Tag Archives: codependency

Ugly Americans

This is the story of how I accidentally wound up in a brothel in Dubai, part of a series that starts here.

The days ticked away in Dubai.  Toni and I went an excursion a day; the most memorable was a “desert safari.”  I have been on a real safari, and it involved living things.  This did not, and I can recommend that you skip it if you’re in Dubai unless you love roller coasters.  It involved careening up and down and sideways—sometimes at a 45 degree angle—in sand dunes.  I was sick to my stomach and stayed that way until our driver blew a tire and we got to wander around in the desert while he repaired it.

desert-safari desert-safari-2

A couple rushed up to me and introduced themselves as being from Iran.  They asked if I was American and then exclaimed, “We love America!  America people!”  This was heartwarming, and it happened to me again when I was hiking in the Jordanian desert last year.  Yes, many of our government’s policies are terrible, and it’s good to know that people get the difference between the US government and the American people.

After breathing in dust for hours, Toni and I decided to go see a movie.  She asked the cashier about something—was there a good restaurant nearby or something like that.

“No English,” he smiled at her.

She repeated her question, speaking slower and louder.  He shook his head to indicate he really didn’t speak English, and she went for a third try, louder and slower.  Standing next to her, I murmured under my breath, “This is embarrassing.  He doesn’t speak English.”

“Okay!” She laughed and said to him slowly and loudly, “I’m sorry—I’m American!”  Then she did an about face and walked quickly into the darkened theater.

I was shocked and furious.  “Since when are you American?”  I demanded.

“Canada is in North America,” she said patronizingly.

“So you’re American when you’re making a fool of yourself, but Canadian the rest of the time?”

“I don’t need to explain myself to you,” she said.  “They don’t understand things unless you make it very simple.  They’ve probably never heard of Canada.  But they have certainly heard of America,” she said pointedly.

We were the only patrons in the theater and it was a double header of Bollywood hits.  It was in Hindi with Arabic subtitles, but you didn’t need an English translation to follow what was going on.

If you’ve never seen a Bollywood movie, here’s a summary of how they go, from my limited perspective: There’s a five-minute scene where they set up the boy-girl story involving forbidden love, mistaken identities, controlling elders, and a mischief-making best friend or auntie.  Then dozens of people dressed in matching costumes leap into the frame and perform a riotous song and dance number, preferably in a field of wild flowers, on a beach, or in the middle of moving traffic.  This is repeated over and over with different costumes and settings until everyone lives happily ever after.

I sat through half an hour of it but I was so fuming mad that I decided to leave.  Toni gave me a withering glance as if to say, “You’re insulting their culture.”  I knew I had been harsh and would have to apologize later, even if she didn’t acknowledge her part in our verbal scuffle.

I hailed a taxi.  “Take me some place I can get a beer,” I requested.

And that’s how I ended up in a brothel.  Because surely, a woman traveling alone and drinks alcohol must be a whore, right?

The driver dropped me off in front of a place called TGI Thursday’s.  Thursday, in the Middle East, is their Friday.  It had what looked like a maze of tall screens leading to the entrance.  I hesitated, but the driver had wasted no time in disappearing, so in I went.  I zigged and zagged and then emerged into what did indeed look—at first glance—like a TGI Friday’s in the US, except for the gigantic portrait of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum hanging over the entryway.

To be continued ….

tgit maktoum

Time to Make a Move

Greetings from Oxford, Mississippi! This is a post written by Vince about his move. It will be bittersweet to come home to an empty house.

Time to Make a Move

Just shy of seven months as a free man, I am happy to report that, as a 37-year-old, I am moving out of my mother’s home. Again. Maybe for the fourth time in my life, and hopefully for the last.

I alluded to this in my last post but not before because I didn’t want to get overexcited about it until it was actually approved by my agents. Now it is official, and I can proudly relate this information to you: I AM MOVING!  Just two short days from now.

I have written about this move before, but as a failed attempt at leaving the nest possibly too early.  I’m moving into a house with two sober guys from the program, one of which I was in prison with, and I’ve worked with for some time. He no longer works with me, but we remain friends. I don’t know the other guy, but he’s sober, and that counts for a lot.

I’ve been to see the house once.  It’s small as you can see in the picture, but I’ll have my own room, so it isn’t like a sober house environment. There isn’t a house manager that watches over us, or anybody to give us random shakedowns and breathalyzers. I have my agents for that. This is a step forward.

V's House

It couldn’t come at a better time, in my opinion, as I will be moving on to the next phase of Intensive Supervised Release program soon after. That will open up a lot more time that I can spend doing things I want to do like go to more meetings, and spending more time with my family. I am also finishing the last three hours of my community service this week.

It’s all lining up.  Everything is going well in so many ways.  So I need to be really careful. For somebody like me, good news can be all I need to trick myself into thinking I deserve a reward.  Maybe I can go out and celebrate with just one drink, or just a little crack (“A little” crack doesn’t actually exist. It’s an all or nothing drug. For more information, go here). I mean, at this point I’ve built myself a pretty good network of people that I can reach out to if the urge hits me, but it’s always good to layer on the protection.

