Category Archives: Self Care

Honor Your Pain – Then Set it Free

I am writing today with a heavy heart. My beautiful California is burning.

This article is not about politics or environmentalism, these are covered elsewhere. I want to talk about pain and grief, about loss, not just of these precious forests, but identity and heritage, and the need to mourn.

I am a native Northern Californian with a long history in San Francisco so I have been up and down the North Coast all my life. There is nowhere I feel more alive than in the mountains and trees. My pulse skips a beat when I touch the bark of a living thing that can be 2,000 years old. These are our antiquities, our pyramids, our castles, and they are here in my backyard. They are part of me, as surely as the Pacific and the cable cars. I am proud of our woods and forests.

Redwood Eureka

Choking on smoke in my home, knowing that some of my friends are evacuating and waiting to hear if they are ok is heartbreaking. Big Basin is burned, no idea yet about the ancient trees there. So much more; too much to list here.

Everyone has a touchstone, something they feel deeply about. It could be your place of birth, something built by your distant ancestors or a particular animal you associate with your home. It is anything that fills you with some pride, peace, memories, something that embraces your heart.

If that thing is taken from you, if it is destroyed in some way, it can hurt very deeply. It can cut to the core of who you are, and it can indeed cause you to grieve. That is human, it is a human reaction.

And it is legitimate.

Redwoods sea
Take a moment and breathe. Just breathe.

As of this writing, 174,290 people have died in the U.S. from Covid-19, according to John Hopkins. They leave behind family, friends, children, people who love them, rely on them, children who are now orphans, scared, and alone. I can’t even conceive of this pain and the bills that go with it.

Chris and I are healthy, our families are healthy, we are holding on just fine. We are not directly affected by the fires other than the smoke. The likelihood that it will his San Francisco is near 0. (I’m not going to tempt 2020.) But that doesn’t mean the pain of watching the state I love, the parks where I’ve spent so much time, the trees I hold as part of my identity isn’t real or less than.

All of our pain and losses can easily be measured against a greater pain, most of the time. My grief is less than a corona virus death. Worry about rent is less than being homeless. Being homeless is less than living in a war zone, terrified every moment, every time there’s the whistle of a bomb, with no idea where it will land. Compared to that, our day to day problems are small.

“People have it worse than you.”

Please stop saying that. It’s hurtful, scolding, self-righteous drivel that helps no one and can do damage. We are all doing the best we can, and we all face hard times. We need to hear soft things if possible, just “I care, I’m here for you, that’s awful.” Later, time can be spent trying to figure things out, fix them or come to peace that there is nothing you can do about it, and try to let it go, try to find comfort whatever that means to you.

Buddha

As of this writing, there are 174,290 people dead, leaving families to mourn in a way that I can’t begin to understand. So in that respect, “some people have it worse” is objectively true, and I think it’s good to acknowledge that to ourselves, in our own time.

One’s own pain is not less than. Your pain, fear, and stress are real to you and meaningful to you, as mine is to me. It’s not a contest. I’m mourning this loss, even with the knowledge that everything will heal.

We hear this a lot, those of us with a mental illness. “It’s not so bad, others have it worse, just snap out of it.”

I’ve written about this before but with everything going on I believe it’s worth repeating.

Your mental illness is real. It is physical.* It is not something we can “snap out” of or simply change our attitude and be happy. It’s simply not, and telling people they are faking or otherwise demeaning them or diminishing their pain is dangerous. No, it’s not covid. It’s not a child in a cage ripped from their parents. But it is real and it can be debilitating.

This is a hard time for everyone. Fear, worry, the desire to go back to “real life” are all there. I understand and I feel it too, of course. Recently, every now and then, when the wind was just right, I could hear the Golden Gate Bridge scream from some four miles away. Not a sweet, gentle sort of whistle, no. It was a high pitched, piercing sound like a tin piccolo, non-stop, as long as the wind blew that way. (For the record, they had installed some barriers for the bike path, and had no idea they were putting in an amelodic one-pitched harmonica for a giant grade-school band.) It was a perfect metaphor for 2020; even the bridge was having an existential crisis.

I don’t know when the fires will be contained. I don’t know how much we are going to lose. I don’t know when the Shelter-in-Place will finally end, when I can go to dinner and a movie, or travel to another country. But it will end eventually. We will go back to some kind of normal. We really will.

