Treating Anxiety, Part I

treating-anxiety

In 1998, at ten years old, I discovered that Mama Cass died choking on a ham sandwich. Maybe I heard it on TV. Or maybe I was eavesdropping on some random adult chatter. Or maybe my mother told me during one of my relentless questioning sessions about all of her favorite musicians.  It doesn’t really matter. What matters is that with that news, I was hit— for no rational reason— with life-changing fear. My brain grabbed onto this idea of “death -by -choking” like a shark grabs its prey: What if I choke in the school lunchroom,  nobody hears me over the chatter and I die? Days passed as that thought flipped and flopped and tossed and turned restlessly—violently—through my brain. Choke and die, choke and die, choke and die.  I sat through school lunches half invested in the innocent adolescent conversations about lipstick and half obsessed with my imminent death. One March day, the thoughts were so overbearing that when I took a sip of my peach flavored Snapple, it went down the wrong pipe, coughing commenced, and I came into contact with my first debilitating panic attack.

“Are you ok? Jackie, are you ok?”  The teacher spoke to me over the microphone, “stand up, stand up.” I stood up. I was overheated from both embarrassment and physical stress. I was already unpopular, but now an entire cafeteria of cruel ten and eleven year olds were staring at me.  I gasped for breath and simultaneously considered my poor wardrobe choice that day. If I had known I was going to be the center of attention, I wouldn’t have worn that stupid pink cardigan and those unbecoming gray sweatpants. “Nod your head, nod your head,” the teacher was saying, “do we have to do the Heimlich?” I knew they didn’t have to do the Heimlich. After all, it was only Snapple that I was “choking” on. But I certainly wasn’t going to admit that, not after the spectacle I was creating. My coughing slowly subsided, and a  breath of relief rippled through the couple hundred kids in the cafeteria…  immediately followed by an outburst laughter. I sat down, wanting to hide, and suddenly—just like that— all of the ease I had previously lived with was gone. Who knew that it was a luxury to be able to interact with your peers, go to school, eat lunch, and exist in the world without a consistent feeling of impending doom holding you back?  I tried to act normal. I walked with the herd to my next class, took my seat, stared at the chalkboard, and wrung my sweaty hands seeking some sort of solace in myself. Something was infinitely unsafe, but I didn’t know what so I couldn’t even protect myself. The walls were closing in on me, my friends looked like enemies, words were muttered, faces were fuzzy, and I burst into tears.

I was sent to the nurse’s office. I could barely speak by the time I got there. Sweating through that stupid fleece cardigan, I was crying so hard that I could only gasp out one  comprehensible word at a time, “I—choked. and. am. —scared.” The nurse looked at me confused and harshly, got me a five ounce dixie cup of water, and led me to a small, poorly lit,  corner room. There was one beige metal folding chair meant for me to collect myself on. “Sit in here and calm down,” she said.  I took the seat thinking I’d rather be anywhere else or maybe nowhere at all. I wanted a hug desperately. That is what I wanted. As the nurse closed the door, I heard her say to her colleague, “I mean, seriously, she should be able to control herself, she’s ten years old. What’s wrong with her? My God.” Did she think I couldn’t hear her? I was so embarrassed, so ashamed.  I didn’t know what was wrong with me, and if I could have controlled it—like she was suggesting— I certainly would have.

By the time I got home that day, I had decided that I should probably never leave my bedroom again and that I should definitely never eat again. If it was up to me, I would have lived a very small life. My parents got in the way of my ideas.

I cried through dinner one night, trying to spoon a small amount of plain broth into my mouth but every time I looked at the bowl of liquid, I was hit with the memory of “choking” in the lunchroom. I just cried and shook until my father lost his cool, dropped his fork and said, “What’re you gonna do? Never eat again? If you went outside and tripped and fell, would you never go outside again?”  I felt pathetic. What I was experiencing was NOT logical and could not be beaten with logic.

My mother held me in bed that night as i sobbed and sobbed. I said, “I wish I had some physical illness. Even cancer. Anything but this. It’s so scary.” And I meant it. I was in unthinkable pain. Thankfully, my mother understood what I was experiencing due to her own turbulent history with panic attacks and, as a by-product, she pushed me. She wasn’t going to let me become a slave to my anxiety. It was strategic, and it was brilliant. She sent me to school everyday, she denied me medication even though doctor’s suggested it, and I was forced to take part in all daily commitments whether I sobbed through them or not.  To this day, I consider it the greatest gift my mother gave me. To this day, I consider it her shining moment as a parent.

When my seventh grade field day came around, I was hit with a new deepening wave of panic. Who knows why. There was no real why. At 7:30 am, I hid in the closet sobbing, “I’m not going. Please, please, please don’t make me go.” I begged for an hour until the bus came and my mother lovingly pushed me out the door. I went. I mean, I WAS forced.  I went full of terror, but I went. And, as the day went on under the suburban sun, the fearful pangs subsided. The distraction was helping. The sun was helping. Exercise was helping. I was easily able to take part in field day activities, and I even won a flimsy second place ribbon for a short-distance race. By the end of the day, I felt great, and I was deeply proud of myself.  I sprinted through my door that afternoon, impatiently shouting at my mother, “mom, mom. I had the best day ever. Thank you for making me go! Look, I won 2nd place in the sprint!” She was so proud of me. In that one day, I had instanteously grown muscle where there wasn’t any, I had a new life experience that would forever change the way I lived—a reference point for what it felt like to feel the fear and do it anyway which remains a saying I try to live by. Curiously—or not so curiously— I didn’t have another panic attack for seven years.

At nineteen years old, everything I had learned about coping with anxiety was put to the test. My panic attacks came back, and this time they were not so easily defeated.

To be continued….

Love,

Jackie

 

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A Note for my Caretakers

caretakers

Dear Caretakers,

I imagine that this will be the first of many letters and many conversations between us. I’m starting here in a seemingly distant and formal way  because I’m not strong enough for the more intimate teary-eyed conversations right now. I’m also unsure of who needs to read this letter, and I want to give each and every one of you an opportunity to know that you are seen. As I ascend to wellness and the fog is slowly clearing, the vast impact my Lyme disease has had is coming into focus. I look around and I see many faces who have fought with me, and I have no idea what your experience has been, how hard it might have been for various reasons— I never asked. I’ve counted 20 of you who were very close to me over the last three years— 20 of you who I consider to be my main caretakers. 20 of you who were present for much of the suffering, many of the needles, too much of the heartbreak and all of the unthinkable need I was experiencing. But that leaves out maybe 200 people— or more— who donated, prayed, tracked my progress on Facebook, or worried about me. This letter is for all of you, whoever needs it: those of you who fought with me on an almost daily basis on the front lines, those of you who stayed back in the trenches gathering much needed supplies, and  those of you who prayed from your bedroom.  You were not my cheerleaders— you were my ARMY. I write every week about my story—my personal struggle with Lyme disease, stored trauma, and chronic illness. Yes, I often touch on how grateful I feel to have had the most compassionate army of people surrounding me, protecting me from all angles, but it’s come to my attention recently that you have been at war, too. This isn’t just my story—you’ve had your own journey watching someone you love suffer and fight for wellness. And no matter what part you played in this particular journey, your feelings— whether past, present, or future— are valid.

I can empathize—I’ve watched all members of my immediate family,  suffer for most of my life, and I’ve remained unable to do much of anything to help. While I have seen physical illness take hold of people, my family mainly suffers from addiction and mental illness—heartbreaking diseases that impact all surrounding loved ones. Addiction is called a “family disease” for a reason—the powerful current ripples out larger and larger often affecting generations of people whether they’re drinking OR NOT.  People suffering from diseases like these tend to be under the delusion that no one else is affected, that no one else could possibly be in the kind of pain they are in. But I can assure you, there’s PLENTY of suffering to go around. And it’s that type of thinking, that you’re not allowed to have feelings because you couldn’t possibly be suffering more, that prolongs the effects and keeps the current going strong. For a long time, I didn’t let myself really experience the hurt and abandonment I felt because I just assumed that my father suffered more than I did. He talked often and loudly about his own fucked up childhood and made it clear that my own was a cake walk compared to his. I have no idea if that’s true. But I watch people tormented by that voice all of the time—it says, “oh, but my father had it so much worse than me. He was abusive BECAUSE he was abused so I should just be grateful for what I got.” Or, “My mother was the one who suffered in her illness, I can’t possibly make that about me.” It seems like a very compassionate and empathetic voice but really its DNA is that of martyrdom and martyrdom is the tidal wave on the horizon preparing to wipe you out. IF that voice is active around my Lyme disease, if you are one of the 20— or one of the few hundred— and you have suffered through my illness let me just say your pain is valid, your fear is valid and whatever you experienced or begin experiencing is 100 percent valid. I’m not delusional—I’m not saying that Facebook friend #427 is wildly affected by my Lyme disease and needs to seek counseling. I’m just saying that whoever you are and however you’ve been affected—I hope that you have given/ are giving yourself an opportunity to feel it.

