Category Archives: alcoholism

Reclaim the Morning, Remember the Night

Chris is away for a couple of weeks, taking a well-deserved break. He’s traveling alone, which we both do now and then. It’s a different experience to travel by yourself, you can do whatever you want, change your mind at a moment’s notice, or you can stay in your hotel for the entire day, eat local junk food, and watch an Austrian show called “Kommissar Rex” dubbed into the language of wherever you are, but not English, yet it remains my favorite show about a German Shepard police dog who catches bad guys by jumping over things and knocking them down.

recovery 1
I have no idea what this says, but I know I love this show.

It works well that we are both the kind of people who have to be alone sometimes. I get overwhelmed by noise and wearing the mask that one must wear that says “Hey, you know, I don’t own a set of dishes I found at an abandoned camp in the redwoods that was overgrown and forsaken, kitchen cupboards creaking in the wind, rotting bunk beds awaiting tired campers, dishes discarded and strewn about…”

recovery 6
 I do. I totally do.

So when one of us travels, the other gets to be alone, and that is a nice break.

I made a list of things I’d like to do during this time, because making lists is one of my superpowers, things like organize the drawers, clean all the rooms, put stuff away so it looks less like an abandoned camp for forsaken children and holy crap I just got an idea for a story.

I’ll write a couple of articles, work on the two books I’ve got going. I’m also starting “Parks and Recreation” for the umpteenth time, but that’s just the way it is.

recovery 4
I can pretty much do it line-for-line now, but I can’t do math in my head.

So this morning I woke up, shuffled out of bed, fed Crazy Legs, grabbed my coffee and I realized something – I remember everything that happened yesterday. I remember what I did last night, I remember when I went to bed, I turned off the “Parks and Recreation” where Leslie thinks the tops of carrots are marijuana plants and has a stakeout with Tommy and they find out that Andy is living in the pit and then…sorry. I love that show.

recovery 8.JPG
His Majesty, The First of His Name, Crazy Legs, gets breakfast before I get coffee.

But I remember that I turned it off, went to bed, and this morning I woke up and I felt great.

Many people are probably wondering what the big deal is, you woke up and had coffee, so what? But anyone with an addiction, or alcoholism in my case, knows exactly what I’m talking about.

I’ll explain. In the bad old days, when I woke up in the morning, step one would be to lie still and figure out exactly how hungover I was. Was my head spinning? If I moved, did I have to bolt to the bathroom? How bad was my headache? Am I, in point of fact, actually in my bed?

After a physical assessment, next came the worst part. What did I do last night? What’s the last thing I remember? Did I blackout again? Did I see anyone, talk to anyone on the phone or email? Many times the memories were like little filmstrips, the kind we used to watch in grade school. Just a flip of a picture here, a face, a loud crash. Did I break something? I don’t remember. So I’ll stay in bed as long as I can and then nothing bad happened. It’s the alcoholic equivalent of the monster can’t get me if I keep my limbs under the covers, except the monster this time is of my own making.

A quick peek around to see how everything looks, and either a sigh of relief or a gutting regret, and a quick run-through of ideas on how to explain whatever it is. And then back to bed, a day will be wasted, projects forgotten, goals washed away. Tearful vows to never do it again, and then doing it again, in my case, for decades.

It has been a long time since I’ve had a drink, and for the most part, it is gone from my present thoughts. But now and then, like this morning, it occurs to me. I got up, stretched, took my meds, fed Crazy Legs, got my coffee, and sat down to write an article. I feel great, the day is ahead of me, I have many things lined up, and I have time to work on them. It has been so long that I frequently forget the bad times. And that’s good, kind of.

I used to ride a motorcycle. (I’m going somewhere with this, I promise.) A long time ago, I got a bike, learned to ride, got pictures to look at when I was “old” say, 50 (I’m 51 now so younger me shut it already.) Anyway, I had some fun, got cut off at a four-way stop and dropped it, so I have the all-important crash story, (not so much a crash as an “I didn’t know how to respond so I popped the clutch and the 650 took me down.”)

I’ve heard that the two most dangerous times for a rider are when they are new and scared, and when they are experienced and confident. There should always be, not fear, but the realization that you are a soft, water-filled body wrapped in leather or Kevlar, sitting exposed and going very fast. Be aware of that, and don’t try anything stupid. For me, I rode for a while, but I never got over the fear, so I sold it.

recovery 7
 Looked all bad-ass, totally was not.

In early recovery, one is very much aware of the danger of relapse. The fear of the shame, the pain, the lost dreams, lost jobs, lost children, etc. is raw and works as an excellent deterrent. The first time I said, “My name is Sue, and I’m an alcoholic.” was profound and earthshaking. It was also not the last time I’d start with a 24-hour chip. Or the second to last time. I got a year chip and later gave it back. Early recovery is a dicey time, especially if you don’t address the reasons you’re drinking or using in the first place.

In the time since my last drink, I’ve started this blog, and I’m proud of it. I’ve published one book, and I’m working on two more. I’ve painted, explored mixed-media, watched “Parks and Recreation” like four times, and lived a life where I wake up and know what I did the night before, and don’t have to run through an inventory of possible horrors before I get out of bed. I’m confident and this, just like riding a motorcycle, can be a dangerous time.

That voice that says, “Aw, it’s alright, you can handle it. You’ve proven you can be sober, just have one drink!” can be quiet for a long time, but it’s always there, waiting to fuck you up.

Two kinds of people don’t get that, those who do not have an issue, and those who do. The second group is threatened by your sobriety, they need you to drink with them, so they don’t have to face their own demons. They want to sabotage you, and they will try very hard.