On October 25th Chris and I will celebrate 20 years. I planned to share the milestone with friends and laughter. That isn’t going to happen, but we are healthy and we will share it at home together with our friends electronically. Not ideal, but still a celebration. Life will go on, and trees will regrow, but for now, I mourn, I ache. For now, part of my heart has been bruised.

I personally at 52-years-old have never seen a year like 2020. Not in my wildest pessimistic dreams did I imagine this train wreck. Being powerless is hard but also an exercise in letting go. Honor your pain, it’s real and it matters, but don’t let it own you or destroy you.

Do as the beautiful bridge did…scream, but stand tall, and blare your fog horns when you need to. Ok, that last part doesn’t apply but you know. Fight.

Redwood bridge

If you are alone at home, please reach out to your friends and family. I’ve included a couple of resources as well if you need them.

* There is always debate about the nature and cause of mental illness. I subscribe to the belief that it is physical and genetic, based on my own experiences, observations, and discussions with doctors.

 

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

 
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

Home

Emotional Care During the Pandemic

I want to check in on you and see how you’re doing.

Here in California, like so much of the country and world, we’re under a State of Emergency, and San Francisco just announced Shelter in Place for three weeks starting at midnight. Schools, bars, restaurants, all events are closed or canceled. The St. Patrick’s Day Parade is canceled, Cherry Blossom Festival in Japan Town, huge events people love and look forward to. Places like the Castro and Balboa theaters, much loved, providing entertainment for decades, are closed. There are businesses that will not survive.

It’s scary, and people are on edge. I was on the bus last week, and my throat was dry from the dust billowing up during packing and sorting. I coughed once, and the 15 or so people on the bus all turned to look at me. So I very quickly took some gum, immediately swallowed wrong, and coughed three times, which got to my nose and I had to pull out a tissue. The stares turned fearful; I was hoping I wouldn’t get kicked off the bus. These people aren’t mean or ignorant, they’re scared. I am too.

So what are you doing to take care of yourself? I assume you’re washing your hands, not touching your face, avoiding crowds, all of those physical things. These are all important, vital actually. But what are you doing to take care of your mental health? If you are scared, or stressed with children under your feet who can’t go to school, or worried about elderly parents, other family, whatever is going on for you, however it is affecting you, it can be overwhelming, especially for those of us with a mental illness. We have to take an inventory of it, sit with it, own it, and accept that it is not irrational to feel like we do, it is perfectly reasonable. It is a scary time, it’s ok to be scared.

So how are you?

My therapist’s office closed, all therapy must be done via teleconference. I had my first meeting today. It was odd, a little awkward at first, but I settled in quickly, and it went well. I have that luxury, I’m grateful for it, but not everyone does. So how can we take care of ourselves?

First, don’t minimize it. I said it already, but it’s important. You are not being irrational, you are human. It is scary.

However, try to not dwell on this and spin yourself into a bad place. I like to stay informed, but hitting refresh on your browser and reading updates all day is not healthy. Be aware, sure, but do a search for kitten videos or elephant babies playing with ducks, whatever you like.

Remind yourself, this will pass. Depending on how old you are, you’ve been through SARS, H1N1, AIDS, maybe even smallpox or polio. It will be ok.

If you have coping mechanisms you use, by all means, do that. If you don’t, now is a fine time to find them. For me, I love art, writing, playing little match-3 phone games, marathoning spooky shows, and trading verbal jabs with Chris, who is also here of course. Crazy Legs is thrilled to have his humans home. But time to sit quietly and breathe, close your eyes and just “be” is time well spent for anyone, but for us, it can be incredibly important. It can be the difference between coping during a difficult time and falling into a major depression.

Which brings me to my last point. If you are by yourself in your home, please find a way to reach out to a friend, on the phone, through social media, whatever works for you, but please don’t let yourself fall into a pit, which is so easy if you are isolated. Eat, sleep, keep clean, and do something fun to take your mind off things.

I’ve included a resource here for you in case you are feeling overwhelmed and need help. You’re important, and we need you here.

 

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

Self-Care in the New Year – An Important Resolution

It’s approaching not only the end of a year, but the end of a decade, and I’m feeling reflective. Also, I’m going to call this decade “The Roaring ‘20s – Pt II” because it amuses me. Time for a revival of the Charleston and the phrase “the bee’s knees” because I laughed for 10 minutes straight the first time I heard it.