I can’t imagine  what it must have been like to be with me every single day through such horror, so many breakdowns, and so much illness. I have no idea what it was like for you to listen to me talk about my own impending death on repeat. Or what it was like for you to watch me go from excited about the full life I had in front of me to bed ridden and in tears every single day. I don’t know how it felt to lose your fun, reliable and available friend. I don’t know what it’s like to care for someone at such a young age, to not know if they’re going to get well and to be terrified to lose them. I don’t know what it was like to stick me with needles while I yelled out in pain, or  what it was like to leave my house when I so obviously didn’t want you to leave. Or how painful it might have been to hear me talk about how suicidal I was or how much I hated myself for being sick or how much I just “couldn’t do another single day in my body.” I imagine that, at moments, I may have felt safer in my own body than you felt watching me—I always held some sense of knowing that I was going to be ok (one day), and you might not have had that. Maybe you were scared to leave me alone, maybe you were scared to hang up the phone with me after I expressed so much pain. Maybe you’re scared that I’m going to abandon our friendship or relationship now that I don’t “need” you anymore. Maybe you’re scared that I’ll forget about you. Maybe this experience kicked up some old experience you’ve had with illness and death in the past or maybe it’s scared you…maybe now you know too much about the in’s and out’s of illness, fucked up doctors and how the medical system doesn’t EXACTLY have our back. And maybe you’re fucking mad at me. I don’t know. I know that I’m incredibly grateful for every single moment that you loaned your hearts to me, and I know that your love has altered me forever.

You people have inspired me every single day to be a better human. You have taught me through your own kind hearts and incredible efforts how to show up for the people I love. I am grateful for each and every thing you did for me. For you who held me day in and day out, always believed in me, and made me feel beautiful when my lips were purple and I was under 100 pounds. You who flew around the world with me to care for me while I got Ozone therapy. You who put me up in Florida and wheeled me around Disneyworld so I could have a day of magic in the midst of shit. You who sent me care packages, called, and texted endlessly. You who made me fundraisers and rubbed my body when it hurt. You who changed me into pajamas, who helped me get up stairs and hills, who brightened up my day with smoothies, food, and laughter. YOU are my fucking heroes.

I sincerely hope that you’ve gathered your own support through whatever journey you’re on—your own army—and that, if you haven’t, you begin to get help now if you need it. This is not just a message about my Lyme disease. It’s also a message to say that no one gets left out of life’s obstacles. Pain is pain—it’s relative and credible no matter what. And while I’m not particularly ready to counsel with you on how the past three years have potentially hurt you, I do want you to know that you are in my thoughts. I hope you know that I think of each of you everyday. That I know I couldn’t have gotten well without your endless support and love. I hope you know that I’m not going anywhere, and that now we get to do all of the fun things we’ve been planning for the last three years. I hope you know that every single hug, every text message, every phone call, and every time you held me while I sobbed, screamed and cried took me one step closer to health. And please know that as I heal, I imagine all of us healing together.

With Fun and Love,

Jackie

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No Inner-Child Gets Left Behind

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Stored trauma is Lyme disease’s best friend. They play off of each other like school yard bullies relentlessly tormenting the mind, body, and spirit. Lyme is an opportunistic disease and tends to jump on those whose systems are already compromised. Personally, I had a weakened immune system from years of infections and antibiotics, I had been breathing in mold and smoke all of my life, I had those heavy -metal- filled amalgams in my mouth, and I had—maybe most importantly—a shitload of stored trauma. Healing the past has been a vital part of  my recovery; I went into the basement and the attic and met the old memories, had a new experience with them, and then went to the freakin’ Materials Recovery Facility where they got recycled into something new and sparkly.  But how to do that? Getting sick stripped me of all of my effective coping mechanisms. I had nothing— no distractions, no booze, cigarettes, cake, no over exercising, and no late-night coquetry (well, Ian got some of that). I had only myself—a self that was ignored for most of my life, a self that I was scared of, a self that I often absued. Caring for myself and healing all of the built up heartache meant getting in touch with my inner-child (yup. deep breath. I am talking inner-child work. It might get weird. But if you’re here to save your life then maybe it’s time to try weird shit?)—that little girl inside who had been shouting out for attention for two decades. The little girl who I just kept hushing, “you want to rest? Well, too bad, I want to party.” We were going to have to team up to fight this thing. I was going to have to pay attention to all of her needs. My parents weren’t showing up for me and I was either going to cry over that every single day or take the power back into my hands and “re-parent” myself. My boyfriend and my friends made an incredible support system, but there were too many times where I was left alone and panicked. It’s frightening to go into the darkness alone—naturally, we want someone to hold our hand through the haunted house tour. And that’s ok. Hold a hand. God knows, I hold so many hands. But, acquiring the art of being my own primary care-taker while everyone else acted as support instead of the other way around enhanced my life, my freedom, and my health.  I needed to find a way to rely on myself, to hold myself through the hard times, have my own back, and thoroughly heal from all of that old nasty trauma.

I was an adult before I ever got to be a kid, and I was pissed off about it. Full of resistance, I sought people out who would care for me the way my parents never did. Collecting father figures and mother figures was my favorite hobby—I had a whole china closet full of them and, yet, no real fulfillment. My collection brought me short-lived comfort; my internal-void remained. I was introduced to inner-child work in 2013  when I was detoxing from a wildly fucked up romance. In an effort to snag what little dignity I had left and not text or call this dude, my friend suggested I start telling myself everything that I wanted him to tell me. When the quick-fix cravings hit, she would say, ” put your hand on your heart and say, ‘I love you. I’ve got you.’Imagine a photo of you as a little girl that is just so cute and precious and start taking care of that girl.” I was down. Anything to get my life back. I found myself picturing my little self and organically saying, “I’m your guardian now and I’m going to take really good care of you.” That became my mantra. I said it all day ,everyday, so that I could make positive choices for myself: like going on a hike instead of calling someone who would inevitably hurt me. I practiced just enough self-love to keep me from getting involved in another demoralizing situation, and (for the skeptics) I’m here to tell you that my practice paid off—I have been blessed with a beautiful relationship. However,  when I got bit by a tick just six months later,  my inner-child got tossed away and quieted again. She suddenly needed way too fucking much from me (sick people are needy as fuck), and I had no idea how to give it to her.

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I spent a long time beating myself up for being sick—maybe a year. It felt like my fault, like I was weak, powerless, or had bad Karma. There were moments where I was so angry at myself for not being able to “pull it together” that I considered physically harming myself. I couldn’t stand the sight of myself in the mirror. Every single day was agony. I couldn’t tell what was worse —the physical symptoms or the way I emotionally tormented myself. My internal dialogue went on repeat, “Get better. Be better. What is wrong with you? You’re disgusting. You’re weak.” Oh hi mom and dad!  That voice started keeping me awake at night. I lied in bed seething in pain and with a monster in my head, “you’re faking it. You’re not even really sick. This is just a ploy to get people to pay attention to you. Stop being so afraid. You’re not dying. You are being SUCH A BABY.” I only got sicker. Shockingly, that cruel self-talk wasn’t doing the trick. I was not “pulling myself up by my boot straps” at all. In fact, I was getting to a point where I could hardly put on my own shoes. As my symptoms ramped up and not a single doctor had a complete answer, I got willing to do whatever it was going to take—to do whatever was in my power— to get well.

I said farewell to the audiobook “A People’s History of the United States” which took up  most of my cell phone space with its 35 hours of “entertainment” and purchased—instead—self-help books like, “SelfCompassion,” by Kristin Neff and “You Can Heal your Life,” by Louise Hay. I listened to those calming voices preaching self-tenderness in the car, in bed, and while I made myself food. I was in research mode, a good student of self-love, entirely teachable. It was one thing to care of myself enough so that I wouldn’t reach out to a toxic dude, but how do I take care of and love a sick person? Like a really sick person?  I went practical—the basics— I started with the 101 course, if you will.  I used to work in childcare—I have looked after hundreds of children of all ages. I used my behavior as a caregiver  as my blueprint for my own self-care.  I would never let a child go hungry or thirsty or without sunscreen. I wouldn’t let a kid fall asleep without brushing their teeth and listening to a calming story in their comfiest PJ’s. If a child woke up afraid, I would comfort them.If they were too hot, I would take layers off and give them some water; too cold, I would give them layers and hold them tight. It seems so simple, but I certainly wasn’t that careful with myself on a daily basis. There’s no “age plateau” where we stop needing those simple things; we just get better at tolerating the discomfort.  I had to learn that it didn’t make me “high-maintenance” to need the basic human comforts. I didn’t let myself go hungry, thirsty,  without a nap, or without my vegetables. That was a tremendous beginning for me, but it wasn’t nearly enough.

