Tag Archives: alanon

From AA to LA

This is the eighth and final post in a series that begins here.

Vince went to live with my mother, and I attended outpatient chemical dependency treatment.  If you are in the “helping professions”—social work, psychotherapy—or if you even just have common sense and empathy, you won’t be surprised to learn that I wasn’t an alcoholic.

The expectation had been that I would go through pregnancy, birth, and adoption without any support, then go on as though nothing had happened.  People seemed surprised that I was sad and angry.  They were uncomfortable when I talked about it.

“You signed the papers; it’s over—why keep bringing it up?  Just don’t think about it.”

Alcohol is a time-honored stress reliever in such dissonant situations.

Sobriety—and a break from being a full-time mother and student—helped clear my head and face my emotions.  I spent the month working the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous and reading piles of self help books, and doing all the other things people do to get back on track.

After a month Vince came home.  What–you were expecting some big drama?  Sorry.  In Minnesota we don’t like drama.  In fact we are all about avoidance of discomfort, or as I call it, “reality.”

I didn’t drink for a couple years.  I went to AA, where the members often listened to my story skeptically and said, “I don’t think you’re an alcoholic.”  I should have been referred to Alanon, which is for family members and friends of alcoholics.  People impacted by alcoholic behavior act just as crazy as their alcoholics, but there’s no rehab for them.  In fact I can recall my mother complaining that my dad got to go to “that country club”—Hazelden, a rehab center nestled on a lake with a pool, wooded walking trails, and tennis courts—while she stayed home with the four kids, the house, and the bills.

I got a job, moved out of the hi-rise, and started paying back my student loans.  Vince began school and, while his grades were never great, he was popular with teachers and students.   I made sure he brushed his teeth and washed behind his ears.  I took him to baseball practice, religious school, and family functions.  We watched Dr. Who together and went on little road trips to Lake Superior to hunt agates.  You know, normal life.

Every spring I would find myself feeling blue and wonder what was wrong with me.  Then it would hit me: Ah ha!  Isaac’s birthday is coming up.  On Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, I would tear up when they read the story of the sacrifice of Isaac.  Every couple of years I would send a letter to be placed in his file, knowing it would probably never be read.  When my mother talked about how many grandchildren she had, didn’t count Isaac.  Intellectually, I knew this was the whole point—that it remain forever a secret—but to me he was always out there, somewhere.

When Vince was 10, I got entangled with an abusive guy and we ended up losing our home.  Three times in one year, we had to move and Vince had to change schools.  I chose this time to tell him about Isaac.  I thought it comfort him to know he had a brother out there somewhere, assuming he was alive.  Clearly I am not a psychotherapist, or I would have known this would backfire.  Vince was devastated—it was a loss on top of losses.

He met his brother, eventually, and some day one or both of us will write about that.

Did these events have a permanent effect on Vince?  They deeply affected me, so why not him, since he was so much younger?  If they did affect him, it’s his job now to delve into them and resolve whatever leftover effects may be holding him back, which is what he seems to be doing in AA.

Thanks for reading this series.  Several people have commented offline that it’s been emotional to read.  I’m ready for a happier subject for the next post: my plans for a road trip to New Orleans!

Labeled

This is the seventh in a series of posts that starts here.

If you have read all these posts, thank you. They’ve been hard to write but at the same time it’s liberating to tell the story that’s mostly been kept secret for decades.

What I have described in this series of posts is a closed adoption. Once parental rights are terminated, the birth parent has no rights, period. Ironically, there was a massive change in adoption laws a year or two after Isaac was born which made open adoption the norm. This is where the birth mother can choose to maintain some level of contact with the child—everything from photos once a year to monthly visits—worked out in cooperation with the adoptive parents. But that didn’t help me, since my case was closed just before the laws changed.

As my emotions thawed after terminating my parental rights, my predominant feeling was rage. True, no one had forced me to place Isaac for adoption, but I hadn’t felt I had any other option. All the forces of society had been arrayed against me keeping him.

I thought about Charlie Brown, the doctor who had offered to find me a baby buyer; about Judy, the Catholic Charities social worker who had made light of my concerns; the perverts who had hit on me—a pregnant girl at the bus stop with a baby in a stroller; the mugger who assaulted me; Ronald Reagan, who ensured I would start my career with student loan debt; Dr. G., who invited a dozen strangers to observe me go through one of the most excruciating moments of my life; and the judge, who had asked me pityingly if I understood what I was doing.