New Year 2
A revival of Art Deco is long overdue, I think.

Anyway, the teens were an interesting time, weren’t they? One huge, life-changing decision for me (leaving a toxic job) ups and downs, shameful memories and glorious victories. Publishing my book “Life Songs” in 2018 was a lifetime dream come true. It was one of the most heart-filling things I’ve ever done. I never expected to get rich, I think my royalties were an amazing 50-odd dollars, but that wasn’t the point. It’s done, after 25 years, it’s complete.

New Year 5
I’m going to retire, just as soon as royalties hit $60.00.

This blog is also a victory. After two years of false starts I’ve finally got a handle on it, I finally managed to get some traction in my mission to help and advocate. I also have a captive audience for my groaner jokes, and that’s just fabulous. I can call myself a writer again. That is part of my identity, and I’m over the moon. Next I need to pick up my poetry; I can’t call myself a poet until I do.

It hasn’t been all good of course, it never is. Bad things happen, either brought on you or that you bring on yourself. I have done the latter a lot. More than once I have considered closing this blog and its Facebook page because I felt like a fraud.

Who am I to encourage people to do their best, to make a true assessment, be gentle with themselves, get back up when they fall, when I can barely do it? I need this page to be honest, unblinkingly so, and yet I come and I cheerlead and I say things that I sometimes don’t feel in my heart at all. I’m behind a keyboard; you can’t see my face. I write when I’m cripplingly depressed and I say words I don’t embrace. Or I disappear, unable to muster any thoughts. Who am I to present myself the way I do? At these times I feel self-loathing and every bit a charlatan, even a hypocrite.

I have a very high bar for myself; it sets me up to fail, all or nothing. The pressure to be authentic, to say the things that come from strength and the need to be absolutely in control of myself, essentially be perfect or not write anything, is paralyzing. Am I dishonest with you if I don’t share the bad things too? I fear so much hurting someone else with my doubts instead of acknowledging that we all have them, that it’s the human condition. How can we grow if we aren’t witness to each other, if we allow our horrible thoughts to consume and define us?

And that’s the trick, isn’t it? My best friend once asked me, while I was sharing my horrible inner monolog, “If I came to you with this, would you say those things to me?” Of course not, not in a million years. I might say, “That’s not awesome, what you did, but you’re human, I love you anyway, let’s figure it out.” Or I’d just shove a cookie at her and say “Oh my God, eat this and let’s go play with your Legos.” She has a huge collection of Legos, just so many kits. (This is assuming she wasn’t in a real depression; that’s a totally different conversation.)

The new year, the new decade is just a number, it has no real significance beyond what we attach to it. But for most of us, myself included there is still some sort of magic, figuratively speaking. A new beginning, a time of resolutions and reflection and hopefully not an unhealthy amount of booze, if you drink.

There’s a thing I heard many years ago, you probably have too, that whatever you bring into the new year sets the stage for the next one. I don’t really believe that. I don’t believe in predetermination but I still try to have a peaceful night. If Chris and I and our middle-aged selves make it to midnight we toast with sparkling cider and collapse in bed.

New year 3
This seldom happens, I find.

This New Year’s Eve we’ll be with two of our dearest friends at their home in Sonoma. They will toast at midnight with sparkling wine, I will toast with my Martinelli’s (seriously, you knew what I was referring to) and then we’ll probably all collapse because over 50 does not equal all-night partying. I’m at peace with that.

I am, actually. I’m at peace with my age; I’m fine with it. A lot of people would have lost a lot of money betting on me not making it to 50 or even 30! So every year I get is a treasure. Every year you get is a treasure. I’m going to try harder to remember that.

So I won’t be closing up this blog or deleting its Facebook page. I will continue to do what I set out to do. There are some changes to it I’m considering, but that’s also a conversation for another time.

I am excited. I am looking forward to the next year and what might be. New adventures, big decisions, new books out. I’ll write like so much about it.

I wish for all of you a happy turn of the decade. I wish for you to enjoy whatever it is that you do to ring it in. In the new year, I wish for you celebrations of your victories, and gentleness with your mistakes, and good friends who will help remind you that you matter, that you are a flawed and beautiful human, as we all are. And I wish to believe what I just said in my own heart.

New Year 4
It’s worth it.

