story deserves to be told and now that he isn’t here anymore, I want nothing more than to be a voice to the voiceless.

Yesterday afternoon started with me waking up from an overnight shift to another rejection letter that was emailed to me earlier that morning. “…it’s a subjective market, keep sending out your work.” I respect that. I get it. The literary market it a spiderweb of just finding the right match. Never in the 100 or so agents who rejected me over the years did I take one personally. I just kept thinking to myself that I had to keep writing. Then, a few hours later in the midst of loading my dishwasher I received another email that started like the rest. “Thank you for your query…” My hopes deflated until I see, “The project sounds very interesting, and we’d be pleased to have a look at 50 pages. Please feel free to send it along at your convenience as either a PDF or Word document. We look forward to hearing from you.”

OH MY GOD. OH MY GOD.

I read the same lines over about 46 times. Cue ugly crying. Cue calling my dad in an incoherent, Ron Burgundy in a glass case of emotion sob. Cue my dog not knowing how to deal so he just kept sitting on my foot every time I moved. Cue crying in my kitchen like a Desperate Housewife minus the glass of Pinot. Not even to put all my eggs in one basket because NOTHING is set in stone, but just the mere opportunity to share my work with an agency (who I am yet to name because nothing is set in stone) made my insides melt. After seven years – seven years of no’s, of “thank you, but,” someone is maybe taking a chance on me. All I’ve been doing for seven years is try. And if this opportunity takes off, if I’m able to share the story about my grandfather that he deserves – if I can give justice to men like him – I could seriously die happy.

Why Write

“Do you ever feel the urge to drink to the point of poisoning yourself?”

Never.

I want to be everything she could have been. Before the demons. Before all of her horrible fucking decisions. I want to wake up at 52 years old and think to myself I did it. I dragged her memory as the weight of her corpse along with me to a point where she never got to tread. I feel like I’m in a constant battle of honoring her and being burdened by her. I’m at a crossroads where – seven and a half years later – I still get asked if I ever feel the itch; I don’t ever feel the itch to suffer like she did. At 28, I’ve already suffered enough.

I just got back from a destination wedding in Mexico. It was a beautiful ceremony; I wrote it for my friend, and was so humbled and honored to do so.  I was a bridesmaid. The tequila was flowing, there was zero drama, but I had my little demons. My spies who sat back and watched these beautiful intimate moments between the bride and her mother and scratched on the chalkboard of my mind and said, “You’ll never have this. Ever.” And I just suck it up, smile, excuse myself as to avoid crying and stuff it down because I don’t want to look like I’m making one of my best friend’s weddings about me. I watch their moments like a sappy movie. Everything is romanticized. I look away. I don’t want to. I want to feel what they feel. I want to experience the love of a sober mother.

I never thought my mother didn’t love me. Even at her worst, at her angriest, I never questioned her love. There is a serious influence, though, when a person is so unwaveringly discontent with their own existence that it affects everything and everyone around them. My mother’s self-loathing and resentment left a black spot on everything she came into contact with – including her children. Especially her children. Each time she extended herself to help another I could see a little more of her cup empty out. The closer she got to the bottom of her emotional well, the fuller her wine glass became. And it took almost 21 years before wine no longer did the trick. She opted for Absolut hidden behind the washing machine, in laundry baskets, behind the coffee. The day after she died, the basement flooded with sewage and empty bottles of vodka floated out from behind the dryer. It was like she was communicating from beyond the grave just to say, “You stupid fucks. I was doing it right under your noses. Have fun dealing with the shit show. XOXO, Patricia.” I laughed to myself that day as my dad sponged up a lake of shit knowing my vindictive mother was rolling somewhere in the veil between the dead and the living. She probably heard some of the angry comments he made towards her while she was in a coma and thought, “Let me put a pin in this.” She was always so creative. My dad was certainly experiencing his own inner turmoil; his father died from alcohol related complications in February of 1991. I never knew Grand-pop but from the stories, he was an angry son of a bitch who took out most of his rage on his five children. I always wondered what compelled my dad to continue in that cycle. He doesn’t drink at all, but that’s because of his heart and bipolar disorder medication.