I wasn’t angry with The Creep; he would soon go on to father three more children. Vince and I have joked that they could form their own support group, “Adult Children of The Creep.” The guy had dug himself into such a deep hole that I figured the rest of his life would be his punishment.

A few weeks after I signed the final papers, it occurred to me that I should have a photo of Isaac. I told myself this was for Vince—when I told him some day. I called Judy and there was a long pause after I said my name, as though she had already forgotten who I was.

“Why didn’t you ask for a photo before the papers were signed?” she asked.

“I don’t know,” I stammered, feeling stupid and ashamed. I hated her but I knew I was at her mercy. “I would really, really appreciate it if you would ask the parents.”

She told me I would have to put my request in writing, which I did. Six weeks later she called to say that the parents had denied my request.

“Since you didn’t request a photo before you signed the papers, they’re under no legal obligation to give you one now. They’re concerned you might see the baby in a shopping mall or something … they wouldn’t want any scenes. It’s for the best.

“They want you to know that they love him very much and they gave him a beautiful name. Of course, I can’t tell you what it is.”

Wow, she was really enjoying herself. I added Isaac’s adoptive parents to my hate list.

I had lost control with Vince, screamed at him, and shoved him to the floor. I called the county and asked to speak with a child protection worker. She asked a bunch of questions then pronounced, “Based on your family history and your recent drinking behavior, I think it’s clear that you’re an alcoholic.”  She recommended I place Vince in foster care so I could go to rehab.  “You can say no, but there may be repercussions,” she said ominously.

I didn’t think I was an alcoholic but I placed Vince in foster care and got ready to go to treatment.  The next day my mother demanded that I sign Vince over to her, so I did. This time it was only temporary, right?

Happy New Life, Again

Happy New Year!  I am re-posting this from January 1 of last year.  I hesitated to share such a personal story then, but it has been the most-read post of the 232 Vince and I have written.  Maybe it’s the story, or the encouraging advice.  Or maybe it’s the guns.

If you received this twice, that’s because I accidentally posted it for January 1, 2015.  Off to a good start, I say!

Three years ago, I hit bottom. I had lived with depression for as long as I could remember, but then….  I had to have a tooth pulled—boy, will that make you feel old! Then during a Christmas Day blizzard my car was towed and I spent four hours waiting in line outside at the impound lot to pay $300 to get it back. I then drove to Fountain to visit Vince. The trailer he shared with Seth was full of guns, beer cans, and smoke. I figured what the heck, if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em, so after he assured me that none of the guns was loaded, we posed for photos that became my holiday cards to my friends in the UK, where they had a good laugh over us gun-crazy Americans.

Vince (11)Vince (7)

Due to the blizzard I spent the night in Seth’s 5-year-old daughter’s bedroom; she was at her mom’s. Here’s a tip for parents who smoke: Keeping your kid’s door closed doesn’t keep smoke out. I couldn’t open the window and after tossing and turning until 5am I slipped out and drove home. On the way I started itching. Great—now I had bedbugs!

I contemplated suicide. I leaned my forehead against the screen of my 20th floor window. I had turned 50 the year before. Thinking about being depressed every day for another 30-40 years wasn’t real appealing.

Here are the things I had tried to manage depression and anxiety:

Meditation

Medication

Prayer (including begging, pleading, and bargaining)

Acting normal

Abstaining from drinking

Cutting down on coffee

Self-help books

Alanon

Exercise

Getting outside every day

Appreciating beauty, be it fine art, nature, music, babies, or kittens

Gratitude lists

Avoiding negative people / avoiding unnaturally happy people

Running away to other countries

Denial

Journaling

Telling myself, “At least I’m not a refugee / amputee / blind / fill-in-the-blank.”

Psychotherapy

Retail therapy

Sleeping, drinking, and movie binges

Reaching out to friends, even when that was the last thing I wanted to do

I thought that jumping out of my window would be exhilarating, until I hit the ground. I had some leftover pain killers from the dentist, and my prescription for Restless Legs. I googled an overdose of the two and learned that they wouldn’t kill me, but that I would likely need a liver transplant. I decided to keep living.

That spring, I visited Vince again and this time, made a reservation at a B&B.  On the free-book-shelf there, I picked up a tattered copy of, “Feeling Good: the New Mood Therapy”, by David Burns, MD. I read it and did what it told me to do, and I stopped being depressed. For good.