This disease of mine can also be described as an allergy. When I drink or do drugs, things just go haywire. My body responds differently to them than normal people.  Also, my allergy in particular is a little more severe than say, a gluten allergy. Oh, also I don’t believe that’s a real allergy, but I’m not a Doctor.  Anyhow, let’s say that somebody with a gluten allergy accidentally ingests some flour. Well, maybe an hour or so later, they fart a little and that causes some slight discomfort or embarrassment. Well, when I ingest a little alcohol, or maybe some meth, my world flips upside down.  I can no longer take care of myself financially, mentally, or physically. And this allergy affects others, too.  For example, if I smoke crack, you may no longer have a television, and some of your smaller valuables may go missing as well.

Simply put, chemicals make me not give a fuck about you or me.  And I’d really like to avoid all of that so that’s why I’ve immersed myself in this program of Alcoholics Anonymous. I’m not worried about relapsing because of my new place and my new freedoms, I’m excited to see what I can do with them.  And I’m really happy to be able to share this with you people. For you that are new to this blog, I encourage you to see where it all started almost two years ago with just five pieces of writing paper and a 3” flexible safety pen behind the unforgiving bars at St. Cloud Men’s Reformatory/State Prison.

Housespotting

 Today is my last day housesitting for my friend. It’s been two glorious weeks of having a place to myself. It isn’t that Vince is a terrible roommate. The timing has worked out well, because Vince has been on lockdown for the whole time, meaning he cannot leave the house except for work and a couple AA meetings. I hope he has enjoyed having the place to himself; I think I get on his nerves.

My friend is a psychotherapist and her husband is a retired computer-something from the university. So they’re middle class but combined they can afford this four-bedroom house in the most sought-after neighborhood of St. Paul, St. Anthony Park. The house has at least twice as much space as my condo, and it’s got 25 windows vs. eight in my place, so it’s flooded with light. That means a lot during a Minnesota winter. I could never, ever afford to buy a house like it on my own, so I’m enjoying it while I can.

St. Anthony Park is near the university’s very large St. Paul campus, which is focused on agriculture, so there are lots of open fields—probably sown with GMO crops—but they look pretty even in the winter. And there’s a great collection of mid-Century modern homes nearby, so I’ve been enjoying walks among them.

mid mod 4mid mod 1

mid mod 3mid mod 2

Another reason I’m enjoying this stint in St. Anthony is that I just like change, in general. I like having to travel a different route to the gym, cooking in a new kitchen, perusing other people’s bookshelves, and even just figuring out how to use unfamiliar appliances.

My commute to work from the condo isn’t long—15-20 minutes—but this house is only 5 minutes away, so I’ve been a happy commuter for two weeks.

Those are the obvious reasons I am enjoying my house sitting gig, but most of all, I like being alone. And I feel like I have to justify that somehow, because our society frowns on that.

Think about it: The police catch a serial killer. The TV news interviews his next door neighbor. What does she always say? “He kept to himself.” As if that explains why he murdered people.

I happened to catch a TV show about eccentric people in Minnesota. They were interviewing the sister of Francis Johnson maker of the world’s largest twine ball. When asked what she though motivated her brother to undertake such an endeavor, her answer was, “Well you know, he never did marry.”

Loner, recluse, hermit. I am struggling to come up with a list of similar negative words for extreme extroverts.

I just realized that this post will go up on Valentine’s Day. Happy Valentine’s Day to you all! I don’t have a valentine this year, but I never rule out the possibility that I could bump into Mr. Right at the grocery or happy hour or on a plane. It’s been 56 years and it hasn’t happened yet. I would be happy if that happened, but will also be content if it doesn’t.

I just sent a valentine to U.S. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, urging him to pass the prison reform bill currently under consideration in Congress.  It was easy–please do the same if you are a US citizen.  Just watch this video valentine from Alicia Keys, then submit the form that follows it.

Alicia and Paul

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 would 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 and couldn’t understand what was happening?  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?

Unfrozen

This post is the sixth in a series that starts here.

It was 1980, I was 20 years old and had just given birth to my second son, who was in foster care until his adoption was finalized.  I had kept the pregnancy and birth Top Secret except from my mother and sister.

Now I moved forward with my life as if nothing had ever happened, and I never gave it a second thought.

Haha!  Just kidding!  That was never going to happen.

Six weeks had to pass before the adoption would be finalized.  I suppose that was to ensure I wouldn’t change my mind.  I didn’t.  I gave birth on a Sunday and walked out of the hospital that afternoon.  Finals started the following week, so I was back in school studying for and taking exams the next day.

Once I finished exams I had to study for the big test that would make me a Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant.  There were lots of other distractions to keep me busy and keep my mind off of Isaac.  I would think of him as “Isaac” for the next 20 years.

I got the highest scores in my class, so I won an all-expenses paid trip to the National Occupational Therapy convention in San Antonio, Texas.  This was a big deal for someone who lived in public housing, took the bus everywhere, and washed laundry by hand in the bathtub.

Six weeks passed.  I went to the courthouse.  In the courtroom it was just me, The Creep, the judge, and about 50 strangers who were there for other cases.  The Creep and I didn’t speak.  This would be the last time we would ever see each other.  He was pleased, I was sure, that he’d be off the hook for child support—not that he paid any for Vince.

