Tag Archives: addiction

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.

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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…”

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 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.

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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.

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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.

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 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.”

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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.

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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

 

National Poetry Month – It Matters

April is National Poetry Month.

Does it matter?

It matters to me because I was first and foremost a poet, from my very early days. I was proud to call myself that, it was a title for me, an identity, something that set me apart from others.  I could play guitar, albeit poorly, I could sing, and I wrote poetry. I put my heart on paper and bled my very soul.

I was a bit dramatic.

I don’t remember not writing, hunched over notebooks, scraps of paper, diaries, recording my life and joys and traumas in one of my only outlets.  It was the only power I had, creating worlds, recording events, finding some escape with a skill that, as far as I knew, not many others had.  The fact that not too many people understood it, or valued it, made it somehow more enticing.  They didn’t like it because they didn’t understand it.  They made no effort to understand it.  I still kind of feel that way, actually.

Years later I would major in Creative Writing, with a focus on poetry.  One of the worst mistakes I ever made, by the way.  It placed a watcher on my shoulder I never had before, it silenced my voice, took my muse, and left me a shell of a person.  In fairness, the watcher was the gasoline, but the excessive, crippling drunkenness and black depression was the match that blew it all up. I did not get my degree.

It was not all bad though, it gave me stories I managed to write to long term memory.

I transferred to UC Santa Cruz from Ohlone Junior College in Fremont, CA.  I was accepted with the understanding that I complete in summer session two courses I missed, astronomy and statistics.  Math and I are not friends, it’s just a jerk, actually, so this was not a good thing for me.

Sitting in my seat, I  looked around the room and saw 40-some people, all of them artists, staring at the professor like deer in the headlights, trembling slightly and clutching a copy of “Leaves of Grass” all of us simply not wired this way, all of us taking General Education classes in the summertime.

Poetry Month 3
They were not clutching copies of Leaves of Grass.  I lied.

That fall semester, UCSC canceled Creative Writing and I, and all the other poets were lost.  We sat under the shade of a tree, dressed in black, shunning the sun the Math majors were prancing in, chain-smoking and silent.  In hindsight, this is a pretty funny picture.

So a quick romp in and out of San Francisco State, and that was that. No more hope of a degree, no more poetry in my heart, a whole lot of booze.

It took 25 years to get this back.  Twenty-five years later I finally got my muse back.

And now, it is National Poetry Month.

Does anyone still care?

I was just at City Lights bookstore here in San Francisco for the 100th birthday party of Lawrence Ferlinghetti.  It was packed with people, blocking the streets, crowding the store, an entire day of poetry readings and positive, glowing, happy energy.  People just beaming, surrounded by like minds.

Some of those people were poets, I’m sure, some not.  It doesn’t matter.  What brought them there was poetry and the celebration of this amazing man and the haven he created.  He just released a new book, at 100.  I have released one in 51 years. I’ll get right on that.

Poetry Month 1
City Lights Books – A haven for poets and everyone else.

Poetry does matter.  It matters like the air we breathe, like laughter, like tears, like fire, like rage.  It matters to every abused child who uses it to escape.

Worlds are built.  People are created.  Flight and magic and vengeance and mirth made real.

It matters.

Do you write?  Do you want to?  Then write, for crying out loud!  Who cares if it’s good?  Does it make you happy?  Were you filled in some way by writing it?  Then write more. Keep it private if you like, or show it to only those people you trust to hold it gently.

It matters.

If you write and you would like to share it, do put it in the comments.  I love to see poetry proudly offered.  I love to see art of any kind.

I’ve included a link to my book as well.

My advice to you, for what it’s worth, whatever you do, whatever your plans, for fuck’s sake don’t take a poetry class!

Life Songs – Discussions with an Angry Child

Happy Anniversary Nightmares & Laughter!

It’s been three years ago this month since I started this blog, and I’m feeling reflective.

It’s my first, and I have been slow to get moving, but I’m starting to get my groove. I have shared great times – my first book – horrible times when I could barely write – the Kavanaugh confirmation hearings – and simple daydreams.

And an article about goats because goats are funny.

Goats are Funny. They just are.

I started N&L to speak to, advocate for, and comfort people like me, people with mental illness, addiction, trauma issues, or a combination of those.  It’s been my hope that my voice could reflect both the struggles and pain we face, but also the joy and silliness and dark humor that keeps us alive.

So, Nightmares & Laughter.

I have shared snippets of my life and pictures of my home and pieces of my history that I thought hard about before I hit Publish. I think it’s helpful to see the writer in their natural habitat, make them a human, a human adult who has a stunning amount of children’s toys.

This anniversary also marks three years since I’ve been unemployed.  I have been using this time to live some dreams;  finish my book, start a second one, work on photography and painting and basically mess around in my studio, write this blog, panic about money, live the life of an artist, the life I’ve always wanted.

Now it’s three years later.  I’ve covered a lot of ground, and sometimes I think I’ve nothing left to say and stare at the screen whimpering (every writer just nodded), but I always find something.  I write what is interesting to me and I hope it’s interesting to you as well.