The book was about Cognitive Therapy. I had been instructed to use it at least twice in the past, but I’d been too stressed out to do it. Basically, you write down your negative thoughts and then argue with them rationally until you’ve de-fanged them. Writing it down is important; if you try to do it in your head you’ll end up down a rabbit hole.

So was a lifetime of depression cured overnight by one book? No. I think it was all the other things I had tried over the years—the good things, anyway—and then I added this on top of them and together they all added up to a breakthrough.

I still feel sad sometimes–there’s plenty to feel sad about–but I’m not depressed and I’m committed to living.

Sorry for the long post but, if you’re struggling, I want to encourage you to keep an open mind, keep plugging away, and keep trying new things.

PS: I didn’t have bedbugs after all.  I think I was just itchy from the smoke and dry air.  Living with addiction can turn you into a drama addict.

Tumblin’ and Floppin’

What was I thinking when I gave Vince a rock tumbler for Christmas? It’s his long-time hobby, and this is probably the third one I’ve bought him, but it’s the first time I’ve lived with the sound of it, cruncha-rugga-chugga-rugga 24/7. I don’t know how he can sleep with it in his room. .

Here’s an update on Vince’s and my living-together situation.

If I come home and he’s in the living room, he immediately gets up, goes to his room and shuts the door, and doesn’t come out again until the next morning. If I’m the one in the living room when he comes home, he goes straight to his room and doesn’t come out until the next morning. He doesn’t slam the door, so there’s nothing to point to and say, “Stop doing that!”

When we run into each other in the morning, the exchange is:

“Good morning.”

“Good morning.”

“Have a nice day.”

“You too.”

When I ask, “What are you up to today?” he tells me, but there is a tone, as though he thinks I am prying. If I call to him inside his bedroom, there is a long pause during which I imagine he is rolling his eyes, and then a drawn-out, “Yeh-sss?”

I managed to catch him long enough one day to say that people who live in the same house usually talk to each other now and then. He seemed to think I was trying to trick him into talking.

Things came to a head on Christmas day. I found myself crying in my room (into a pillow, so Vince wouldn’t hear, because I didn’t want him to think I was trying to manipulate him). I had been out 16 of the last 18 nights, trying to give him space.

I was tired. I had lost perspective. Was it nosy to ask, “How are you?” Was everything I did annoying? Was the sound of my voice noxious? Should I confront him? Try to be nicer? Suggest we go to counseling together? Ask him to move out? Go live in a motel? Was I acting like a martyr? Maybe if I bought some non-floppy slippers—because surely the sound of my footsteps must drive him crazy.

I recognize Vince’s behavior because I’ve acted the same in the past.

I had a roommate; I’ll call her Irene. She was from Ontario and taught theology at a local private university.

I could not stand being in the same room with her. Everything about her irritated me—her denim dresses and sturdy shoes, the giant jar of Branston Pickle in the fridge, the fact that her favorite color was navy blue.

When I heard her key in the door I would scurry to my room, silently shut the door, and not emerge until I knew the coast was clear. If she tried to make conversation I would deflect it with a curt answer and a stiff demeanor. If I did have to communicate something to her, I left a note on the dining room table.

Poor Irene! She was such a nice person, a good person. She had a sharp wit and obviously was no dummy. We could have had great conversations if I had been open to that. She was also wise, I see in retrospect, because she never got ruffled by my behavior, never seemed to take it personally.

And it wasn’t about her—I can see that now. It was about me being laid off from my job, Vince being missing for the umpteenth time, and other stressful events I can’t even recall now.

So Irene, if you ever read this, I apologize unequivocally. I was horrible to you. Better yet, I will write you an email after I finish this post, and apologize directly.

Vince, here is my version of a note on the dining room table to you. You’re doing so well (a job, a car—health insurance! 19 months of sobriety!). But I know it’s hard to have a social life under the probation restrictions. The solstice has passed, the days are getting longer, soon your time “off leash” time will double.

Now about that rock tumbler….

Hedgehogs, Mice, and Echidnas, Oh My

I pride myself on writing realistically about life. You can count on me to tell the truth as I know it, to question everything, and to imagine the worst case scenario. I don’t know why the Pentagon hasn’t called me yet to offer me a disaster-planning job.

But that doesn’t mean I’m depressed, or even “unhappy”—the more generic term. Being a highly-analytical thinker has its rewards. I notice and think about things that other people do not. There’s often absurd fodder for laughs. Sometimes I’m the only one laughing, but that’s okay, right?