In the midst of literal and metaphorical raw sewage, I existed, suspended, in an unfamiliar ooze that may or may not have been a mental crack. One of my mother’s favorite sayings was, “Murphy’s Law! If it can go wrong, it will!” She said it so fucking much that I believed for a long time that she just cursed our family. I know now – obviously – that her choices were what created the Murphy’s Law. I spent the months leading up to her death studying abroad at the University of Oxford. It was one of the best summers of my life; I had every intention of going back.  I was invited to apply to earn a Master’s in Critical Literary Theory. But Murphy’s Law happened – it was too good to be true. Those dreams imploded the moment I saw her die. Literally everything in my life lost its value in her last two breaths.

I’m afraid to search for home videos with her voice on them because I don’t know if I’ll find what I’m looking for and the expectation feels daunting. My dad deleted her message off the answering machine because he couldn’t stand to hear her anymore, not thinking that maybe I still needed my mother. I’m not mad at him – not anymore. Grief is really good at fucking people up. Death is the easy part, I learned. It’s the aftermath that’s torturous. The old photos, the dust coupled with blame and anguish – a disgusting stew which we are forced to eat because, ultimately, it will nourish us. Grief nourishes us. Pain heals us. Those who refuse the meal of reality become emotionally starved and that hunger leeches off people brave enough to swallow the stew. That’s why families become so turbulent so often after a death – not everyone has had their fill. And that’s just an exaggerated metaphor of the saying, “The only way out is through,” or Churchills, “If you’re going through Hell, keep going.” It’s cliche as ever, but who honestly wants to dwell in that type of pain? It’s why I write so much about those experiences; I don’t want them living in my brain, starving me of life. I write about my mother’s addiction because it’s cathartic; because it helps me cope with my PTSD; because I want to help others feel less alone in their burdens.

I turned to writing as a result of one therapist constantly asking me if I was suicidal and another telling me I seemed very self aware and she didn’t think she could tell me something I didn’t already know. It still feels good to vent to a professional every once in a while but I have found for myself that introspection reigns supreme. I notice my energy becomes volatile if I don’t get out what I have to. There’s this little internal battle where I question if I truly have a story to tell of if I just didn’t get enough attention as a child. Insecurity is a friend to the offspring of an addict because people like my mother are professionals at imposing their own shortcomings onto their young. Like an abused animal loyal to its keeper, I knew no different in my house. I knew I was loved, but I also knew I was fat, I’d never get a boyfriend with hair like mine, I looked like as sausage, and I was a fucking pig. But she was also proud of me; I was an academic. I was kind to everyone but I didn’t take any shit. But I took her shit. I took it because, how could she mean any of it? I could just go hide in the closet with a sleeve of Oreos and get straight A’s and she would still drink, but maybe less if my hair was better. If I was skinnier. If I took up another extracurricular.

The harsh reality comes when it’s revealed that people – even our parents – won’t change for anyone but themselves. My mother steadily increased her intake year after year, and no amount of community service, college education, or Oxford admittance made her want to stop. I became a bootleg psychologist trying to learn and understand what makes an addict work, mostly because I was absolutely fed up with blaming myself, and asking what else could I have dont to make her want to continue on. The harsh reality is she woke up each day a little less herself while I woke up each day a little closer to who I’m meant to be. The cards and drawings and memories together decayed in her rotting mind and she slowly succumbed to a monster she didn’t even know she let in until it became her. Photos meant nothing and her life turned into a theoretical experience rather than an actual life, and while she wandered aimlessly I sat opposite her and her curling cigarette smoke still believing she’d snap out of it. Because she loved me. But she hated herself more. Then she died. Nothing fit together anymore and I quickly realized how much she held me together. If she only knew how vital she was. Suddenly my world went dark and my degree meant nothing and I had no home and I felt abandoned and unloved. Her phone number no longer worked and her voice was gone and the contents of my life fit inside a 5×5 storage unit. Then one day, before my fifth move in four years, I open a box to see a card addressed to “Boop,” my nickname from her. And the card says, “You are the Author of Your Life.” And it says, “I love you with all my heart, Mom.” And I hear her voice again. And I go to my fifth home and I write.