There’s a psychological phenomenon called dissociation in which you seem to separate from your own body because you are under so much stress.  This must be what happened to me, because it was like I was a spectator to myself.  It was like I was sitting in the jury box, watching the judge lean forward and ask, “Do you know what you’re doing, miss?”

“Yes,” I replied.

Again, like when I signed the papers in the hospital, it was as if I was watching a mannequin hand sign my name at the bottom of the forms.

It was over in 10 minutes.  I stumbled, dazed, out of the courtroom with the official-looking order that said Termination of Parental Rights at the top and my signature at the bottom.

I went to San Antonio, which was my introduction to the concept of “open bars” at conventions.  Free drinks!  I drank all night, then slept by the pool all day until the bar opened again.  What a great professional opportunity!

I came home and kept drinking.  School was over so I had all the time in the world to spend with Vince.  Except that my relationship with him had changed.  I had gone from doting, passionately-engaged mother to detached, emotionally-absent caretaker.  I escaped by cleaning the bathroom, applying for jobs, reading thick novels, scouring the kitchen sink, making lists of things, and drinking.

I kept busy, in part, to blot out the fact that I kept hearing the sounds and smelling the smells of a hospital delivery room.  I knew from psych classes that sometimes the mind reacted like this under severe stress—I wasn’t psychotic—but it worried me.  What next—would Dr. G and her residents show up in my bedside?

Vince had never been needy before but now he started whining and hanging on me and it really got on my nerves.  He was 18 months old; was this some kind of annoying phase?  I tried to gently put him off but that only seemed to make him want more attention.  Finally, I lost it.  I shoved him and yelled, “Get away from me!”  He tumbled to the floor, whimpering.

I was horrified and rushed to comfort him, pulled him onto my lap and rocking him.  Was this the future we had to look forward to?

It’s a Boy!

This is the fifth post in a series which starts here

I was 20 years old and eight months pregnant with my second child, which I planned to place for adoption.  This plan included avoiding my family and friends so that it could be kept a secret.

But in early April I ran into my aunt and cousin Mary, who was 14, at the grocery.  My aunt chatted about the weather, not dropping her gaze below my neck.  Mary gawped at my belly but didn’t ask any questions.

The pains came early in the morning.  I woke up and tears came, silently, so as not to wake Vince.  I had been able to freeze my emotions for six months but now, on the precipice of saying good-bye, they came.

I flung myself out of bed and called my mother, who dropped my sister off to stay with Vince and drove me to the hospital.  The pains continued, fast and strong.  As I laid writhing on a gurney a doctor I’d never seen loomed over me and said, “Good morning, I’m doctor G___, and I’ll be with you during your labor and delivery.”

The labor went fast.  My mother sat by the bed while I panted.  They wheeled me into the delivery room and Dr. G appeared again.  “You don’t mind if a couple of residents observe, do you?” she asked—more of a statement than a question.  I consented with a grunt, not really caring or understanding.

A line of residents in gowns and masks filed into the room and stood against the wall—there must have been eight or 10 of them.  “Do you want a girl or a boy?” asked Dr. G, obviously trying to show off her people skills to the residents.  “I don’t care!” I groaned, “I’m giving it up for adoption!”  She recoiled.  A nurse leaned in and whispered something to her, maybe my instructions that I didn’t want the baby handed to me.  I couldn’t hold it or I might change my mind.

“It’s a boy!” Dr. G exclaimed, holding him up for the residents to see.  She stepped forward and held him up to show me.  I saw that he had all his fingers and toes and was plump and healthy.  She handed him to the nurse, who took him out of the room.

I'm a Boy

They wheeled me down to the geriatric ward.  It was for my own good, the orderly said.  This way I wouldn’t be surrounded by happy mothers and fathers with their babies, or tempted to go find him in the nursery.

My roommate was an old woman who was moaning in agony.  “The pain!” she kept shouting.

It couldn’t have been more than an hour after the birth that Judy, the Catholic Charities social worker, showed up.  Had they called her?  She didn’t ask how I felt or if I had any second thoughts, but thrust a clipboard toward me and started flipping forms and pointing to where I should sign.

Just then my sister walked in, carrying the baby.  “He’s so beautiful!” she said.  “Just hold him once!”

Judy looked horrified.

“Take him away,” I pleaded.  She moved forward an inch, hesitated, then turned and walked out of the room.

Judy laughed when she saw the name I had put on the form.  “Isaac?”

I tried to explain that, in the bible, Isaac was sacrificed, and that was how I saw what I was doing.  I thought it was odd I had to explain this to someone from Catholic Charities.

“I should have told you not to give him a name.  His parents will change it.  You have to admit that Isaac is kind of a weird name”

I said I’d be happy to write and explain why I’d chosen the name, how meaningful it was.

“That wouldn’t be a good idea.  They want to know as little about you as possible.  A clean start, you know.  It’s for the best.”

I signed the forms.  I watched my hand moving across the paper like a mannequin hand.

After Judy left I got dressed, walked out, and caught the bus home.