To those following N&L, I want to say thank you so much, I will continue to write articles that you will enjoy getting an alert for, articles without sentences like this tortured mess.

Soon I will get a job, but I will keep writing and making art.  And someday, someday I will get paid to do it. Someone will find this blog and say, “hey, let’s give her all of the money!”

That will happen any day now.  Any day.

 

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Politics, Exclusion, and Mental Health

Sometimes as I prepare an article, my brain is racing with current events, the endless “Breaking News” banners which are seldom pleasant, the division that has become the norm in the United States.  Many of these issues are causing people pain and stress and anxiety to the point that there has been a name coined for it.

I have largely avoided addressing them directly, but sometimes the constant barrage of shock and awe makes me want to publish a reply that necessarily involves politics.  If it affects me like burning coal in my chest, I know that others feel it too. A comment from the White House even caused me to self-reveal some time ago.  Now as I find myself slipping further into anxiety and depression, I will address them, but I will try to be as non-partisan as possible.  If it affects mental health in any way, I will bring it here and talk about it, and I will offer resources and comfort.

I will address it.  That is my reason for this page.

Consider this: is there anyone reading this article who has not had their guts ripped out by the footage of little babies and children ripped from their mother’s arms?  The recording of them screaming from cages?  Reports of drugging, and sexual assault?  Parents deported without their beautiful children?

This should not be a partisan issue, this should not be red vs. blue, this is a human issue.  How the hell could it be otherwise?

This travesty is just the latest, and one of the most horrific, that is hurting everyone, and for us, it can be the final straw, as it were.  That one thing that is just too much to deal with that leads us back to booze, drugs, self-harm, or worse.  I can’t ignore that.  I just can’t.

Look, what’s happening right now is painful, no matter your politics. So many people are hurting and holding their own truth to their hearts. But can we agree that some of the actions of the current administration are far beyond the pale?  Can we agree that what is happening to children is a crime against humanity?

Can we agree that some things should not lead to an ugly interchange, that we can agree to take care of each other?  Yes, there are bridges too far to cross, I won’t seek common ground with Neo-Nazis for example, but can’t reasonable people agree that this particular example is absolutely inexcusable?

I really hope so.

Nightmares & Laughter is first and foremost about advocacy and safety for people with mental illness, addiction issues, suicidal ideation, or anything under that umbrella.  It’s also for people who have someone in their lives dealing with these issues.   Sometimes this pain and anxiety will involve things that are happening.

USED Politics Exclusion...
We cannot work for a better future if we disappear. 
Find a way to breathe.

I want to be clear, no matter where on the political spectrum you hang your red or blue hat, you are welcome here.  I very much want you here.  I am not doing right by my community if my words push you away.  But to fulfill the purpose of this blog, sometimes I will be calling out behavior or events that will likely fall to one side.  My concern is for our collective health, and I will address it as I see the need.  I don’t want to chase away anyone, I really don’t.  But I can no longer sit on my hands when little children are locked away or devastating fires in my home, California, are callously dismissed.

I will not, however, use this blog as a strictly political platform.

I include two resources in case the world is getting to be too much, or you are finding yourself in a bad place.

Take care of yourself and please, take care of each other.

 

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

https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/

Exciting News!

I am over the moon to announce the release of my autobiography, Life Songs – Discussions with an Angry Child.

It’s a unique collection of poetry I had written from 11 to 25, poems about my mental illness before I knew what it was, addiction, abuse, fantasy, and rage.  I spoke to each poem from the perspective of these 50 years that I somehow managed to survive.  I know!  I am as surprised as anyone!

It is painful, funny, surreal, unflinchingly honest, and quite literally my life’s work.  It means the world to me.

When you click the link below, you can read the entire Forward for free in the preview, which will give you my detailed explanation of what brought this about and how to get the most from the journey.  You are a participant, sitting next to me.  Just don’t eat all my salsa.  I hate that.

 

Life Songs – Discussions with an Angry Child

 

Sue_Life Song (2)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Preparing for the Crash – Processing Healthy Sadness

I am currently preparing myself for a crash.

I’ve been on an up and down since October, but the ups have been stunning and glorious.  I don’t mean manic highs, just the kind of excitement and anticipation of finishing my book which means the world to me.

But since what goes up must come down, I know that when it is done, when I have it in my hands, there will be a crash.

This is just human.  We cannot live in a sustained state of happy, it’s not possible.

Always happy
I shall have this bliss for a million gagillion years!

So I am preparing myself for that.

Here’s what I’m not doing, I’m not trying to set up something that will take my focus away from these feelings, try to push them into the back of my mind.

I know this sounds counter-intuitive, and maybe unhealthy, but I don’t think so. I don’t think it is unhealthy to want to feel sadness or even a sort of grieving, which this will be.  I think it’s healthy to want to be with those emotions, to feel them, and then…let them go.

If we ignore these things, that smoldering emotion can show up in other ways.

What should you do at these times?

I don’t know, what feels right for you?

For me, I’m lining up ideas. I’m going to let myself feel whatever it is that’s in my heart, and I’m going to respond however it makes sense at that moment; I’ll no doubt cry, this is a 25 year project which is deeply meaningful to me, then I’ll employ three of my best non-alcohol defense mechanisms; sleep, daydream, hide away in the dark like a troll awaiting its next billy-goat, and process the emotions.