If you are in early sobriety, be very aware of this, and try to catch it earlier than I did.

Many years ago, two decades anyway, I had a dear friend, my best friend, who took good care of me when I was still drinking. She was nurturing and said exactly what I needed to hear. She was the strong one who took care of me until the very moment I started to find my feet. Once I stood and began to get better, snipes and passive-aggressive comments, subtle digs at my worth, accusations of getting arrogant, would begin until I believed them and fell. And the “mothering” continued, until one night when I was falling into a depression but didn’t want to relapse. So I called her.

By this time, my dear friend, my rock, was using heroin. She sat and listened to me intently. Then she stood, dropped her pants, and showed me the bruises where she had been shooting up because her arms were no longer viable. I stared in utter disbelief and shock. When she covered up and sat back down, she looked me straight in the eyes and said, “It’s ok, we can be addicts together.”

recovery 9
Apologies to any addicts for whom this may have been difficult. Addiction is ugly, and people need to understand that.

That was it. Even for my fragile mind, that was the end. Chris and I were newly dating, and when I told him what had happened, he was apoplectic. He said it was as if I were drowning and she threw me a cement lifesaver. It was the validation I needed; I had second-guessed myself for so long.

People may do this, to one degree or another. They may try to sabotage your hard work, your important work. They may try to convince you that you are weak.

You are not weak. You are as strong as a person can be, whether you feel that way or not. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

You went one day without a drink or drug? Stand up tall and be proud of yourself. Twenty-four hours without your drug of choice? You are awesome, simply amazing. Let no one tell you otherwise.

However you may feel about A.A. long term, go and say those difficult words, “My name is xxx, and I’m an alcoholic.” They may be hard to say, you may not say them loudly, you may break down, that is all ok. Any of these reactions are appropriate. Those people you’re talking to, they are there because they are also struggling!

And when they offer a chip, a 24-hour chip, raise your hand, walk proudly to the front, and take that chip with you. An entire day without a drink becomes two days, becomes a week, becomes a year…you can do it!

It’s a cliché, I know, but I mean it from the bottom of my heart. If I can do it, after decades of terrible mornings, after losing jobs, living in squalor, after a childhood spent drunk to hide the pain, if I can do it, you can do it.

You can do it. You really can. Please don’t let anyone tell you differently.

You are worth it. You deserve happy mornings.

I believe in you.

recovery 10

 

If you need help, please call.

National Helpline

SAMHSA’s National Helpline is a free, confidential, 24/7, 365-day-a-year treatment referral and information service (in English and Spanish) for individuals and families facing mental and/or substance use disorders.

https://www.samhsa.gov/find-help/national-helpline

 

Creative Spark and Age – Keep your Brain Alive!

So I’m back from my writing escape to Boise, Idaho. While I did return with a lot of work done on outlines, three new ideas, inspiration from a few of the really cool spooky places they have, I did learn something interesting about myself.

Getting older 2
Seriously Boise, well done.

I’m older than 30. I’m significantly older than 30.

I’ve never been coy about my age. Every year and especially every decade that turns for me is an achievement that I didn’t expect to see. I never thought I’d see 30. Then, 40 was unlikely. Now I’m 51, and that’s just shocking really. Wonderful, but perplexing. How did I make it to this age?

I made it here by working hard to address my demons and to come to peace with and even start to embrace my illness. This is wonderful, and it makes me happy when I realize that I am, in fact, 51. That’s just weird.

So here’s what drove it home over the last week. My plan was to hide away in a hotel, no commitments, no interruptions, I asked the lady when I checked in to please tell housekeeping I don’t need them, just blackout curtains, a fridge with enough to keep me alive, and my laptop. I have 15 stories I’m juggling, and I’m anxious to see them bloom. Or bleed. These are spooky stories. I wanted to do what I used to do when I wrote – look at the clock and wonder, is that 4 a.m. or 4 p.m.? I loved that, getting so lost in my art that I had no concept of time at all. Suddenly I’d look up and say, “What is that feeling? Why am I dizzy? Oh, right, food. I need food.” That is what I was hoping to recapture.

Getting older 1
My personal idea of bliss.

Now, getting lost in my work, that’s no problem. I do that even when I write on the couch, as I’m doing right now. Becoming completely absorbed just comes with the creative process. Getting lost in time, though, that’s a different thing. When I was in my 30s, as I painted I could wonder if it was a.m. or p.m. Well, not anymore. My body shuts down around 10. I find myself fading, my brain not up to trying to figure out why my protagonist is near the creepy sidewalk in the first place, (spoiler!) so I just go to bed.

Getting older 5
But for the fire-from-the-sky heat, this would be a fine goth retreat!

At one point, my eyes shot open about 3:30 in the morning because I had an idea. I leapt out of bed and wrote until about 5. I got some good stuff, I felt happy about it, but by about 2p.m. I was useless. I’ll mark this trip as the moment I realized a new limitation on my former habits. But this is not the first time. One by one through the years I’ve watched my body change.

In my late 20s, I wouldn’t even leave the house until 11p.m. because who gets to a club before 11? I’d be out until around 3, and get home around 4. My alarm for work would go off at 6. Getting two hours of sleep is worse than none at all, so I’d just stay up and work through the day, crash when I got home, and I’d recover fine. (This is not while I was drinking. That’s a whole other thing with no fond memories.) Then, when I was around 33 I think, I did this and the next day – even though I was not drinking – I felt hungover and wrung out. It was awful, and I realized well, I can’t do that anymore. It was a major change in my body, an “over-30” wake up call. I would still go to the clubs, but not if I had to work the next day. Huge bummer.