My insomnia was a son- of- a- bitch. When hard-drugs weren’t working, I needed to find a way to soothe myself enough into a sleep. That’s how I started a dialogue with “little me.”   I would put one hand on my heart and one on my belly and picture little Jackie. My imagination— which sometimes works like the Beauty and the Beast mirror— showed me a toddler. She sat alone on a metal folding chair in the middle of a dark room. Her shoe laces were untied and she wore grungy sweats. She was so lonely, afraid, and dying for someone to come save her.  And, in my head (because, hello, Ian sleeps next to me and I was still trying to seem *somewhat* normal) I would tell her things like, “you’re OK, I’ve got you. I know this is so so scary. And I know you feel so bad. Yes, I feel that crazy pain all through our body. It’s real. I’ve got you. I will take the best care of you that I can. You’re not making this up. I love you.” It was usually the only thing that would calm me down. And, eventually, I started imagining myself hugging her, and ASKING, “what do you need little Jackie?”  And then I’d listen. This is truly one of the fucking winning practices in healing. My inner-child is smart as fuck. Every single time I ask “what’s up?” she’s like, “this is what’s up! Please fix it!”  Sometimes, she wants things like Advil or a cool cloth and other times, she wants a hug, but A LOT of the time, she really wants to have FUN and be free. It’s my job to give that to her. When a child is sick, parents do the bulk of the work to get them well, right? A Doctor only steps in for prescriptions and a diagnosis. So, it only makes sense, that we need to constantly care for ourselves the same way.

I was getting noticeably better. I had  this direct line of communication to my inner- child.We were having ping-pong conversations before I knew it, and I started knowing exactly how to care for myself at all times. I no longer saw little me in that lonely metal folding chair. She grew up a little bit, wearing bright colors and a high ponytail. She was healing and needed to play and be free more and more. The more I did this, the healthier I got, and the less I needed from others— including my parents. Being able to meet my own needs time and time again left me feeling, ultimately,  free.

Now I’m in the home-stretch and I’ve got this one problem: there’s a wildly hurt teenager in me that i really do not want to commune with. So much damage was done in those years, they were the most dangerous years of my life—because my parents were more unreliable and more destructive than ever, but, on top of their ruination, I was harming myself.  I turned all of my anger inwards and started self-medicating to make the pain stop.  I remember once around 16 when I was so stoned I hadn’t stopped laughing for three hours… or maybe 30 seconds? There was no such thing as time. I said to my best friend, “You know, if I ever met myself, I would absolutely hate her. We would never get along.” We both laughed so hard, knowing it was true. I hated myself. I shudder thinking about those years, between the way I behaved in public and the lunatic man who merely resembled my dad that lurked around corners in my “home.” So, can’t I just put that all to rest? Tie it up in a neat little box, pack it away in the attic, and just forget about it?  Apparently not.

I sat at my shrink’s office confessing how deeply I’m aching for Ian, (who’s Ian? Keep up!) the man I love who I don’t get to join on his big adventure for another 4 weeks. “I don’t know. We are both in so much pain. And it’s sweet, but it also feels just…excruciating,” I said. She suggested, like a good pain in the ass shrink, that it wasn’t just “love” and just “missing” each other, but that it may be something deeper. Something probably relating to my family of origin. ugh I had to open my big mouth about Ian. Here we go again. “Really? I think that’s maybe a psycho-babble stretch. I mean, how many times am I really going to miss my dad?” I retorted. “Exactly,” she said, “I think you miss your dad. That’s not to say that you don’t miss Ian and love Ian and that you guys aren’t yearning for each other. It’s the excruciating pain you’re experiencing that I think might have something to do with your dad.” With the same immediate shock value of a popped balloon, I broke and started to cry. Oh, fuck.

I kept that idea safely on the periphery for the next few days, not letting it quite into or out of my sight. I got on Skype to do a distance-healing with the dazzling, vital, sweet and madly intuitive  Emily, and as I detailed the week, I mentioned the possibility, “My therapist thinks that Ian’s departure has opened up my “dad” wounds and that all of the hollow emptiness I feel in my heart is actually from my father. I mean, whatever, it’s almost too obvious. So obvious I don’t really buy it.” But Emily, bless her,  was intrigued. I had to open my big mouth again. Thankfully, her instict had been precise on earlier occasions so I trust her. In our work together that day, she had me travel back to my past, finding the moment that left me with that hollow emptiness. In my meditation,  I found this one tragic scene from when I was 17—the day I watched everything I knew about my nuclear family collapse in on itself. Emily had me watch the scene play out and then freeze everyone and everything except my younger self and my present self. Everyone was frozen —my father froze mid-stomp on his way to attack me, my mother froze with her head in her hands crying in the car, and our dog froze in a frantic bark. Emily said, “approach your past self and tell her all of the things that she needs to hear right in this moment.” I slowly approached her, feeling very skeptical. I judge her, and I don’t know how to comfort my teenage self. She’s so stabby.  So I started with the basics again. I took her by the hands and brought her to the curb to sit down, I got her some water, and I took her bubble-gum pink leopard coat off. It was a warm day in October and she was covered in sweat from running, screaming, crying, and being dressed in 1,000 awesomely torn up layers. I fanned her off, helped her breathe and got her some food. I parented her. All things that I needed that day, that year, my whole life. Finally, I was able to say some kind things, “I love you. it’s ok. you’re ok. You’re beautiful, and you’re doing the best you can. Don’t worry about your dad. I promise you are loved.” My 17-year-old self was feeling calmer and calmer, and as I walked her back to the car, to finish out this scene, I said, “I really love you, and I promise dad is just high. This isn’t about you.” My past self turned to me with a smirk, totally cool and calm, and said, “thank you, you know, I don’t even like him that much. I think this day is actually the beginning of my freedom.”

I realized, as I came out of this time traveling experience that once I gave myself all the love I needed in that moment, I didn’t need my dad anymore and the experience completely transformed—from one of traumatizing heartbreak, to one of total freedom and joy. I also—wait for it—didn’t feel empty without Ian. With the willingness to heal this part of my life, I’ve had more and more memories surface over the last few days leaving me feelng irrationally unsafe in this world. That’s the risk of doing this work—all the stuff really does fucking surface. But UP AND OUT, BABY, my body has limited storage space and I need room for joy! I know now to go into the darkness, to let it surface, and heal it instead of ignoring it and powering through. Because no matter how much I try to fight it with my mind, there are things that my body will not let me forget.

Two nights ago, I laid awake panicking. Why, I wondered, while tears soaked my pillow, why am I especially panicked in my own home, in my own bed? Why, in my unscathed, sweet home today, do I feel terrified, like someone is lurking around every corner. I thought I’d ask that teenage version of myself what was up since that has worked so well in the past. Again, I was willing to do what it took to fall asleep. I did the ol’ trick: one hand on my heart, one on my belly, and I asked, “what is going on? Why is it at home that you’re so afraid?” In my imagination, we were sitting on the same curb outside of my teenage “home” that I comforted her on in my last meditation.  She said, “Well, it’s not outside that’s scary. It’s in there,” she nodded to the front door, “that’s where I fear for my life.” Ding ding ding.  My home was always the scariest place to be. There was no resting in my house, resting left you vulnerable to god knows what. By high school, I was realistically safer outside of my home. So, of course I feel like enemies are at every window or just outside of my door. Of course. But I am safe now. In this present moment, I have given myself a very safe life. And, so, with the knowledge of why I’m freaking out, I can start comforting myself, “you’re safe. you’re loved. It’s over. It’s OK.” All of that healing in the middle of the night when no one else was around to comfort me? It’s proof that I have everything I need within.

People ask me all of the time if Ian has been my primary caregiver. And, I usually say something like, “it has taken a village to get me well, but, in the end, I have been my own primary caregiver.” I am not a victim today. I can choose how to take care of myself, who takes care of me, and furthermore/even more radically I can give my past self all that she’s been looking. ALL of my past selves. Even the needy, over sexualized, annoying and sweetly confused teenager. I’m calling off the search party! Now, I can get get busy collecting memories instead of mother and father figures.