 

And please, if you do have a problem with alcohol find a way to take care of yourself. Have a buddy with you who you can trust to keep an eye on you, go to a sober party, let your friends know you can’t drink with them, and make sure you’re with people who will respect that. And whether you are an alcoholic or not, if you drink, do not drive!

On that note, thank you for reading this, and my blog. Thank you for being a part of the community I’m building, it makes me so happy to have you here. That sounds trite, but I mean it.

Happy new year, a happy new decade. You are all just the bee’s knees. I will bring that back.

It’s OK To Not Feel Jolly at Christmas

Christmas is almost here, which is stunning to me, but I thought I’d share a thought for the many of us who sometimes have a problem dealing with it.

You don’t have to be jolly every minute of Christmas.

There’s a lot of pressure around this one day, a lot of messages to be happy and joyful, to bake cookies, watch some version of “A Christmas Carole,” smile at children, or something. If you’re religious, there’s a whole other level of pressure; I remember it from my youth. Sit and be happy with your family, smile, be loving, give meaningful gifts. Also, you must have gifts.

If someone in that family has abused you somehow, this can be devastating. Maybe you seethe all day, maybe you act out, maybe you self-medicate, or worse. I did all three. The only way I could even remotely deal with this was to medicate with alcohol or weed. It tarnished the holiday for me, darkened it, and that took years and the removal of the toxic person, to overcome. I still feel down now and then, but less often and with far less intensity, and I’ve remained sober. I also had help from the family I kept in my life, my friends, and my husbands. I’ve been married twice, my first husband remains a wonderful man.

This brings me to “Mr. Robot.” Chris would say he just got whiplash from that segue but bear with me.

“Mr. Robot” is one of my favorite shows. Recently there were two episodes with disturbing scenes involving attempted suicide and a mind-exploration (I’m being as vague as I can to avoid spoilers) that were graphic. I didn’t really key in on the first too much because I was wrapped up in whatever horrible thing was happing to Rami Malik that week.

christmas mr robot 3
This guy just cannot get a break.

But the second scene hit me to my core. Chris knew it would, so he asked me if I was ok. We talked about it, and I was able to center and appreciate the art of it, but it did, in fact, rock my world for a bit.

Here’s the thing though, at the end of both episodes, a message came up listing the appropriate contact numbers. I was shocked to silence for a few minutes; I have never seen anything like that.

This is what I mean when I say we must watch out for each other, that we are all in this together. It’s why I’m very careful with what I say or the images I use and include the appropriate references at the bottom of any article I believe could be provocative. Also, because I write about such personal things, and I write without blinders, many articles have thrown me for a loop, and I have to find a way to process my own words. My therapist told me she loves that I do all the initial work at home and bring in what needs to be worked on. It’s a timesaver.

You may not know this, but I am incredibly protective of you. I spend a lot of time editing words or photos I fear might be upsetting to someone, so sometimes I do find myself completely paralyzed. “Is this word inclusive enough? Could this hit a button for anyone? What if I make a joke so bad that it makes someone pass out with rage?” That last one is pretty likely to have happened.

mental illness triggered 1
An article about my favorite movie took six versions.

People need to feel safe and nurtured, but that word seems especially vexing for some. Why? Is there a bottle somewhere full of nurturing, with a message like, “Expires at Age 20 – Please Place All Bad Feelings in Your Stomach.” I really don’t think so.

steam-locomotive-3397463_1920
 I did a search for “compassion,” and most of the results were compasses. Admittedly this is pretty damn cool so I’m using it anyway.

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you know I am all about play, giving yourself permission to have fun, whatever it is, go to a meadow and make a chain out of wildflowers. You know, I never figured out how to do that, I tended to just blow the fuzz off of dandelions.

Christmas is hard for some of us, to one degree or another. It’s gotten easier for me, and I enjoy it and my chosen family. I love the traditions the family has. Chris and I have our tree up, pride-of-place on the tree goes to a severed finger ornament, all bloody, wearing a Swarovski crystal ring, Crazy Legs generally leaves it alone. I have my own Hello Kitty tree set up, and of course Ermastus, greeting people as they come up the stairs. He’s friendly, but he can’t hold his liquor!

chritmas finger

christmas tree

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

christmas ermie
“Hello!  I hope you’re doing well!”