Then, pushing 40, more changes. I could no longer stay out too late on a weeknight or I’d be useless. For someone who’s playtime didn’t begin until 11, now I couldn’t stay out until 11. Huge bummer.

I hadn’t noticed anything new for a while until this trip. Now I know, while I can lose time, I can’t cheat it. My body starts to fade around 10. And my body is the boss. But you know what? This is not a huge bummer. Not at all. These are the changes in a 51-year-old woman who is healthier and happier than I ever could have expected given what I’ve done to myself all these years. Given the number of times I’ve walked to a bridge with no intention of coming back, held a knife tightly and purposefully in my hand, fallen into a manic/depression cycle so severe I spend two days in the hospital. After all of that, I still have my health, my husband, my dear friends and family, Crazy Legs, and…my mind. My functioning, powerful brain that can’t do math like at all, but still.

Getting older 4
                                                                     MATH!

My brain is my joy and my treasure. My looks will fade, my body will change and get more limitations, but my mind, I will keep my mind sharp. If I have that, and my fantastically inappropriate sense of humor, I’ll be just fine.

Another thing I had to accept on this trip, writing fiction is really really hard! I knew that, but I did underestimate how difficult, how much I’m going to have to learn to do it. It’s a whole new world to me, entirely different from anything I’ve ever done.

Getting older 3
So much inspiration!

I got discouraged at one point, so I changed gears and wrote the last article. Yes, I wanted to be sure I didn’t have too long a space between them, but quite honestly, I needed to do something I know. The last article came because I was feeling inadequate. I mean, I respect my readers, no doubt, but I also really needed to convince myself I can actually write.

This new thing I’m doing, this new craft I am years from mastering, is making parts of my brain spark that haven’t in a long time. This blog is my happy place, my comfort zone. “Life Songs” and its poetry, my happy place, my comfort zone. There’s nothing wrong with that. But my new work, it’s causing my synapses to sparkle. It’s also giving me headaches and self-doubt, but that’s part of the process I suppose.

48309
My sparkling synapse which is the moon, apparently.

So I am 51, I can no longer stay out all night and function the next day. I can no longer stay out late and function the next day. And I can no longer keep my body up creating after about 11pm.

I truly don’t care. I am happy where I am, I am happy with what I can do and accomplish. I am awed that I have lived this long and still have a brain. I have some wonderful memories, I lived a colorful youth. I am not young anymore, but I am not done. Not by a long shot. I have plans and things to create. I have my advocacy and help for the mental health community as best I can, and that alone is a reason to live.

One of the best things about getting older is being able to help with compassion from a place of “Oh, I’ve been there.” I can help in a way I couldn’t when I was 30.

So this past week I wrote and fretted and got inspired by the organ in the Egyptian Theater (seriously, how cool is that place?) and I learned a new piece of information about my body. And that is as cool as a pack of ghost dogs at a race track.

Oops. Spoiler.

Afraid but Doing It – You Are a Lion

All my life, I’ve been somewhat crippled by fear. I was afraid of failing, so I wouldn’t start, afraid of being rejected, so I wouldn’t put myself out there, afraid of looking foolish, so I didn’t try new things. I remember as a child being terrified to jump off the backyard fence, it seemed so high. I sat there for a while before someone helped me down. I just couldn’t make that leap.

When I turned 30, I decided I would try to not live in fear anymore, so when my friends decided to go skydiving, I jumped at the idea. (The joke there is just too easy, so I’m not going to take it.) I put on a hot pink jumpsuit and harness, took the mandatory class, and headed out to the runway. At this point I wasn’t scared which was unlike me since I was about to leap willingly from a perfectly good airplane at 15,000 feet with a man I didn’t know strapped to my back and a trust that he knew what he was doing. That 8-foot wooden fence had given me vertigo, but here I was, resplendent in pink and thinking of paratroopers in old movies.

There was one moment when I actually thought I might throw up, just as we were leaping directly into a cloud. In the pictures you can clearly see the what-the-actual-fuck-was-I-thinking look on my face. I’m sharing that moment with you because I’d rather be funny than cool.

bravery 1bravery 2

Skydiving was scary and exciting and made me question my decision-making skills, but once I did it I felt like a rock star for a while. In the grand scheme of things though, it was a fun diversion and nothing more. I overcame a fear and then went to get pizza. Life changing leaps, the sort of make-it-or-break-it moments, those are far riskier. Ok, the dive was also risky had the chute not opened, but you see what I mean.

When the first tech boom happened in San Francisco in the mid-‘90s, I was working as an Administrative Assistant, which was good steady work, something I could do and make a livable wage, but I wasn’t happy and I wanted to do more. I knew nothing about computers; once a friend told me I could download my work to a floppy, and I had no idea what that meant. But I started to look at the techies sitting in their toy-covered offices and realized they weren’t actually any smarter than me, I just had a gigantic learning curve. So I made a bold decision; I was going to save six months of living expenses, which one could do in those long-gone days, and then quit my job whether I had a new one or not. I figured that would be a great incentive to hustle.

I lived alone with my cat, so it was all on me, sink or swim. I was terrified. I deeply questioned my decision-making skills. But I did it anyway, and I ended up working in I.T. for 20 years. It sounds as I write that like it happened quickly and easily, but it did not. I worked hard to get there, paid my dues, got hand-me-down equipment to tear apart and put together, learned what it meant to download to a floppy. I put in the time, and I succeeded.