There was an article in the Sunday paper about a study that debunked the popular myth that “happy” people are healthier and live longer. Yes! My friend who works in an old folks home—or whatever they’ve been rebranded as now—has always said, “There are plenty of miserable, crabby 90 year olds. And they’ve always been that way, because their kids tell me they have.”

About five years ago, I kicked the depression that had dogged me all my life. Since then I have felt mostly contentment, punctuated with the normal situationally-appropriate emotions. I felt angry when my landlord raised my rent $300 a month, which forced me to move. I was stressed when I moved again three months later so Vince could live with me. I was anxious when Vince was in solitary confinement. I cried for everything my sister and her kids went through when she had cancer. I felt awe hiking in Petra, in the Jordanian desert, and nervous about crossing over into the Palestinian territories. I felt powerless rage when I was banned from visiting Vince. I had a blast with my friends in Berlin. I’ve been bored at work. I was proud when Vince led his squad at his graduation from boot camp. I am excited at the prospect of remodeling my kitchen.

Hey, I guess I just wrote my Christmas letter!  What a year it’s been.

None of it lasts. Some people figure this out somehow, much earlier in life than I did. Emotions come and go. The pleasant and the unpleasant, they’re all fleeting. So enjoy the nice ones while they last and know that the bad ones will dissipate. Don’t panic if you feel blue once in a while. Don’t latch on to the negative feelings or thoughts. If the blues don’t go away for weeks, of course, seek professional help.

In the last week I’ve had some really good times with people I love.

Yesterday I took my mother to tour the Purcell Cutts House, a prairie-style home build in 1913 and owned by the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. This is the living room:

Purcell Cutts

The guide explained that the simple, serene style was in part a reaction to the chaos of the age. The architect was from Chicago, which was the industrial center of the U.S. Meat packing and other industries attracted droves of immigrants and African Americans from the south. There wasn’t enough housing, and the water and sewer systems weren’t up to par. There were no child labor laws, workers’ compensation, welfare, or social security.

So architects brought nature and art inside. Obviously this was not a house that could be produced on a mass scale. The immigrants and African Americans still lived in poorly-heated hovels. But at least this one architect could escape all that and find sanctuary at home!

Last weekend, I hosted a cookie-baking party for Vince and his cousins.

Hannukah HedgehogsTaisei n me

They’re not pretty, but we had fun. Strangely, Vince and I had prepared enough dough to yield 16 dozen cookies but only nine dozen made it to the final stage. Hmmm…or should I say, Mmmmm….cookie dough?

So enjoy the moments that contain things you love. In my case: design, craftsmanship, nature, history. Kids, creativity, and cookie dough.

Lasagne, Interrupted

I came home from work, tired and famished.  I was lifting a big slice of lasagna out of a pan to a plate when the landline rang.

This is the phone I am required to have as a condition of Vince’s probation.  He was in the shower, and the phone is in his room.  I respect his space and don’t go in there except to the do the laundry.  (He shares his tiny space with the washer and dryer.)

Brrr-ing…brrr-ing…brrr-ing….  I stood with the lasagna poised between pan and plate.  It stopped.  Then Vince’s cell phone started up—vvvbbbb….vvvbbbbb…vibrating on silent.  It went on and on and still I stood drooling over my longed-for lasagna.

I heard the shower shut off and Vince’s voice, “Hello?  I’m in the shower.”  He repeated himself.  Did the person on the line not believe him?  Then: “MOM!  Will you let the agent in?”

I lowered the lasagna into the pan—it was lukewarm now anyway—and went to the front window.  Yep, there she was, sitting in her car at the bottom of the stairs.  I moved to the front door and opened it, waving down to her.  I stood waited while she got herself out of the car and moseyed up the stairs.

Do not sound sarcastic or mad, I told myself.

“Next time, why don’t you knock on the door?” I suggested.

“Oh, yeah!” she replied, as though she had never heard such an idea.

She stood in the dining room with the urinalysis cup while Vince threw on some clothes.   She smiled, I faked a smile back.  Vince entered the room, retrieved the cup from her, then returned to the bathroom.  As he was returning down the hall, the agent said loudly, “Be sure to tip the cup on its side so the urine gets on the test strip.”

Yum!

Maybe I should have exited at that point but I didn’t realize she was going to linger.  And did I mention I was hungry?

Vince sat at the dining room table.  The agent and I stood in opposite corners in the room.  I was half way into the kitchen, with one eye on the lasagna.