My family is largely gone, my parents and brother have passed, my sister and brother-in-law moved to Oregon, but Chris’ family is here, so we spend the day together, we enjoy each other’s company, exchange gifts that can be fun toys from Think Geek (pay me Geeks, and I’ll do that more} or something sweet and meaningful, it doesn’t matter. Then a huge feast of Indian food, Christmas Crackers, listening to each person read their horrible joke and show off their prize, lovely desserts. No caroling though, I’m the only singer. I do miss that, but it’s all good.

Oh, Indian food, yes. Most of Chris’ family cook and they love to show off at Thanksgiving just for fun. Years ago though, long before me, they decided that Christmas was stressful enough without having to do all the cooking again, so one of the only places open for delivery would be Indian food and there it is, a tradition that makes me happy, and very full.

But this was not always the case. And the messages we get from every direction are we must be happy at all times, that a sad face is somehow an affront.

You do not have to be jolly every minute of Christmas.

In the spirit of taking care of each other, which Christmas should be about, remember that. Feel what you are feeling. Try to not compound it with guilt because you don’t want to skip down the street singing, “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year.”

Anyway, that’s nonsense, the most wonderful time of the year is when the Halloween stores open. Then Chris and I skip hand-in-hand through the parking lot to find batties and ravens and skeletons that will sit outside and greet our neighbors.

No, no, I’m kidding, Ermastus. Nobody can replace you.

So, taking a page from Mr. Robot, I’m listing some numbers for you below in the closing credits so to speak. If you are feeling overwhelmed by this holiday, if you need help, do not hesitate to call. There would be nothing worse at any time of year than to lose you.

 
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

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

Home

LESBIAN, GAY, BISEXUAL AND TRANSGENDER NATIONAL HOTLINE

Toll-free
1-888-843-4564

HOURS:
Monday thru Friday from 1pm to 9pm, pacific time
(Monday thru Friday from 4pm to midnight, eastern time)

Saturday from 9am to 2pm, pacific time
(Saturday from noon to 5pm, eastern time)

Email:
help@LGBThotline.org
https://www.glbthotline.org/national-hotline.html

Own Your Truth to Help Others

It’s normal for me to be extremely honest about what’s happening in my life, that’s how Nightmares and Laughter is designed. But my life is only a framing device for the real point of this page. I started it specifically to try and help others like me. In other words, I am the scene, you are the story. Since I was in a really bad place the last week, I’m hoping it can be useful.

reach out 3

What’s happening is not going to stop anytime soon, (the building is being sold, vulture lawyers and buyers will try to bully all of us, and may try to kick us all out.) I cannot stand this sort of unknown, the constant fear, I don’t feel safe, will we lose our home, how badly will they treat us, how ugly will this get? I know I will see the other side, but right now, I’m scared, and I don’t like that. It is just the cherry on the top of a number of other sorts of stresses so it just broke me. Chris was on a much-deserved vacation, so getting a letter with several lawyer’s names listed and vaguely threatening wording was too much. I fell apart for like a day and a half. What I’m describing is human, it’s normal, it’s perfectly ok. We all break sometimes, there’s no shame in that. I’m saying this to you, as well as to remind and convince myself.

But we had a tenant meeting a neighbor organized, (the lawyers do not want people talking to each other, they want us scared and unaware of our rights,) and it very much helped.

During the meeting, we all said what our biggest concerns were. Mostly they were similar; Chris and I would most definitely have to leave San Francisco, the city we love, and possibly the Bay Area. This infuriates me as a 3rd generation NorCal native, I can’t even afford my hometown, but I digress.

One of my dear neighbors is having a very hard time. As she was speaking my heart ached both because really, she has it worse by far, and also because I want to help. That’s my mission on this page, and that is what I want to do in real life.

Some of you know that Belle Chapin is a pseudonym. I started it that way because I was nervous about self-revealing, about what that could mean to my future, especially as I look for work, what it could mean in general due to stigma. I leave it that way as sort of a firewall I guess, between trolls and my identity, but I’ve mentioned it several times, and of course, posted photos of myself, so that’s sorted.

reach out 2
Yes, I love Halloween, but this picture was taken in June. That’s Ermastus.

Now, I’ve done so on this blog. I used my real name on my book. The circle of people in real life who know is getting larger. But I didn’t know quite how comfortable I was with it until yesterday when that lovely woman was speaking, and I told her without thinking that I have bipolar disorder and I understand mental illness so please contact me if you need to.