Then, after 20 years I decided it was time to move on for a variety of reasons including my health, but that’s a story for another article.

My point here is that skydiving, and taking a giant risk to change careers didn’t make me brave, doing those things while every fiber of my being is screaming “Are you out of your damn mind? Terror! Death! Homeless!” is what made doing them brave. I was scared and unsure, but I did it anyway, I took the chance.

None of this makes me special. Like the techies rolling through their offices on Segways, I am not any smarter than you. I am pretty average and I can’t do math in my head. I can barely do math at all, honestly. I don’t like math is my point, I guess.

Bravery is not going in, metaphorical guns blazing, confident and bad-ass and fearless, bravery is going in when you’re scared and doing it anyway. Bravery is taking a deep breath, squaring your shoulders, and moving forward.

The things I talked about would never have happened if I had not taken the brave steps of saying the words “I am an alcoholic” and confronting the illness I was self-medicating. My book would never have been finished. This blog would not be happening. My art and my budding photography would be gone.

This does not happen overnight, it is not easy, and you may fall. I got sober, and then I relapsed, and then I got sober again. And each time I felt like a failure, and my illness agreed, so I drank more. But I got back up, did the work, and succeeded. Now I’ve been clean for years and work hard to live and thrive with bipolar disorder; I have the correct medicine and support and do the best I can, day by day.

None of this makes me special. But it does make me brave. Facing these demons, getting out of bed even now when I feel depressed, these are the regular, personal victories that should be celebrated and praised.

Whatever you’re facing, big or small, makes you bad-ass and strong, you are a lion or whatever image you like. You are diving out of a plane at 15,000 feet into a cloud, every fiber in your being screaming “This is a really bad idea!” but doing it anyway. Don’t forget that.

Oh by the way, contrary to what cartoons have told us, clouds are in fact not bouncy and soft. They are really really cold and wet. I had an ice-cream headache when we landed.

And it was one of the best things I’ve ever done.

bravery 3

 
If you are suffering, and afraid to ask for help, remember – you are awesome. You are bad-ass. And getting help if you need it is every bit as brave as taking that leap.

National Helpline
SAMHSA’s National Helpline is a free, confidential, 24/7, 365-day-a-year treatment referral and information service (in English and Spanish) for individuals and families facing mental and/or substance use disorders.
https://www.samhsa.gov/find-help/national-helpline

Art, Self-Care, and Celebration

My husband was away this weekend, and since I was on my writing break, I got bored. I needed to do something creative but I didn’t know what.

Poking around in Facebook I saw an ad from a corsetry shop a friend owns. The featured corset was made with the lace from an old wedding gown which was in tatters. I thought that was a great idea. Then I remembered that my first wedding gown is under my bed. I had it cleaned and preserved after the wedding, and it has sat in that box unseen for 31 years.

But it’s much older than that. My dad and my uncle split the price, and my mother wore it in 1954 for their wedding, and my aunt shortly after. When my first husband and I got married, I wanted to wear it too, so a few alterations later, it was ready for the big, extremely ill-advised day in my 20-year-old life.

body memory 2

The pictures of me are so funny; she looks like maybe we are related but not the same person. Well, we aren’t the same person. I mean, few of us are the same as we were at 20, I don’t think. Unless you are 20, then hey, you do you.

But the dress is not sacred, we split up after five years, so why on earth should I leave it in its box like a mummy in a sarcophagus?

To recap, I was alone, bored, and had a 65-year-old gown with two previous owners including my mom, that I wore 31 years ago and haven’t seen since. Nope. Nothing there to set a person into a spin.

I dug it out from under our bed, brought it into my dining room, and started to unbox it like Howard Carter but with fewer “wonderful things” and deadly curses.

I had forgotten how heavy it is, and how fragile the lace was even back then, and the veil is so huge I sat on it when I was wearing it.

It did not fit. I am a tad larger now. But I found that if I unbuttoned the back I could slip my arms into the sleeves and it looked, from the front, like I was wearing it. It is old and cracked and the pearls are dropping off with each step and something had to be done with it. Something…spooky.

I was alone, and the good camera was with Chris so I decided I would just take some random goth-y photos as selfies with my phone. And then I had an idea. I made a little photo-narrative. I used the plastic skeleton that is in my profile picture, (Ermastus, meet everyone, everyone, meet Ermastus) to be the…

You know, I’m torn here. I am fairly dark by nature, I cut my teeth on Poe and Lovecraft, I’ve always leaned to the macabre, and to me, the Paris Catacombs are beautiful and life-affirming. But not everyone shares that and this page is not meant to upset anyone, so I’m not going to explain it.

Here’s one of the photos that is not spooky.

body memory 5
You can tell it’s art because the background is black and I’m not smiling.

I do have to explain this though. Part of the process was getting a photo of me in crippling pain; pain so deep and so unfathomable, my mind has left the physical world, never to return. In order to do this, I had to make the faces and body language to capture it (while holding a phone and trying to disguise that I’m taking a selfie,) and after an hour or so of this, something odd happened. I started to feel deeply, horribly, crushingly, depressed.

I took off the gown, put my jammies back on (who are the people who dress in street clothes in their homes?) and left the room. I looked at the photos. Seeing my face and body like that, in an old storied gown, remembering my mother, long gone, my aunt, my first marriage, long ended, every single wound and unnamed pain, and every time I considered suicide…I closed the photos and thought about the void.

Here’s a picture of my cat, Crazy Legs.

body memory 8
He says hello, but Ermastus is being shy.