For who she was

It was never a question of whether or not I wanted to be like the woman my mother was, but rather the fear that I would fade away into darkness like she did. The person I came to know was someone I hardly knew at all, and by the time she died I felt like I watched a stranger die. Her last breaths before me were foreign and unforgettable. It was a strange disconnect to feel like I stopped knowing who she was long before I ever lost her. Seeing her in the hospital bed, the shell of the fabled Super Woman all her friends talked about, but the shell that I learned to accept as my mother. I knew that who she became was someone I never wanted to be. But who she was – that was someone worth knowing.

The older I got, the stronger the hold alcohol took on my mother – the more sheltered she became. She projected a lifestyle onto me that was shrouded in projections of physical insecurities and gaslighting that I didn’t understand until my mid-twenties. Growing up in a household so toxic groomed me to believe that I didn’t know what I wanted – or needed for that matter. It was as if nothing was ever good enough if it was of my own design. No matter what I suggested, I was met with resistance and aggression; I told my mother I signed up to take Spanish in school and she was infuriated that I wasn’t learning French. When I was a teenager, I expressed the need to go to the eye doctor and she was insistent that I only “wanted” glasses to look cool, as if she forgot I had to wear an eye patch as a baby for issues with my vision. I didn’t get glasses until I was 17 and now I wear bifocals for my astigmatism and nearsightedness. And even when I was in college and separated my shoulder playing rugby, my mother told me my injury was superficial and as a result I lost the range of motion in my left arm from never receiving physical therapy. No matter what the issue was, if she thought she knew better then her word was bond. I was compliant because I was the child, I didn’t know better. She was queen because she was mother, she knew best.

My mother wasn’t always like that, though. She wasn’t the woman who was afraid to drive more than 30 minutes away from home and refused to drive on a highway. She was loud, funny, sharp-witted, and adventurous. She was a real estate entrepreneur who spent more than ten years making a name for herself in the industry as a broker. Her childhood friends – who I am still very close with – described her as a talented writer, a comedian, a partier, a road-tripper, and a wonderful, honest companion. The woman I got growing up was overbearing, sheltered me, body-shamed me, and eventually just expected me to do well for the fear of being met with something else that might trigger her to drink more. Part of me wishes that I grew up beside her and got to know the person her friends missed so much; When she died, so many old friends approached me saying how “like her” I was. I couldn’t believe that I was anything like the woman in the casket. She was angry and refused to take credit for me being successful in anyway. “You’re just like your grandmothers,” she wrote in the last email I ever received, when I was sitting in my bedroom at Oxford University. She never said, “You’re like your mother.” I hated that. I hated that we were so disconnected, especially towards the end of her life when I was growing into a woman who wanted nothing more than to relate to the one who made me.

After her death and following my graduation from college, I tried to learn a bit more about who my mother was before she became the alcoholic recluse who raised me. I knew she was skilled operating a sailboat. She learned to waterski barefoot when she was a teenager, something I never learned. When she was young, she told her mother that she was going to visit girlfriends in Florida but instead moved to the Southwest for three months to live with a boyfriend. She snuck out of her bedroom window enough times that my grandfather silently nailed her window shut from the outside. She went to concerts, smoked weed, and hung out late. Who was this person?  How do I become closer to someone who isn’t here?

Now, at 28, I learned the best way to honor a relationship I never had is to live my life as the person she was before her disease consumed her. I experience life as if she was young and next to me, and living through me. I have traveled the world, gone on spontaneous, day-long road trips. I’ve encountered strange people in interesting places. I’ve been too drunk, up too late, and I’ve also gone to bed too early. I made a name for myself like I saw her do when I was younger. I forgave her for my childhood. I embraced her adventurousness and created my own adventures.