“How’re things goin’?” she asked.

“Fine,” was his reply.  He told the agent he was planning to buy a $300 car.  It would help him get around quicker and he could tinker with it on “the property” which includes the parking lot of the condos where we live.

“The big challenge,” I volunteered, “will be for him to find a landlord who accepts ex offenders.”

“That is a big problem,” she said, “Most landlords take advantage of them, because they can.”

My crabbiness quotient quadrupled.  Or maybe it was just plain anger.  Well, I’ve rarely had a good experience with a landlord, so why was I shocked that they would exploit ex offenders?

“We do know a guy who is open to ex offenders, and fair,” she continued.

One landlord in a metropolitan area of 3.5 million people.

She told Vince she would get him the landlord’s information, and left shortly thereafter.

Finally!  My lasagna.  I sat across from Vince and when I saw his face I thought, “Oh no, I’m in trouble now.”

Mom,” he began slowly, as though he was talking to an utter moron, “Don’t ever bring things up to the agents.  Now the next time one comes, they’ll grill me about why I want to move out.  ‘What’s wrong at home?’  ‘What’s going on with your mom?’”

“But…last week you told me you had that tip on a sober house.”  For a few days we had both been excited but it fell through.  “You want to move out, don’t you?”

“Yes, but we agreed I could stay a year.”

“Yes, but…you were talking about that house….  I thought she might have some resources.”

I ate my lasagna without gusto and offered him some, which he accepted.  “Do you really think I would try to get you in trouble, on purpose?” I asked.

“Sometimes I wonder,” he said.

Just like when he was inside, I didn’t know the rules until I broke one, and trying to be helpful only got me in trouble.

A Draught Experiment

Because my son lives with me and is on intensive supervised release for a 50-month prison sentence, I am not allowed to have alcohol in my house.  Or drugs.  Or weapons.  But I wouldn’t even know where to get my hands on either of those.

I have to admit I was worried that I couldn’t do it—not have alcohol in my home.  Over many years I had developed some habits.  Living alone, there was no one to question them.

It went like this: I would get home and have a beer or a glass of wine.  Then another one, and sometimes another one.  Especially if I was into some TV show, it was easy to just keep the wine bottle on the table next to me so I wouldn’t have to get up and walk to the fridge for a refill.

This was my habit almost every night, except for the occasional night I went out for happy hour, which just involved a different venue.

So I really wondered—what will I do—now that I can’t drink at home?  Was I really an alcoholic after all?  Would I sneak alcohol into the house?  Drink it in my car in the parking lot?  Would I stoop, literally, to drinking in the unheated, spider-web-filled basement?  Would I be going to happy hour seven nights a week?  Would I start stuffing my face with cookies or driving out to Mystic Lake Casino to gamble, as a substitute?  Would I go through withdrawal?  Would I have to check into Hazelden and if so, could I get a family discount since my dad, Vince, and however many cousins were alumni?

I had a notion that this could be an opportunity, but I didn’t know for what.

It’s been three months since Vince was released.  Not drinking in my home has not been a problem.  I joined a private club that’s a block from my house with the idea that I could amble over and have a few cups of cheer without having to drive home.  It’s a nice place but I learned that I don’t like going to the same place all the time, so I dropped my membership after a few months.

I haven’t gone wild with cravings.  I haven’t snuck alcohol into the house except once or twice, when I stopped at home to change in between the liquor store and going out to a dinner party.  I am not aware that I’m eating any more.  Once in a while I do wish that I could watch my favorite TV program and have a glass of wine, but it’s not a huge deal.  I have enjoyed going out for happy hour twice a week or so, with different friends to different places.  I have also found myself shopping more, but that could be because I just bought a new house and I need stuff.

But here’s the unexpected result: I’ve lost five pounds without even trying!  I can only assume it’s from all the alcohol calories I’ve passed up.  I’ve tracked my drinks and calculated that I’ve foregone over 8,000 calories since Vince moved in.  Thank you, Vince!  I’m probably not watching as much TV, either, because without my sedative of choice I don’t get lulled into a stupor in front of the boob tube.

When Vince mentioned last week that he had a lead on a house share situation, I had mixed feelings.  I was happy for him but worried about myself—would I quickly revert to my former habits?  Maybe I could keep up a self-imposed ban on alcohol in my house.  Right.  Uh huh.

The house deal fell through, and I was relieved.