This is why it is so important to know how to practice self-care. I was alone, and I would be for two more days, so I did familiar things, ate some leftover gnocchi, sat on the sofa with Crazy Legs, and started to marathon “Parks and Recreation” for I think the fourth time. I love that show, it’s comforting and normal and is not even acquainted with depth. I can do it nearly line for line and I love every single person on it.

I do wonder though, how someone looked at sweet, tubby Andy and said, “Hey, let’s make him Starlord!” But I’m glad they did. I could have watched any of the Marvel Movies too.

After a couple of hours, I was fine. But something very intense had happened.
My art is mainly on the page, and sometimes on canvas or three-dimensional. Photography is new to me, and this sort of quasi-acting is unknown to me, so I was not prepared for what it would do, what it would dredge up.

Holding that pose, over and over and over, pretending to scream and wail, I was not prepared for what that would do to me. Chris has acted, so when he got home he told me that’s what actors may go through; it can really fuck with a person’s head. I only did it for an hour. They do it for days or weeks or more. The body/mind connection is powerful. It can hold emotions that can be triggered by anything, touch, smell, vision, or action in this case. The mind brings it forward, affects the body, and so on.

Now, I did get some beautiful shots from this whole thing, so it was worth it. But it was hard, and knowing what to do to shake it off was critical.

Whatever it is that you do, whatever might bring pain to the surface, you need to have a full toolbox, ready to grab what you need to fix it. Sit down, take stock, and think – what makes you happy, what simple thing can you do to make yourself feel safe? A certain food? An animal, a beloved T.V. show or film? What is your simple joy?

Also, celebrate all the victories, big or small, cute or spooky. For me, I’m writing again, I’m making art, so here’s an alcohol-free toast to all of us!

body memory 6
I’m in my jammies and no make-up so this is it. I’m only going to go so far with honesty.

Trolls and Censorship – or – My Rules, and Please Look Up the 1st Amendment

My first trolls have come a’calling.  A friend told me I should be proud because my message is getting out there enough to attract them. So, yaye I guess?

I have posted 15 times on Nightmares and Laughter’s Facebook page, topics including Mental Health Awareness Month, abuse, Close Encounters, regret, writing, etc.

I’m extremely open about my life, to a fault perhaps; I reveal a lot of personal information for the sake of an article. I knew at some point the trolls would shake the gummy worms off their fingers and start to mash their hands against their crumb-encrusted keyboards, and that was a day I was dreading.

So when I put together a quick post for Pride Month and wrote it to reflect the mission of Nightmares and Laughter, I figured it would be the one that would attract trolls.

I got an “Angry” reaction pretty quickly.  Then another.  It had begun.

troll 1
The Angry reactions don’t show on account of all the banning. Why don’t these people worry about their own damn lives?

This was inevitable, so I had already set up a policy for myself; I will not engage trolls.  Period.  Any ugly, irrational, or combative comments will be deleted.

Some shook their grimy fists, twisted their faces in righteous indignation, looked up righteous indignation, then accused me of stifling free speech and being filled with hate for other opinions, etc., the usual projection.  As badly as I wanted to explain for the billionth time what the 1st Amendment is and is not, who can stifle free speech and who cannot (please, I beg you, look it up) I kept to my own rules and did not engage.

trolls 2
This is a good start for learning and things. https://xkcd.com/1357/

The spittle-spewing rage though did make me think that it’s fair to explain why I’m doing this.

Here is the page description on FB:
“Nightmares and Laughter is a peek into my life living with bipolar disorder. It’s a place to laugh together at life’s joys and absurdities, an occasionally painful, unflinchingly honest look at the struggle through my lens, and support around issues of addiction, abuse, and mental illness.
I also write about goats because goats are hilarious.”

trolls 5
Can we take a moment to enjoy this?  Because look at him!

I thought that was pretty clear.  This is a place of support, which is why I include resources at the end of heavier articles.  (There are resources on this one.)

It’s a place of laughter because that’s important.

And it’s a place of community, whatever you happen to call yourself.

You are welcome here, regardless of your political views and religion, as long as you keep things civil.

It is not, and it never will be, a place for trolls to poke at my readers or me and take cheap shots.

I will not engage with trolls, I will not allow others to engage with trolls on my page, even if I agree with them, because that is not what Nightmares and Laughter is about.

Am I censoring them?  Yes. Yes, I am.

Am I stifling their right to free speech?

No.  I am not able to stifle their free speech.  Only the government can stifle their free speech.

trolls 4
 In the name of all that’s holy, look it up!

Look, the LGBT community suffers hatred and violence to the highest levels of government. Transsexuals are told which bathroom they must use, they are accused of being pedophiles, they are forbidden to serve their country, they are murdered, because of fear and hatred.

Teachers are fired, doctors refuse to treat their children – their children – because there are two loving mommies or daddies.  If you condone that, you do not belong here. There are appropriate groups on 4Chan for you to enjoy.

There is no “both sides” one some things, there is no compromise.  How do you think we’re going to “discuss” the right to take someone’s freedom and humanity?  Where do you think reasonable debate comes in?  I will not “discuss” putting children in cages either.  Some things are binary.

Given all of that, on a post about Pride Month, a snide and hateful comment can be dangerous. Not everyone lives in an LGBT accepting city like my San Francisco. Their religion may call them abominations, their families may have disowned them.  They see a post telling them they are worthy of life and happiness, and then someone with serious pathological issues comes in and says something hateful.  Maybe that’s the last straw, maybe someone breaks.