As soon as that left my mouth, I pulled back inside. My inner monologue went straight to “Oh shit! I said that out loud, in front of humans.” I tried to get a grip on what this meant, what I had done. The toothpaste will never go back in the tube, so whatever someone brings to the table is how they will see me from now on. I don’t know many of these people at all, so unlike telling friends they will not be seeing it from a place of affection, but just strangers who live in my building. I have no control over what they will think of me or take from this. But the words simply left my mouth with zero thought other than explaining common issues that could be helpful. If I had told someone trying to get sober than I’ve been there, it would be the same. And what if I had? Would that feel different?

Actually yes, it would. I would have been more comfortable having announced, so to speak, that I’m an alcoholic, than that I have a mental illness. I think that’s worth looking at for all of us who fear stigma.

I mentioned I’m looking for a job. It’s common now for there to be a spot to enter a website. I’ve thought about linking to this blog. I’m proud of it, I’m happy with what I set out to do, I’m a decent writer, and I hope I have helped some people. But so far I haven’t, not once. Why not? Why shouldn’t I?

Because I’m afraid, is the short answer. Still, after all this time, I can’t bring myself to do it. And yet yesterday, in the middle of a room of people, many of whom are strangers, I reflexively blurted it out. It simply felt like the right thing to do to offer help.

I am the scene, you are the story. I set the plot, and you, my readers, who are largely strangers, take whatever you need, want, or not, and tell your story. That’s what I want, that’s what Nightmares and Laughter is supposed to be. But I can’t help a larger number if I hide away afraid. If I can’t bring this mission into my real life, how can I be of service? What if the person I’m listening to is too afraid to talk about it, and my revealing to them is a comfort, they’re not alone, I’m there for them. That’s the mission of Nightmares and Laughter. How can I fulfill that if I am afraid?

Stating it head high, matter of fact, unflinching, could illustrate that there is no shame in it, it’s nothing to hide, nothing to hold quaking in your heart. If I can’t do that, I am not true to myself and no help to anyone else.

I feel better now having found out our rights, and what exactly is going on with the building’s purchase. I feel better knowing we are not in immediate danger. Getting out of my own head and reaching out to someone else helps. We are not alone. Someone cares. Having the sword above our heads is a dreadful place for me, but I’m back on my feet. But last week I was not. I started an article in the midst of it, but it will wait until I have a clearer head to edit.

I leave you with this advice, when you are depressed, or in whatever state you find yourself, watch that internal monolog. Mine gets really ugly and vicious toward myself. Does yours? Someone said to me once, “If a friend came and told you they were feeling those things, what would you say to them? Would you tell them they’re stupid and worthless?” No, of course not. What would you say to them? What would you do? Nurture? Affirm? Would you talk softly to them? You are worth all of that and more.

be kind to your self elephant

 
Here are two resources for you, if you need them.

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

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

Home

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

 

Self-Care in Painful Times

This page is not partisan, I’ve made that very clear.

I address issues that are not left/right, issues that are simply about human decency and morality.

Ripping children from their parents is not a partisan issue.
Putting children and little babies into cages, physically and emotionally abusing them, scarring them forever, is not a partisan issue.
Gunning down African Americans on our streets is not a partisan.
Looking for answers to stop gun violence and spree killings is not partisan.

I woke up this morning to find that there has been another mass shooting, 13 hours after the last. Nine irreplaceable humans are dead. There have now been more mass shootings in the United States than days in the year.

On the Nightmare and Laughter Facebook page, I offered soft words for Gilroy and encouraged self-care.
Six days later I did the same for El Paso.
And now, 13 hours after El Paso, we have Dayton.

My page is becoming a testament to barbarity, to hopelessness, to death and crippling pain. I don’t want people looking at it and, instead of finding comfort or laughter or interest, finding themselves scrolling through tragedy after tragedy.

All of this affects everyone, and I am no exception. I want to be a comfort and a refuge for my readers, that is the mission of this page. But I have to take care of myself before I can do that. And posting what will later be reminders of atrocity after atrocity is already compounding the nightmare for me.

Put simply, I’m getting depressed.