With fun, and love,

Jackie

 

 

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Finding your G-Spot: On Gratitude

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I was sitting  in a circle of spiritual strangers on a meditation pillow,  my knees resting heavily on the pillow’s surface, my sit bones heavy on my heels, and my head heavily hung— crying. The air was humid—the air was always humid  in Bali. We had just been led through a magical service conducted by the radiant and tender High Priestess of Bang Li— an experience that thawed me out, leaving me in tears. A vibrant woman approached me softly, “I feel moved to speak to you,” she said, “are you sick?” God, it hurt me so bad to know that I didn’t look well, that people could see it,  “I’m getting better but, yes, I have Lyme disease. I’m in Bali doing Ozone therapy,” I said.  She held my hands,  “I had MS, I was about to end up in a wheelchair—in fact I had ordered the wheelchair— and now my lesions are reversing because, in a weird way, I started vibrating above the illness.  You will get well, I can tell.” I cried harder…because I was sad, because I was exhausted, because I hadn’t slept in maybe 2 weeks, because I felt loved in that moment.  We talked for a good while—she was Greek,  a graduate of MIT, and on her way to study mysticism in Thailand and she found her extraordinary story hilarious. She laughed and laughed. I cried. “You just need a few things to heal,” she said,  “one, you need to laugh.” I stopped her, ” I never laugh anymore. My sense of humor is gone.” It was true. I had been suffocating in my own sadness AND lack of sleep for so long. Her lightness was contagious though, and  I softened enough to release an honest smile and chuckle. I felt free in her presence.  She continued, “you need to vibrate above the illness. Do what brings you joy. I think you belong on stage—dancing or acting.” I lit up, my energy coming more forward thinking about the things I loved.  “And, third,” she said, “you need gratitude.” I jumped in, “OH I have that!” She said, “I can tell, you’re actually full of gratitude.” I was so relieved. I was doing something right all of that time. I was/am grateful and she could see it. I wear gratitude like I wear my other glaring personality traits—loud and proud. She hugged me goodbye that night, promising I’d get well, and we never spoke again, but she gave me an incredible gift in that brief exchange. That was the night I welcomed my sense of humor back after an absurdly long intermission, I reinstated myself to the performing arts, AND that was the moment that I realized that my gratitude practice (nine years deep) was having a profound effect on my life. In more exciting words, I’ve done the work, I know where my G-Spot is and—ahem—I  can orgasm whenever I choose.

Now that I AM on the way to a full recovery, I’m here to back her up—an “attitude of gratitude” is indispensable during illness (or at any other time—let’s be real).  It can be the light IN the tunnel—not at the end of it. And if joy and happiness are scientifically proven to support our immune system then making a list of things we are grateful for (which is a verified way to increase joy and satisfaction) seems like a really obvious place to start, right? But how to gratitude!? How does this practice just become part of your life instead of that nagging thing that you HAVE TO DO every night?  And, how can you ALWAYS be grateful no matter what horrifying thing is happening in your life? Like  chronic illness, depression, loneliness, death, divorce, and so on. Gratitude got me out of bed and happy to participate in my life countless times, and how did I get there? Like so many of my stories, it all started  with my personalized cocktail of cocaine and daddy issues. 

My father was in rehab again.  He had been sent once  before under the same Wall Street conditions, “get sober and you can keep your six-figure income and your executive position. Don’t get sober and keep up this behavior— we will have no choice but to fire you.” Eight years earlier that threat worked, but this time, he was frighteningly unaffected by the potential risk. He was wildly against getting sober—putting him in rehab was like caging a lion, he was just waiting to get out and go on a killing frenzy.And I, apparently, wasn’t one to judge.  On February 14th, 2004, while my dad sat on his hands in rehab fighting his cocaine addiction, I ripped my first line off of a mirror in a bedroom on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. And I got so high—so staggeringly high. Later that night/early that morning,  back at home, I was experiencing my first miserable come-down while my brother stumbled around freshly wasted. We did what 2 high siblings affected by alcoholism do—we fought an incoherent, mindless fight. He wanted to visit our father in rehab, and I was not invited. In fact, I was forbidden, he said. I squealed in his face, pissed off,  provoking him to throw cautionary punches at me, purposefully grazing past the tip of my nose— just to let me know how mad he was and close he was to losing it. I eventually stormed off to bed. Defeated and exhausted, I fell asleep as the sun came up.

When it turned out that my dad didn’t want visitors, we were given the option to write him a letter. I wrote him a fucking letter, alright— my anger toward the old man had become unhinged. The problem with my “unhinged” letter was that it lacked ANY strategy. If my plan was to shame him into getting sober (which I believed it was), I was failing miserably.  My real motive—that of a 16-year-old girl desperate for her dad’s attention— went undisguised:

“I’m a party girl. I just ripped my first line of coke the other night. I party hard.I’m no goodie                -two- shoes. I drink and smoke and take pills—I measure up to all of the guys, but I don’t get carried away. Not like you. So this isn’t coming from some pussy place. I know what it is to love drugs, and I know     what it looks like when someone needs to stop. You need to stop. I love you.  Jackie”

Ah, the Hallmark greeting card from one dysfunctional family member to another.

He never wrote me back, but in his first few turbulent days back from rehab, he asked to speak to me alone. I was on edge and excited—I hadn’t been alone with him in so long, and I was hoping for some deep connection, a new spark, love reignited. We went into his office, I took my seat at his cherry oak desk and he strutted to the power seat— behind the desk. His office was dark, heavy, and cluttered.  We  lit our respective Marlboro lights. He took a deep drag and as the smoke filled his lungs, he got his thoughts in order. He leaned back, exhaled, smoke filling the room, and said,  “Let me just read your letter aloud…” After he read it in full, he took another drag, put his cigarette out and leaned forward— his elbows on the desk and his piercing narcissistic eyes challenging me.  Yikes. Embarrassing—I could even see that I sounded loco. But I kept my cool, “yeah, well, it’s true. I do drugs, and, as it turns out, I like cocaine.” He grilled me. We must have talked for an hour about my specific experiences with sex and drugs before he challenged me to not drink, smoke or use for two weeks. “Two weeks. that’s all,”  he said. Anxiety coursed through my body. He took note, “you look scared because you’re thinking about the two weeks, but you can do it just one day at a time,” he said.”OK. but how in the fuck will I not use ‘one day at a time’  for TWO WEEKS?” And that’s when he laid out some other tools like journaling, the serenity prayer, and gratitude lists.

When he said “every night, you write down 10 things you’re grateful for,” my immediate response was, “but what if I have nothing to be grateful for?” Sound familiar? Have you scoffed in a similar way the last time someone suggested you write a gratitude list? My dad, totally fucked up in so many ways, came through with a life-long lesson in that moment: “You have nothing to be grateful for? You have ten fingers and ten toes. There, that’s 20 things.” I giggled, a bit ashamed that I had missed something so equally simple AND significant.  He went on, “you have all of your limbs, your senses, you can walk, you have shelter, a bed, and food.” Oh shit— It was jarring that I hadn’t thought of those things myself, but I’m forever grateful for that lesson— even though I didn’t take the suggestion for another couple of years.

Neither of us made it through the two weeks without using.  Instead, we took one last family vacation to the bowels of Hell. Apparently, Satan found the taste of me  unsuitable for his palate. Too feisty or too sweet,  he couldn’t fully digest me so he spat me out. Once I was upchucked from that vile journey, I had a lot of grime to clean off. And so at 18, I started wiping away the debris with spirituality. When a wise woman on the spiritual path suggested that I start writing gratitude lists due to my blinding self-pity,  the lessons my father taught me in his office two years earlier came rushing back.  I picked up a pen and started writing: ten fingers, ten toes, my limbs, and my senses. It was an unbearably painful time— so I kept writing and my lists grew;  I’m grateful for my limbs, my senses, shelter, food, a job, clothes, and my friends. And they kept growing.

In 2009, when my twenties were as fresh as a juicy peach, my treasured friend asked me if I wanted to participate in a gratitude email chain where we would each write our daily lists and “reply all.” “Sure,” I said, not thinking much of it, unconsciously assuming it would fizzle within a few months because most things like that do. How fun it is to be proven wrong sometimes. That email chain has changed my life. There are 11 of us on the exchange, all women,  and we have been writing for —please wait as I access the left side of my brain—seven years! We started as friends in NYC and, in seven years time, we have adventured with one another through big moves, marriage, children, death, divorce, break -ups, new relationships, new jobs  and, in my case, illness—all through gratitude listsWe have had delicious “gratitude brunches,” attended each other’s weddings, been on the other side of the screen when the first  “Introducing: insert new baby picture” got sent, been cheerleaders for each other’s dreams, and every one of those girls donated to my fundraiser. I’m so grateful for them. But because of all of that practice, I never have to do much digging to find my gratitudes, and, as a result, I’m often (not always) one of those “glass half-full” people: often optimistic with moments of pure elation. Let me be super clear as you may now be rolling your eyes at my perkiness. I am madly-pro taking days off from “positive thinking.” This is no time to go beating yourself up for not being “grateful enough.” If you need to lie in bed and steep in self-pity every once in a while, I support that, and I believe it’s also crucial to healing (in small doses). I never suggest you “gratitude list” your way out of feelings, out of humanity, but that you gratitude list yourself into a more balanced view of reality. 