Maybe someone commits suicide.

I realize that the trolls do not care. I’m hoping to reach people in the middle who may think I’m being unreasonable and not allowing discussion.

I absolutely allow discussion.  I welcome it.  If someone doesn’t understand and comes into the comments on FB or this blog and engages honestly, I will too. That is also part of why I started this blog.

So, trolls have been banned, comments deleted. (A couple of those comments were hits at my City. Some people really need a hobby.)

My readers are important to me, my mission for Nightmares and Laughter is dear to me, and I will not let it be shit on by damaged people.

Sometimes I write when something horrible has happened, and those articles can be angry, but they are not partisan. Some things are beyond politics, or they should be. This is not a political site. It is not a provocative page meant to start flame wars.  This is a place of comfort or laughter or movies or goats, but most of what I post has some underlying connection to mental health and/or addiction; abuse and trolls will not be tolerated.

The bottom line here is, I welcome you with open arms, as long as you’re not an asshole.

Here are some resources in case anyone needs them.

 

PFLAG Support Hotlines

 The hotlines listed below provide services to callers across the country. If you’re looking for a local support network, also contact one of PFLAG’s more than 400 chapters in the United States.

https://pflag.org/hotlines

 

National Helpline

SAMHSA’s National Helpline is a free, confidential, 24/7, 365-day-a-year treatment referral and information service (in English and Spanish) for individuals and families facing mental and/or substance use disorders.

https://www.samhsa.gov/find-help/national-helpline

 

Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network

Free, confidential, 24/7 support.

https://www.rainn.org/

 

National Suicide Prevention Hotline

We can all help prevent suicide. The Lifeline provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones, and best practices for professionals.

1-800-273-8255

https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/

 

 

Dreams and Regret – It is never too late!

The picture on the left of the banner is me, 1993, 25 years old.  The grey-haired woman on the right is also me, 2018, 50 years old.  Several lifetimes have passed in those 25 years; some very hard lessons learned.

I started to write poetry when I was a child. When I was the young woman with the dark hair, I decided I would compile some of them, and I made a book I called “Life Songs –  A Collection of Poems.”  I did finish, but I put it away and fell into a pattern of self-destruction and failure that lasted for years.  Life Songs died.

life songs 1
Bound and ready, and forgotten.

But at 50 I began to wonder; what dreams have I let go?  What are the seeds of regret?

My dreams of singing professionally were done, too much whiskey and smoke had taken its toll.  That one hurts.

My paintings are unlikely to hang anywhere, my photography is hit or miss, and having a business to call my own died a premature death.  Don’t go into business with friends, that’s my advice to you.

But there was one thing left, my first love, my greatest love, my sanctuary, my heart, my everything.

Writing.  That I could still do.

It had been 25 years since I put Life Songs together, then I drank my muse away.  I killed her with my hands around a bottle of Jack.

life songs 7
My muse scribbled on scrap paper. I don’t remember drawing this.

 

I also made the grave mistake of majoring in Creative Writing and taking many poetry classes which put an inner critic in my head I had never had before. Everyone is different, but for me, this was a massive mistake.  

Anyway, as I neared 50, I realized that I needed to complete Life Songs and get it out.  So I read it over, all bright-eyed and optimistic. Then I closed it and stared into space.

Many of the poems were, well, let me put it this way, I separated it into chapters based on content, and I decided that each chapter heading would be a take on “Ten Definitions of Poetry” by Carl Sandburg.  Trouble is, I’m not Sandburg now, let alone at 25, and it went…poorly.  I will not be sharing any of those with you. Oh my, no. So I was stuck again.

Then on a warm summer night, after a lovely meal with dear friends, we began to talk about our projects.  I never had anything to add to these conversations since I had no muse and no art in my soul.  But this night I did.  This night I talked about it, and as sometimes happens when thinking out loud, I had an epiphany.  I am not the same person I was back then.  So why not let the grey-haired lady speak to the dark-haired one?  Choose poems that are relevant or particularly painful or funny and talk to her?  Maybe I could find healing in that.  Maybe I could help another reader find healing or hope or at least know they are not alone.

Maybe I really could finish Life Songs.

And then, just like that, my muse came home.

When I sat down to work, everything came back. The traumas and moments of life, sure, but that’s not what  I mean.  I mean the absolute and overpowering joy of writing, of moving my hands on a keyboard and making the words I want to say appear. I had forgotten what it felt like to write.  It’s like forgetting what it is to taste ice cream or smell freshly mowed grass.

Many of my friends are writers. They post on Facebook, share funny memes, talk about their process and craft. I would be happy for them, but I would also burn inside. I was not a writer anymore. One can call it a dry spell for a while, but after two and a half decades, you’re no longer in the club.

But after I wrote a few pages, and after I started this blog, I was a writer again. I could respond to the comments, laugh at the memes, and talk about my process and craft.

I was a writer again.  I was in the club.

I worked on Life Songs, I thought about it when I wasn’t, I dreamed about it at night.  Then the first draft was finished.  I celebrated with some non-alcoholic sparkling apple cider in a flamingo glass.  It’s tradition.

life songs 2
1993 -2018 Absolute joy!

Then the final was done. After twenty-five years, I was almost ready to publish.

Now, I don’t know Photoshop or anything like that, and I can’t afford a professional photographer, so I decided to stage and shoot my own photos. I had a good idea what I wanted it to look like and every single prop I used I already had, so I set up a photo “studio” in the dining room, complete with the lights with umbrella things and my husband’s Nikon D90, and got busy.

life songs 6

Two months and about 3,000 photos later, I got seven or so that I loved, and chose two for the front and back cover.