And then, I will center and get to the next thing.

I’m telling you all of this because I think we in the U.S. specifically are too wrapped up in “we must be happy/sadness is bad.”

No, sadness is not bad, sadness is human. Telling someone to “smile, you’ll feel better!” or “oh, it’s not that bad” or my personal favorite “if you changed your gladitude you’d be fine!” (“gladitude” is a real thing that someone actually said with their mouth and larynx and got paid for doing so.) All of these glib phrases can be truly offensive to someone who is suffering, regardless of why.  Pain is not a contest, yours may not be equal to someone else in magnitude, but it is exactly as valid.  So these well-meaning platitudes are rude, actually.

But for us, they can be deadly.

Telling someone with a mental illness to get over it or just smile is beyond dangerous. By its nature depression and its friends tell us that we aren’t good, that we are broken, and other damaging messages. So this could be the last straw for someone already suicidal.

But if you can still talk yourself through the sadness, it’s a good thing to do, in whatever way resonates with you.

It can be an issue for people with jobs, kids, school, anything that takes up your time and energy and leaves you with little left for yourself.  I understand I’ve been there.

If you have the luxury as I currently do, to be with your sadness and process it, that is wonderful.

But if you can’t, if you are too overburdened, I hope that you can find a way to get a moment, even just a moment, to be with it.

If you can’t do this because you are in an unsafe place, if you’re in an abusive relationship or feel too far down the pit of depression to try to do it by yourself, I’ve included some links below that could be of help.  Please do not try to do this alone if you are not sure.

Otherwise, let me know in the comments what you do in these moments for self-care, I’d love to see your ideas.

Because yeah, I’m about to crash.

 

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

https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/

 

 

 

 

 

 

Travel – Bad Times Make the Best Stories

I love travel, I can’t recommend it highly enough.  Experiencing new things, food, cultures, meeting new people, getting out of my comfort zone, all of these things.

I am an advocate for travel, and I recommend not doing a tour, especially in Great Britain, for example, where everyone speaks English, even the Scottish. No really, they do.

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This has nothing to do with that, I just love this picture.

 

Europe is dead easy, and you’ll get more out of it without a tour guide telling you where you can go and for how long.  A friend informed me, much to my shock and horror, that their tour allowed only an hour for Paris.  Paris!  That is a crime against nature, is what that is.

So, my husband and I don’t do tours.  We don’t do itineraries either; we have a basic idea of what we want to see, but that can always change.  We generally fly by the seat of our pants.  When I travel alone, I do the same.

Here’s the thing though, travel will never be perfect.  Every vacation includes some bother.  We have missed a few trains in Egypt, because we could not begin to read the ticket.  On a train in Poland the lights sparked and crooked doors between the cars would close without warning and trap us.  We have been stuck driving up mountain roads in Ireland barely large enough for our right hand drive car and, oh look at that, it’s a two way road!  And we both got bronchial infections in India.

At the time, these things were unpleasant.  Now they make the best stories.

The main advice I give to people who are traveling for the first time is, part of it will not be fun.  There is no such thing as a “perfect vacation.”

Charles bridge
Also, if at all possible, travel in the off season. This is the Charles Bridge in Prague. It does not look like this in the summer time.

Maybe it’s better with a tour group, I’ve no idea.  But let me tell you this.

If you are on a tour, you are missing out on one of the main reasons to travel because the people you meet are paid to be nice to you.  You are not getting a real taste of the culture.

Let me give you an example.

My husband and I were in Egypt during Ramadan, 2004.

It happened that Ramadan ended in November that year, so we went to a shop and bought Christmas presents to take home.  We spent around $200 USD, which to the young man working there was a lot of money.  He was so happy he closed his shop and invited us back to his home.

When we got to the apartment complex, a tiny boy, just barely walking, saw us and was about to explode with excitement.  He said “Hi!” and we said “Hi!” and he waved his arms at his sides like a play-pretend bird and made a sound like a balloon deflating.  He ran with us the rest of the way to the stairs saying Hi! and giggling like a little Muppet.

When we got to the young man’s apartment his sisters prepared tea and Ramadan cookies for us.  We sat and chatted and enjoyed the cookies and company.

Now, would that ever in a million years happen with a tour?

No.

I have so many stories like this.  So many beautiful moments that would simply have been missed.

Egypt cat
Egyptian cat says “marhabaan.”

And sure, there were awful moments too, and when they happened, I scowled and vowed to never travel again.  San Francisco is enough for me, dammit!

But I get home and tell all the stories and everyone laughs and then I’m planning my next trip a week or so later.

Next should be Thailand.  I will give the elephants a bath!

And enjoy the stunning antiquities, delicious food, and amazing culture, of course.

But mostly elephants.

By the way – Please don’t ride the elephants.  Don’t pay for places where people can ride elephants.  It’s not good for them so please don’t give these places your money.

I’m going to go here and bathe an elephant.

https://www.elephantnaturepark.org/

Happy trails!