You’re feel -good- G can be equally as accessible (if it isn’t already). Here are some tips:

Make your own email chain! All you need is one other person and access to your own discipline and consistency. It can take as little as 30 seconds to shoot off a gratitude list and  connect with a friend. Most of you know that I’m all about FUN (and love) so give yourself a laugh and a creative outlet as you write your lists. The subject line is where all of the genius is in our group:  We have seven years worth of quirky subject lines:  “G’zzzzzz ma Ladiezzzzzz,” “Gratitat,” “Nothing left to do but gratitude,” “Forever G,” “In Flight Gratitude announcement!” “Saturday Graterday””Guys WHOA I need gratitude,” “Spring Ahead into Sunny Gratitude,” “She’s All Grat.” “Even in Frosty California, Gratitude Survives,” “We so G and so Free,” “Grateful Feet have Got A lot of Rhythm.”  Do you catch my drift? I know, we are *the coolest.*

If your stomach is turning at the idea of being on a gratitude email chain with corny subject lines then simply start writing lists. Write them on your phone as you sit in waiting rooms ( or half-naked on the exam table), pause your stinking thinking and say things out loud when you’re stuck in traffic, write things down in your journal, and on the days when things are just so bad and you’re desperate, text a friend and say, “wanna do the gratitude ABC’s?” All day long, you can go back and forth with that trusted friend stating what you’re grateful for. They say “I’m grateful for my hot Ass,” and you say, “I’m grateful for my Bone Broth.” And they say, “My Cat,” and you say, “My Dog —AND ew you have a cat?” This is so efficient as you’ll be mastering multiple “healing activities” at once: gratitude, laughter, AND companionship. But if you’re still rolling your eyes and you’re a driven person that just needs a challenge then I challenge you to find one thing a day and write it down for the next 365 days.Try and make it as specific to the day as possible.I promise you that if you practice gratitude consistently for just a little while, you, too, will find your G-Spot. You, too, will have gratitude orgasms.

Get writing!

With fun and love,

Jackie

 

 

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It’s My F#$%^ Party Now, and I’ll Cry if I Want To.

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I walked into a healing space this past Sunday morning, a space where people go to feel their feelings, get quiet, and be all lovey-dovey. I took a seat— I totally do the lovey-dovey shit. Immediately bored/ over caffeinated, I started surveying my surroundings. To my right, there was a big childlike sign, a huge white scroll taking up the better part of the wall. Even though the all-caps font was uninteresting, the hot pink lettering was a zing, calling my attention to the words, “DON’T WORRY.” I smirked, yeah, worry is a useless emotion. I swiveled to my left and got instinctively and irrationally angry when I saw a nearly identical scroll taking up the back wall that said (in the same boring all-caps font), “BE HAPPY.” AH, of course, that saying, “don’t worry. be happy.” I don’t like that saying. I’m not a monster—I like the song because c’mon the dude makes magical music with his mouth, but I have a problem when the lyric stands on its own as a pressuring and trivial blanket statement. There is no light without the dark. Sometimes, it IS sad, and sometimes we cry. The broad statement, “be happy” makes me want to throw a protest. I get all defensive and “activisty:” WHY? Why is it shameful to be unhappy sometimes? Isn’t sadness a part of life, and something we have to move through? Isn’t unhappiness often revealing something to us—that it’s time for a change, maybe. Why is it shameful to cry? Why is it especially embarrassing to cry in public? Should tears be stored and saved for only special occasions? What’s the special occasion? The psych ward? Rehab? Jail? A funeral? Because from what I’ve witnessed in my short life, those are the places you go when you just keep stuffing your cells with garbage. How many times have you been told, “don’t cry?” How many times have you watched another panic at the sight of your tears and say something like, “no more crying now, only smiles.”  Or, if you had a childhood like mine, then you know what it is to get in trouble every time you cried–to have to hide your tears— your unhappiness, your honest concerns for what’s happening—and build up an armor of “numb” to protect yourself from a heated attack.

OK, fine, so maybe my reaction to phrases like, “don’t worry, be happy,” have SOMETHING to do with my past. . .but hear me out.

My home was a battleground, and my bedroom was my trench. There were land mines, step on one and experience an explosion. No matter how much memorizing I did, no matter how limber, acute, and dexterous I learned to be, there was always a new land mine. I never quite had the system figured out, and I TRIED—in an act of fierce self-preservation, I tried. Smart-enough, pretty-enough, quiet-enough, kind-enough, polite-enough, good-enough are assets that will always lay just outside an irrational alcoholic’s peripheral vision—they do not see “enough.” And, as a child, I didn’t know that it  wasn’t personal, and there was nothing I could have done/been to make it better. There is NO hidden map to avoid the land mines in an alcoholic home—you will continue to step on ones, they will shock you, it will hurt, and then, if you’re like me, you will go to your trench and cry. Because crying wasn’t allowed anywhere else.

My father came home out-of-the-blue one day in 1995. My dad wasn’t expected at home much, and he certainly was never expected before dark. . .on a weekday. His absence was delightful. I was six or seven, and my brother was/is/has always been 16 months older than me. We sat on our dirty, old, orange carpet in the living room, playing, while my grandfather watched over us admiringly. My grandfather, a man who might resemble the minds-eye of a jolly candy shop owner—his toothless smile lit up a room and the warmth that came from his slightly overweight body was as comforting as the duvet cover when you’re exhausted. In his endlessly loving eyes, we were perfect without having to do a damn thing to prove it, our existence was enough for him. He was on after school child-duty while my mother worked as a receptionist in a doctor’s office, a job she needed to take because my father’s Wall Street checks didn’t quite make it home. I remember hearing my dad’s car that day. My heart skipped a beat, his stomping darkness preceded his entrance. I had learned in my seven years of existence how to take the temperature of a room and be hyper/painfully aware of my surroundings. I mean, land mines will do that to you. I could tell without him entering what kind of mood he was in. Energy shifted, I held my breath, and he finally stormed in— his dark hair disheveled, like black paint splattered on his head as his long- legged strut whooshed by us accompanied by a volatile smirk and “hello.” “Hello,” I said, thinking, “speak loud enough so he can hear you but not too loud.” My smile was gone. I kept my voice down, holding my breath, and I waited like a soldier at war, standing-by to see what the enemy might do first; hoping that he would eat something and leave again or eat something and go to bed, or eat something and die— anything but stick around. Instead he shouted for us, and like his little soldiers, we went running, “coming, dad.”

There were some crumbs on the kitchen floor. Come to think of it, they were quite possibly left by my grandfather. He did ALWAYS have a habit of leaving a mote of crumbs around his chair—he was a pastry-lover and eventual diabetic. Regardless of whose fault it was, there were just a few crumbs— something that’s fairly normal in a house with two working parents, two young children, and, that day, a 75-year-old pastry-eating man who couldn’t bend down. My dad’s reaction, I know now, had nothing to do with the crumbs. He probably needed a good cry, he probably needed a hug. My brother and I stood, shoulder to shoulder, as he shouted at us, harassing us and name-calling, “you’re a couple of pigs,” “you’re fucking disgusting, now get down on your knees and pick up every last crumb.” When we got to our knees, on opposite sides of my dad’s legs under the kitchen table, he grabbed us by the backs of our necks, as you would grab a dog, and shoved us into the ground again and again, as you would do to a to a dog who peed in the house, “there are no fucking crumbs allowed in this house.” (That house was super unpleasant and needed a remodel in like 1950. . .crumbs were not the issue). My face was burning and I had that knot in my throat, the thing that happens right before you burst into tears. That knot was my warning signal…HOLD IT IN, SWALLOW, I was shouting in my head, DO NOT CRY, Do not let him see you cry. If he saw me cry, it would be like setting off another land mine. He HATED when I cried and, quite frankly, saw no justified reason for me to EVER shed a tear or be angry or overwhelmingly happy or have really any feelings, for that matter.