I sent them to the cover artist my mother-in-law, a professional writer, had recommended, and prepared to upload my manuscript to Amazon.

Then I typed up the title page

Life Songs – Discussions with an Angry Child

by – …….

And I froze.

Belle Chapin is a pseudonym. I started this blog under that name because I was afraid to use my real one. (Belle Chapin was my grandmother.) I was afraid of not getting a job, afraid of trolls, afraid of being so vulnerable.  So I was going to publish Life Songs under that name as well.

I backspaced my real name out, and I typed

by Belle Chapin

And then I cried.  And then I cried more.  This girl is me. This is my life, goddammit. This is my life, my heart, my work.

It took some time with my therapist, but I finally came to a decision.

This girl is me. This is my life, my heart, my work.

I sat down at my laptop and I opened the title page.

Life Songs – Discussions with an Angry Child

by Sue St. Blaine

And then I closed my laptop.

The cover artist sent me the final product.  I opened the attachment I cried so hard I nearly passed out. It was real.

I finished my life’s work.

life songs 4
So happy I posed without makeup!

The way I’ve lived my life, the choices I’ve made have left many scars and regrets.  I know there are things I didn’t do because I didn’t have the confidence, I was scared, I was drunk.

I was drunk. The seeds of regret are sown.

But it’s been a year since I published Life Songs.  It is sitting on the shelf behind me. My heart fills as certainly as my eyes when I think about it.  I did it.  I finished it.

In a life full of mistakes, this is something I did right.

I wish that for all of you.

 

 

Abuse and Memory – Finding Our Truth

My sister and I have a shared memory that one of us remembers absolutely wrong.

Bev is five years older than me, but we would still do things together growing up.  One of the things we loved to do was put a record on the console hi-fi, (ask your parents) play a song and sing into hairbrushes, because hairbrushes are microphones, naturally.  This would be to a song by The Beatles, or Journey, something we both liked.

I have a vivid memory of singing along to AC/DC’s “Dirty Deeds,” a fairly graphic song released in 1976 about a killer for hire.  Our mom came in disgusted that they were glorifying murder like that.  Bev looked at her and said, “Three words, mom.  Mac. The. Knife.”  This is a fairly graphic song released in 1959 about a killer for hire. Realizing she had no comeback to this, she turned and left the room.

I told that story to a group of friends recently, Bev among them.  We all laughed because the opportunity to zing a parent like that is very rare and very funny.

But Bev frowned, “No, that’s not what happened.”

“We were in the car singing along to The Beatles, “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer,” on the radio.  Everything else is the same, mom said that, I said Mac the Knife, all that, but we were in the car, and it wasn’t Dirty Deeds.”

I was flummoxed.  “It absolutely was Dirty Deeds.  We were in the living room like we always were.”

Then Bev made a very excellent point.

“I hate AC/DC, that’s your thing.  I would never have sung along with them.”

I do a lot of research for my articles.  Sometimes it’s scholarly texts, sometimes it’s Facebook Messenger.

Memory 1Memory 2Memory 3Memory 4Memory 5

 

She is 100% correct, she does hate AC/DC, (on that point anyway, she is grievously wrong) so it is very unlikely my recall of this is accurate.  But the thing that bothers me is, even after she described what likely happened, even after the completely reasonable argument of why it could not have happened my way, I still see it how I always have – living room, hairbrushes, AC/DC.  One of us is simply wrong.

But neither of us is lying.

I am 100% certain that my version is right.  I can see it, I can hear the song, our painful adolescent attempts to copy Bonn Scott’s un-copy-able voice, I can see the hairbrush in front of my mouth reflected in the living room window.  I can see my mother pound into the room and angrily interrupt, and I can see Bev’s raised eyebrows and grin as she delivered the verbal body-blow that ended the argument.

I remember it exactly like that.

Except I am more than likely, 100% wrong.

It seems like a contradiction, but it’s really not.  I’m not lying when I say I see that scene play out exactly as I describe.

In preparing this article, I spent some time talking to my psychiatrist about the implications of memory fluidity. I had to come to peace with my own issues around this before I could try to offer any comfort to you.  But she has, as always, helped me work through it.

Because that’s really the thing, isn’t it?  That’s the easiest way to dismiss an accusation, to devalue an experience, especially if it happened long ago, in childhood, teenage years, is to simply say, memory is fluid, you have a vivid imagination, you saw a TV show and made it real in your head, etc. until no one believes it, and eventually, maybe you don’t even believe it.

Memory is fluid, eyewitness testimony is one of the least reliable, that is a fact.  But what does that mean for survivors?

Memory and doubt 12

I used the example with my sister because it’s funny, and I wanted to work into this a little gently.  But it is also apt.  I remember it exactly as I always have. I don’t remember being in a car.  I don’t remember Maxwell’s Silver Hammer.  I remember the living room, hairbrushes, and AC/DC.  I am likely completely wrong.

But, and this is important, I am wrong about the details, the where, when, what song, but I am right about the important part of the story.  A taboo song, a mother trying to shut it down, Bev winning the argument before it even started. We are in complete agreement about these details.

The actual, important event, is correctly remembered.

This is important to me because memory has played such a critical role in my “story” and even my identity.

I was abused by various people, including a brother, throughout my childhood.  I have no memory of not being angry, of not feeling rage and fear and blinding, white-hot hatred, for him.  I remember specific events.