I don’t want anyone coming to my page and finding themselves in the same position. I want you to come to my page and not find only condolences. I want you to come to my page and find hope and comfort. Of course in the heat of it, everyone will know what I’m referring to, but my page will read like an affirmation, rather than an obituary. That is what Nightmares and Laugher is, that is what I set out to do. It will keep the page a safe place for you and honestly, for me as well.

self care proactive 2

 

So please know that should you be affected by a future event, (I wish I could say if there is a future event) that the affirmation is with you in my mind and my heart. Should you be adjacent to this tragedy, the affirmation is with you in my mind and my heart. And if you are a human in the United States or anywhere and this hurts you, the affirmation is with you in my mind and my heart.

Life many of us, my heart breaks and I cry with every bullet spent, every irreplaceable life forever gone. I am now crying as I type these words. It is simply overwhelming.

This is not a partisan issue. This is a national emergency that affects all of us. I will not hear any anti-regulation arguments, I will not hear any defense of what is happening, which is what an anti-regulation argument is. We need solutions, we need think tanks.

I do not have the answers. It is not my job to come up with the answers. We need the people we elected to do their damn job.

It’s easy to feel helpless but there are things we can do.  Here is a list of five things that any of us can do to help, to be proactive.

My beautiful, talented, irreplaceable niece hid from the shooter in Gilroy, while shrapnel flew beside her. I watched my dear friends receive a text from her, with no idea if it would be her last. My friend, her father, who is comfortable with guns, and knows how to use them safely, texted her back to remind her what to do in that situation. This is not acceptable. This is not normal. And this is not something I want anyone else to go through.

But it’s likely they will. So I want to remind you, and myself, to exercise self-care and watch your mental state, especially if you suffer from a mental illness. You can’t take care of others if you are broken. It is not selfish, quite the opposite. The consequences of ignoring and not treating your pain can be dire, and your family would suffer horribly.

I’m including resources that can help. It is not selfish to accept that you can’t do it alone. You are important, you are irreplaceable, and you are in my heart, even if I don’t know you.

 
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

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

Home

Verbal Free Writing – Finding the Gold in the Sand

When I am writing something, the forward in my book, a new poem, this article, sometimes I get stuck. If I’ve reached a point where my fingers hover over my keyboard and sort of wiggle in mid-air with no real idea where to land, I open a new document and start to free write.

Free writing means I simply type and do not stop.  If I hit a wall, I write something like “damn I hit a wall what shall I write about now I had a carrot yesterday the color orange is funny what hell is Crazy Legs up to out there…” or just one word over and over.  The point is to keep writing, keep focused, don’t edit.

Hidden away among those carrots and cats, I usually find something real, however small, since my brain did not have time to block it.  It may be a creative idea to expand on, the break in the dam that sends the water roaring down.

Or it may be truly enlightening.

Alone with my thoughts, I can write nonsensical ramblings that only I will see.  But there also may be the inadvertent slips of sometimes brutal insight.

Then I get to my therapist’s office.

It’s a quirk for me that I want to sound smart and well-spoken with the current keeper of the “I can send you to a 72 hour hold,” so I choose my words carefully.  I’m so super smart!  You don’t know how many thoughtful things I can say with my face-hole!  So a lot of time is wasted on long pauses while I try to find exactly the right word, the cleverest turn of phrase. (I also feel weird if I don’t make small talk when I get there, but that’s just my usual neurosis.)

Anyway, I told her that I wanted to try an experiment.  In order to get to the heart of the matter I was going to free write verbally, without a “watcher” in my head, an inner critic, any sort of a barrier to raw truth.

It goes like this, start talking, that’s it.  Just open your mouth and say things with your lips. Do not edit for grammar or vocabulary or syntax, just talk.  You will almost certainly hit on something.  And when you do, stand up and shout “Eureka!” (totally don’t do this.)  When you hit on something, stop and look at it.

The process of healing is sifting through the dirt until you find gold.  You will find a lot of “fool’s gold” in the process, but if you can get through that dirt, if you can sift out the bugs and rocks, you can hold a nugget of gold in your hand and know you’ve accomplished something.

Therapy is old timey gold prospecting, apparently.  I shouldn’t watch documentaries before I write these.

Prospectors
“So you see Jeremiah, if you sort through these dad-burn bugs and confounded rocks, you can find bits of evocative insight!”

Anyway, I encourage you to try it, both written and verbal.  It cuts through the long pauses where we sometimes obsess about how to present ourselves in the best light.  You don’t have to impress them. You’re in therapy, not on a date.

Also, you don’t have to make small talk.  “Hi how are you?” will generally suffice. I’m still working on that one myself.