We were sent to our bedrooms for the remainder of the night. I wanted to spend more time with my grandfather, but we were told not to say goodbye to him, not to speak, just to go to our rooms. So as we marched sheepishly away, I covertly glanced at my grandfather on my way up the stairs, my eyes begging him to come save me. He looked devastated and helpless. I got to my room, shut the door, sat on my bed and quietly wailed, holding myself while I shivered. I’d always get so sweaty in the midst of attack, and by the time I had my freedom to release, I’d be drenched and cold. I loved my bedroom. I felt safe crying in my 30 square foot dust-box as long as my dad stayed downstairs. That is the most common example I have of my process. I hurt all of the time, and I held my breath until I found solace in my room. My room was a haven— a place to live in fantasy, to cry, and, later, in a natural progression under the circumstances, to do drugs.

My family fell apart and dispersed. I sobered up and became really passionate about my emotional freedom and my growth as an individual. I didn’t want to save my sorrow for my bedroom or even for my house. I didn’t want to “behave,” or “be quiet,” or be the kind of person who said, “stop being over dramatic—pull yourself up by your boot straps.” I wanted to HEAL. I’m all in for this journey—mine and yours—the anger, the grief, the joy, the laughter, the sadness, the mother fucking TEARS. I watch people behave like assholes all day, every day— I live in LA. Customers snap at their baristas or make some sideways comment about the long line they’re standing on or shut doors in your face, or shout unrepeatable things at other cars on the road, but CRYING in public is a fucking taboo. Give me a break. Crying is a necessary part of healing and growing. It doesn’t need to be saved for your shrink’s office. If you need to cry now, cry now. If you’re sad and need a hug, say so. It’s better than going home and taking it out on your family in some ass backwards way. Trust me.

Healing is not easy or fun, but I have solid role-models to show me what ignoring trauma looks like and that looks a lot less fun.My brother is, unfortunately, a prime example. He’s not so into feeling shit. I swallowed years of nasty, condescending language from him. When we were sent upstairs as kids, I would try to team-up with him, feel it with him, and he would shoo me away with a pained and angry stare, “go away.” He never did any crying with me, he never even told me how it made him feel. He called me a “drama queen,” “annoying,” “a pain in the ass,” “a liar.” He stuffed it all, had sudden outbursts of rage, and found a way to numb further. . .on repeat. If you take a look at both of our lives today, I may be the one with Lyme disease, but I am the more healed. No bacteria in my body could ever be a match for the poison that has built up in him over the last 30 years. I am, somehow, with all of the medical shit I have going on, the healthier one. . .sadly, without getting into the dark details, it’s not even a close call.

Twenty  years of poison- build- up ahead of my brother is my old man’s example.  Not knowing how to handle his own childhood trauma, his own emotions, initially made him a highly unpleasant human, but as time went by, he became a dangerous human. So, when he mounted our suburban front stoop at noon in 2005—a stoop that was supposed to be my entrance to home but instead was my landing pad for a war zone—in a pair of gray boxers, 20 pounds too skinny, and began chasing me and my bloody mother around and cursing at us while all of the neighbors watched, I had to wonder, “what the fuck was SO UNACCEPTABLE about the tears I cried in public? Or about those crumbs under the table?”

Feel your feelings, save the world.

With fun, love, and tasty, salty tears,

J. Shea.

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East Coasting: A Photo Essay

Ian and I travel

Following up with last week’s post, this is an update of how it’s been going on the East Coast. In summary: better than expected! I’ve been almost myself. It’s been exciting to watch myself do a lot of the things that I couldn’t do even six months ago.

Getting off of the plane last week, I walked right past the wheelchairs and smiled. I didn’t just not NEED a wheelchair;  I HAD ENERGY- like plenty of it. Ian and I went to sleep at my Grandmother’s that night. Oma came out to greet us on the special corner where her home sits in the urban sticks. The corner I played on, ate Mr. Softee on, talked to all of the neighbors on, hung out with Alley (our childhood dog) on, and eventually departed on. It’s the corner I did all of my leaving from. Every time I got on a plane, it was from there, a diagonal shot from the front door to the cab, I said goodbye. When I moved to Hawaii, when I’d go home to Hawaii and eventually LA- that’s where I said goodbye. I’ve said countless hellos and goodbyes on that corner. It’s the corner that holds all of my “I love you’s.” I’ve said those words so many times right there, I bet the concrete holds some of my heart.

Ian and I got out of our cab and I said it again, “Oma! You’re so little. I love you. I’ve missed you.” Of course, even at midnight, Oma had food for us. It’s VERY hard for her to understand the extreme diet I have. I mean she’s 85 AND German so to her being gluten free, sugar free, and dairy free means I eat whole wheat tortillas, honey nut cheerios, and “those hairy fruits I bought for you- what are they called- kivis?” My heart really swelled for the effort.

I asked her to take a picture with Ian and she yelled at me. Then later, apologized profusely because she didn’t realize I wanted a picture of her AND Ian, “Oh boy, I hope I didn’t offend him,” she said. I got one anyway.

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We went to Lyme, Connecticut the next morning. That’s right, Ian’s family is from LYME, and, yes, that IS where Lyme Disease gets its name from.

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I imagine that photo above is what it would look like if we traveled together. I took this photo so the paper is merely a prop, BUT I was totally reading it at some point.

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At the Lyme Beach Club, Ian taught me how to catch crabs. I squealed like a scared little shit, but I got a great photo.

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We ate THE BEST Lobster rolls at this joint, and RANDOMLY this little New England beach town joint had GLUTEN FREE rolls. Very exciting.

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We took Amtrak back to Manhattan in the rain.

In the heat of deep Brooklyn, we took a walk and stopped to cool off like a couple of NYC kids. Ian found White Castle super entertaining. We consumed none of their food FYI. Ian left for Germany a few hours later, and we said our goodbyes and “I love yous”  on that precious corner before he got in a cab.

That evening, Juliette and I reunited and did what we like to do: we ate some real fucking food. Well, we ate real food that Juliette crafted masterfully for us in a Brooklyn apartment with the perfect view of NYC.

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Michael, who just so happens to live in Oma’s neighborhood came to hang the next day. Michael and I worked together on a feature film 10 years ago. Reminiscing about our time together and making new memories, we laughed and laughed AND did a photoshoot.

I got to spend time with my Aunt and Uncle. I haven’t seen them in over two years, and FINALLY, for the first time ever, I saw my Uncle’s band, The Smoking Gun, play in the Hampton Bays at this small-town, water front bar and grill. My Mother came out, and we DANCED. You guys- look at me –  Killin’ it with the healthy. My Uncle’s band was so good. To be honest, knowing how talented he is and what kind of music he likes, I thought I was going to get stuck listening to some eccentric jazz music which I WAS NOT excited about, but I was totally freaking wrong. If I had known how much fun it was to see them, I would have gone about 10 years ago. My Aunt showered me with gifts and my Uncle showed me 600 photos from their recent trip to Peru and Ecuador. At photo 200, I was sorry I asked to see any 🙂

Back in Brooklyn, Jessica came to visit me. My oldest friend, and my chosen sister, she loved on me for 2 days. I forced her to do my hair for a few hours and cuddle me which she HATES. Jessica also hates sleeping with me because I like closeness and I’m a mover and a shaker. Also, I talk in my sleep and stuff, but she slept with me anyway – with a giant pillow between us so she had her own space.

In an attempt to throw some shit away at my Grandmother’s, I started taking a trip down memory lane. AKA: MY HORRIFYING PAST.

First of all, that photo of me in the red sunglasses was NOT TAKEN ON HALLOWEEN, nor was it a “joke photo.” That’s just how I dressed. Also, it is a representation of how hard it was to take drunk selfies before the iPhone. That upper photo pretty much represents me as a teenager- drunk and peeing and pouring shampoo on my dear friend who was stuck in the bathtub? And lastly, I graduated from High School which is almost shocking considering that looking at my report cards, I pretty much did poorly ALWAYS in EVERYTHING except drama. But I celebrated graduating with my tongue out – of course.

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Pretty normal. Check out those tights. They’re for 80 year olds- just looks like I have a bunch of sagging skin or something. Jessica calls this my young “stripper pose.”

And also just the proof that my Brother has disliked me for a very long time.  “The Easter Bunny That Ate my Sister” is a 10 page intricate story WITH vivid illustrations. “I wondered why the Bunny ate my sister and not my pet snakes or something,” he writes. Gee, I don’t know, it’s YOUR STORY, and it could have gone down however you wanted.

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I found this book in the very same box that held my parent’s wedding album.  So that was funny.

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And this is what I’ve mostly been doing the whole time – hanging with my childhood “best friend”/ “daughter”/ “baby”/ “Victoria”/ DOLL. Nothing weird here, guys. Her eyes just look weird because I gave her “pink eye” like 20 years ago and then didn’t actually know how to fix it, but she’s doing great otherwise. SUPER NORMAL.