I have identified as a survivor since my 20s.  When the book “The Courage to Heal” came out, it was a revelation.  I was validated, seen, and I was not alone.  I remember going to an all-day event and watching women much older than me walking from lecture to lecture carrying stuffed comfort animals.  I remember wishing I’d thought of it, and realized that I would not have had the courage to carry it in public if I had.  Allowing myself the self-care I needed was nearly two decades away.  But here I had a community, a large group of kindred spirits who had been victimized to one degree or another, all equally valid, all worthy of love and care.

I remember sitting alone at the lunch break and falling to pieces.  All of these women are here for each other.  All of these women are here for each other, because all of these women have been brutalized and broken, to some degree or another.  I felt hurt, wounded, exposed, and heartsick.

In the coming years I came to terms with my alcoholism, my depression, and finally landed the correct diagnosis of bipolar II, which became bipolar I a few years later.

But the abuse, that was first.  That was in the late ‘80s with the release of that one book, the first time I heard the term “survivor.”  And I am forever grateful to Ellen Bass for that.

When my father confronted my brother after I’d spent a horrible afternoon telling my parents what had happened, dad asked him why he did it.  Dad told me later that he hung his head and said, “I don’t know.”

“I don’t know.”  These are not the words of an innocent person.  The words of an innocent person are, “What are you talking about?  How dare you!  How dare you accuse me of something so horrific! So vile! How dare you!”

With that tacit confession, I should have no longer doubted what I recalled.

“I hate AC/DC.  It was in the car, not the living room.”

It’s not only a single detail being confused here.  It is the entire scenario.  Except for the “punch line,” every single thing I recall is wrong.

Memory and doubt 8
How would you describe this in 20 years?  Are there stairs leading to a doorway?  Chipped paint on the ceiling?  What color was it, what color was the sky?  But it took your breath away, that you won’t forget.

I have my memories, and more importantly, I have an admission of guilt and diaries and poems that go back to nine-years-old.  I have “source material,” if you will.

And even still, I had doubts sometimes.

What of the women who don’t have anything but their memories?  What of the women for whom this is a “he said/she said” situation?

What of the women who completely and utterly disassociated while it was happening, to the point that it’s a black nothing in their memory?  Don’t think that’s possible?  Here’s another story.

When I was 16, I bought my first vehicle, a yellow Toyota truck with a camper shell.  I took it out for a spin with several of my friends, laughing and having fun in the back of what was basically a playhouse for teenagers.

I was on a four-lane street with a large grassy median.

Here’s what I remember next.  A car swerved in front of me within inches of my fender.  I remember seeing the jackass in the back seat turn around laughing as I tried to keep control.  Next, I was on the median, the entire left side of my truck on the curb, my rims had bent and ripped my tires to shreds.  My friends were trying to open my door and get me out.  When I came to, when I started to get my higher functions back, my hands were so tightly gripped on the wheel that I could barely remove them, and I was aware very slowly of the shooting pain up my arms as I had apparently used them as shock absorbers during the crash.  My friends finally coaxed me to unlock the door.  I got out, lost control of my legs, fell to the ground, and just…shook.

My friends said I was amazing, I kept control of the truck, I had no choice but to crash the way I did, but I skidded along on my rims and came to a safe, controlled stop.

To this day, I have zero memory of any of that.

My brain simply went on some sort of autopilot, I guess literally this time.  It was so horrible that my memory said “Well, I’m out.  I’ll be back here with Smell until this is all done.”

This happened during a car accident.  Imagine what our brains can do when we’re being raped, abused, beaten, molested, imagine how far away we can leave our brains and hide, or even rewrite, something life-shatteringly horrible.

Memory can get muddled, that’s a fact.  Those of us who are survivors become extremely good at disassociation.  I have been a pro since I was a child; it’s an escape, it’s a world you control, you are essentially a god.  It can also make for a rich creative life.

But these things can be, and are, used against us.  How do we know what is real?  How do we know what really happened, was is AC/DC or The Beatles?  Is it a total blackout from mental self-defense, did it spring from a vivid imagination?

I can’t answer these questions for you but I can tell you this.

My memories are real.  Maybe not minute details, maybe not the room, the surroundings, the time of day.  But the events – what actually happened – are drilled into my head.  The more traumatic the event, the more likely we remember.  Or sometimes it simply never writes to memory.  Like my accident, that 3 or 4 minutes is not there.

I have the details surrounding the event wrong.  It was The Beatles, it was in the car, this could not be more different from my memory.  But the core of it, the actual, meaningful event, was correct.

Friends, men and women alike, if you have a memory of abuse, if that memory causes your heart to hurt, I suggest that it is probably correct.  At the very least it should be examined, try to find a therapist to help you work through it.  I’m including some resources you can use as well.

Please, do not let anyone tell you it’s not true, you are misremembering, or worse, that you are lying.  If it hurts to think about, look at it.

Memory is foggy and imprecise.  But it is not to be ignored because the curtains were blue and not yellow.

Please take care of yourselves.  Be gentle with yourselves.

Carry a stuffed comfort animal if you need to.

 

National Helpline

SAMHSA’s National Helpline is a free, confidential, 24/7, 365-day-a-year treatment referral and information service (in English and Spanish) for individuals and families facing mental and/or substance use disorders.
https://www.samhsa.gov/find-help/national-helpline

Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network

Free, confidential, 24/7 support.

https://www.rainn.org/

 National Suicide Prevention Hotline

We can all help prevent suicide. The Lifeline provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones, and best practices for professionals.

1-800-273-8255

https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/