Check me out, living life and stuff.  Just a few more days of New York loving then another “I love you, Oma” on my home base corner and off to Los Angeles for IVIG treatment number 4!

Fun and Love,

Jackie

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Healthy Enough to Feel Like a Lunatic

THE PART OF GETTING WELL YOU CAN’T BE PREPARED FOR:

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I am red and dizzy, hot and overtired sitting at LAX waiting to board a flight to NYC. It’s my first time solo in an airport without wheelchair assistance in almost 2 years. It’s a flight that I’ve diligently avoided for over 2 years- unable to imagine being in New York, my home town that holds too many emotional memories; the city that never sleeps. Why would I EVER travel to the city that never sleeps when all I could do (whether I wanted to or not) was rest. I’m terrified to go to New York City. I’m terrified of the emotional and physical stress. Seeing my family has gotten harder and harder for me over the years as the less than pleasant experiences pile on, and I’m saying goodbye to my boyfriend of 2+ years (AKA my main care-taker) so he can go off on a six month-long journey of his own, and I’m doing it all on a crazy budget of zero dollars because I’m broke. Once upon a time, ESPECIALLY while living in NYC, I was capable of housing a tremendous amount of emotional and physical stress. When I got sick, well, I got TOO SICK and had no space for emotional stress. Hence, I didn’t go to NY, I didn’t allow anything “anxiety based” to infiltrate. My sole focus was, and had to be about, self-care – taking baths, eating food, and drinking water. Life  “simplified” under the  most complicated circumstances. I was just like “gimme my blanky, rub my back, I just gotta keep living.”  Now, I have this little bit extra, this bit of energy totally available for usage, and the emotional stress (of things that have little do with illness) start making up for lost time. It’s like I haven’t seen or talked to my best friend in two years so we have LOTS of catching up to do: finances, romance, family, career, friends, and exercise – there’s so much to talk (think) about! Isn’t it lucky that I’m well enough to think about things other than “where’s my fucking blanky. I need use it to block the sunlight! OK now- put Aladdin on so I can calm down!”  Well, yeah, it’s lucky and great AND somehow so much harder than I thought it would be. First of all, I’m  getting better- I’m not just SUDDENLY  better and back in my old life, flying trapeze with no trauma from the last 2+ years of needles and pills and reckless doctors. It is so much harder than I thought it would be. There’s going to be stress because I’m not enlightened enough to be stress free, but HOW do I balance as I step back into this world as a functional-enough-to-visit-home individual? How do I balance as an individual that’s just functional-enough to consider writing on all of these topics for my piece this week:

 Thursday: It seems like anxiety is coming up a lot with one of our wellness-companion clients, I should talk about my own struggles with anxiety. I’ll start off with my first panic attack when I was ten, then talk about my panic attacks in my early twenties and then about how it all changed with illness.

Then I remembered that this trip to NYC was looming. I’ll write about my relationship with NYC and how much it has changed over the years. I’ll talk about my deepest, darkest secret: that I was not only born on Staten Island, but I was raised there, too. I’ll talk about how terrifying it is to see my family and why. I’ll talk about having a new experience there because illness has changed me.

Friday: I had to go to the Department of Social Services for Food Stamps I should talk about all of my experience with needing government assistance. God, I feel like a piece of bacon in this joint- everyone is looking at me because I don’t fit in: I’m young, white, pretty, my shoes are in one piece, and I’m  not strung out. I don’t even smoke. I’ll write about how this was never supposed to be my life, my father promised me the world: my own apartment in Manhattan, any college I wanted, and support in whatever career I chose. Then he started smoking crack and the next thing I knew we were on state insurance and I had no access to doctors. Yeah, that’s what I should talk about.

And, I started writing that, but then I remembered that Ian, my partner, is leaving on a six month long journey this week.  Maybe it would be cathartic to talk about saying good-bye to Ian and all of the fear I have about him leaving. I can disclose how much I love him, and how much he’s cared for me, and how deep my abandonment issues run (well, the world knew about my abandonment issues like forever ago.) Yeah, I’ll talk about Ian and romance while chronically ill.

Then I found myself laid out in bed one afternoon very sick. I’ve been functionally sick this week, not like last year – when the stairs looked like Mt. Everest. I’ve been exhausted and in pain.  It’s not surprising that I feel like garbage: my boyfriend is leaving, I’m traveling to a place I do not want to be, I have SUCH LIMITED funds that I spent hours in a cesspool of germs just to beg or food stamps, not to mention that I AM NOT “ALL BETTER,” I’m just healthy enough to fly alone, walk, hang out with people, talk, laugh, sit in a government-run agency for 3 hours, pack,  hold space for saying “BYE I LOVE YOU,” to my boyfriend, AND actually feel all of it.  I can’t just hide from, or bandage up my truth with gratitude lists, meditations and, I don’t know, cucumbers. I’m an unenlightened and totally emotional human. So what in the fuckity fuck do I do?

I found something really interesting recently. In the text-book of Alcoholics Anonymous, it says: “Assuming we are spiritually fit, we can do all sorts of things alcoholics are not supposed to do. People have said we must not go where liquor is served; we must not have it in our homes, we must shun friends who drink; we must avoid moving pictures which show drinking scenes; we must not go into bars; our friends must hide their bottles if we go to their houses; we mustn’t think or be reminded about alcohol at all. Our experience shows that this is not necessarily so. We meet these conditions everyday…. his only chance for survival would be someplace like the Greenland Ice Cap, and even there an Eskimo might turn up with a bottle of scotch and ruin everything!…In our belief any scheme of combating alcoholism which proposes to shield the sick man from temptation is doomed to failure. If the alcoholic tries to shield himself, he may succeed for a time, but he usually winds up with a bigger explosion than ever….So our rule is not to avoid a place where there is drinking, if we have a legitimate reason for being there…Therefore, ask yourself on each occasion, ‘have I any good social, business, or personal reason for going to this place? Or am I expecting to steal a little vicarious pleasure from the atmosphere of such places?’ If you answer these questions satisfactorily, you need have no apprehension. …But be sure you are on spiritual ground before you start and that your motive in going is thoroughly good.”

For me, I can change the words from alcoholism to “chronic illness” and liquor to “emotional stress.”  Stress cannot be avoided unless I go live with the Dalai Lama and, even then, a yak might go wild and try to chase me in which case, my body will LIKELY respond with stress because I don’t like being chased. So how do I keep balanced so that when I face the scary stuff, my body doesn’t completely FALL APART? It’s an ongoing struggle. The main thing for me is to feel the feelings in my body without attaching a story to them. Or to stay in the facts. Like “I’m sad Ian is leaving,” instead of “what if Ian leaves me, meets someone else, gets hurt, gets in trouble, or decides he doesn’t want to come back to LA for some reason.” That’s what I like to call “story time,” and as many of you know, story time can be dangerously entertaining and enticing. Noticing the thoughts in my head that are 100% fear-driven and not based in reality is step one. Pausing, taking a deep breath, getting present, and stating what IS true is step two. That’s an honest place I can make progress from. Knowing that I’m sad Ian is leaving, I’m nervous about my trip, and am concerned about finances, and have a treatment coming up, what can I do to stay balanced? Here’s some of what I did and some of my game plan:

I called/ texted a few of my closest friends something like :”I’m really scared…here are all of the things that are happening, and I might need a little extra support over the next few weeks.” This simple practice gives me the feeling of support- people know what’s going on in my life and they have my back.

I called Eva before I got on this flight because I needed to talk about the specific illness/stress combo and how to combat it.

I made sure to pack some of the healthy food I need in case I can’t get to the “right kind of store” right away. Jesus, being unwell is SUCH A PAIN IN THE ASS.

I humbly got food stamps before I left so I could buy the healthy food I need. I took some yummy snacks to the office and a book that made me happy. I know how to prepare myself for the scary things that feel bad today.

I made sure to buy enough water for the plane ride.

I called my grandmother, told her I’d be coming, and that I might not have much energy. I told my Mother and Uncle the same thing. I do not plan on over exerting myself.

I take it ONE MOMENT at a time. Just do the next right thing- the advice my dad gave me a decade ago that never fails.

I chose not to see my Dad because I don’t spend time with people who ONLY bring me stress and heartache. That’s like an alcoholic going to a bar with no one and for no good reason. So, the only people I will see on this trip are the feel-good people.

I will take time each day for myself- resting, reading, writing, listening to guided mediation, going on light walks, and things of that nature.

I will lower my insane expectations of myself and allow myself to show up as best as I can, and no better than that. That means that I don’t try clean my Grandmother’s roof or like save my brother from his lifelong pain but instead focus on breathing and watching a funny movie with both of them.

I will allow others to care for me, and I will be kind to myself. I made sure to pack comfortable clothing- because seriously- now is not the time to worry about looking good.

The list goes on, really. There are endless ways for me to take care of myself and none of them will necessarily “cure” the pain, the stress, and the anxiety. It WILL be sad to say goodbye to Ian and it WILL be hard to spend time with my family AND my financial reality remains a stressful one. (Sidenote: I just spilled an entire cup of gingerale on myself in hour one of this plane ride. So my ass is now soaked and sticky. That’s not fun and also maybe I’m less functional than I thought). That’s OK. I don’t have to resist it or attach myself to the other story I have which is that “stress WILL TAKE ME OUT.” That story is scarier than the stress itself: the story that emotional pain will physically hold me down and likely never let me up again, therefore making me all the more nervous when my anxiety begins: ARE WE the smartest mammal? Illness has made me afraid of emotions in a way because, for a long time, I truly did not have the capacity to deal with anything other than just stay alive. Now, I’m here, on this plane with soaking wet pants lucky that I have space for more and learning how to balance it. In the end, yeah, I feel lucky to be alive and I feel lucky that I GET to feel it all.

With fun, love, and sticky pants,

Jackie

 

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10 Things my Mother Taught Me:

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10. On Anatomy: How to use a tampon: I was a late bloomer; I didn’t get my period until I was nearing 14. I had also been lying about having it for some time since it was considered heinous in my junior high to not have to visit the bathroom every 2 hours to change your tampon (a bloody piece of cotton you stuffed inside yourself aka: the symbol of womanhood)? So, when I did finally pop, it was very exciting… UNTIL I was invited over to my best friend’s house to go in the pool during “that time of the month”— I couldn’t simply go for a swim. Enter..My first attempt at THE TAMPON. My mother brought some “OB’s” into the bathroom, handed me one then waited outside the door for me to finish. “WHAT HOLE DO I PUT IT IN?” I shouted. Ah, the days of innocence, when I didn’t know where that hole was. “Not the hole you pee out of,” she said. “I can’t find it…oh wait I think I found it… now what?” “Now you push it in.” OW. Was she kidding? NOPE. NO WAY. Nothing should go in there. “It can’t be that hole, it hurts too much—can you just help me…doesn’t water stop the bleeding anyway?” “No, you have to use a tampon,” she said, “It might be easier if you lay on your back.”  I needed more space -that’s how we ended up in my bedroom. We tried every size, every kind of tampon, and every position the physical form could possibly endure. I was frustrated. “Can’t you just do it for me?” I finally asked all shameless and stuff. She paused, exhaled, deliberated, scrunched her face and said, “no.” I can’t even remember if we (I ) got the tampon in that day, but we both learned very important things: I learned which hole to put it in, and she learned that I was still a virgin.

9.On the Arts: Music (i.e Michael Jackson is a man): My mother wasn’t/ isn’t known for her cleanliness. The way I knew it was tidying time was when the music was on and my mom was dancing and singing around the house. She’d do a one two step, and then fluff a pillow. One two step, snap her fingers, sway, and wipe something off. While she shuffled, I was very busy in an imaginary life more satisfying than that reality. One day, however, I heard a sudden burst of , “A BOO BA BOO BA BOO. a boo ba boo ba boo,” which threatened the fun even my own imagination could have. It won me over, “who is this? I love her,” I said and started dancing with my mom. “It’s not a girl..that’s a boys voice — it’s Michael Jackson and the Jackson 5. The song is called ABC.” Obnoxiously, now jumping around with my mom, I said, “THAT’S A BOOOYYY?” If it wasn’t The Jackson 5, it was Stevie Wonder, Sinead O’Connor, Tom Petty, Lucinda Williams, Ricki Lee Jones, The Eagles, The Rolling Stones, or Joni Mitchell. Oh, and I LOVED JONI. There were always Joni Mitchell and Ricki Lee Jones CD’s in my Mom’s car, and I could never remember which one I liked. I accidentally slipped in Ricki Lee Jones expecting to hear “Big Yellow Taxi” once and was apparently nearly traumatized, “THIS is not the woman who sings about the mean old daddy, is it? I want the one who sings about the mean old daddy.”  Joni sings about the mean old daddy and the milk and toast and honey, too. Ricki Lee Jones sings about nothing because I can’t understand anything she says. So my mom taught me some of the artists I don’t like as well.

8. On Safety: Kidnappers have all kinds of tricks: YUP. I guess parents have to teach us this stuff, huh? One night, IN THE DARK, we were walking to the car in a quiet, suburban grocery store parking lot (already scary), and my mother casually said, “Now be careful, kidnappers have a new way of getting kids— they’ve been hiding under cars so at night they grab your ankles and take you before you get in the car.” I must have lost color in my face and maybe like never gained it back? Here I am, 28, still thinking about it; If I walk to the car alone at night, I walk haltingly. I tremble inside a little trying to get in the car before the monster under the car can catch my ankles and eat me or something? Also, what an incredibly dumb move, kidnappers..what if you miss your 10 seconds of ankle vulnerability? Do you just get run over?? Nonetheless, thanks for this gem, Mom—it has literally been of zero help.

7. On Health: Drinking too much water can kill you: I drink a lot of water, and I highly suggest everyone drink a lot of water. When I ask my mother how much water she drinks, she says things like, “Well there’s ice in the coca cola I drink- that counts you know.” And then I get on her, “that does not count and that is not enough water.” And one day, in the middle of one of these arguments where I was being self-righteous about hydration my mom said, “You’re such a hydration-bully, you know drinking too much water can kill you…you have to be careful, you can flood your brain with too many fluids.” COOL. WHAT? I did my research and, yes, it’s true, an obscene amount of water CAN kill you—it’s incredibly rare and very difficult to consume the amount of water it takes unless you’re doing a ton of physical activity. Later on, I asked my mom where she came to the conclusion that water is fatal and she said, “Oh I don’t know, my father saw it on the news once and always warned us because it really scared him so I guess that’s where.” And that is how “anxiety disorders” have gotten passed down from generation to generation.

6. On Grammar: The word is “proposed,” and pronounce your T’s: When I was a “cute” (actually I was considered ugly) little girl totally obsessed with marriage and babies (actually, I still am), I would take note any time somebody got engaged by stating,”He engaged to her, mom!” Or I would ask, “OOO, did he engage to her?” And, every single time, my mother would remind me with increasing frustration, “The word is proposed. He proposed. He proposed. He proposed. They GOT engaged.” huh, what’s this alien word proposed? That’s how I processed that information. It’s a good thing it sunk in at some point because I’m pretty sure Ian would be rethinking engaging to me if I still said that shit. The other thing she really gets on me about is the pronunciation of T’s. Getting very dramatic and aggressive every time a T is missed, putting on her best lazy, valley girl teenager body language and repeating, “it’s not Clin—iiinn,” and then changing to an upright professor who fucking took Shakespeare for a decade or something and says, “It’s ClinTon.” I don’t know why this has come up so many times around Bill and Hillary, but it has. Considering, I’m the only one in my immediate family who does not have a New York accent, I find this terribly annoying yet totally EFFECTIVE. I never want to miss a T around her— god forbid she shames me for being some ghetto valley girl. Moms are so annoying.

5. On hygiene: The more you shave, the hairier you’ll get: I shaved for the first time in the fifth grade because I was curious, sneaky, and trying to get an in on the popular kids. I sat in the bathtub, found a razor (it was probably rusty) and shaved. Afterwards, I ran downstairs all excited, “MOMMMMM!!! guess whaaaaaaat, I shaved, I shaved, I shaved!” I thought she’d be proud of me and say something like, “Oh wow! good job!” But, instead, her face morphed, she put a hand over her eyes like she just couldn’t take another problem in this house then slapped her leg and yelled, “WHY? You don’t need to shave, why would you do that without asking? You know… the more you shave, the hairier you get.” I was like, “WHAAAATTT? Seriously??” She reminded me again and again for the next five years until there were bigger problems like my Dad’s crack addiction. Many years later, I asked, “Why did you get so upset when I shaved for the first time?” And my Mother said, “Oh, I don’t know, I think I just wanted to be there with you. Also, now they’re saying that whole theory on shaving making you hairier is actually a myth so..” Oh, cool, more unnecessary anxiety.

4. On Cleanliness: Getting in bed with your jeans on is disgusting: Again, my mother is not known for her cleanliness or organization skills so when there is something that bothers her, my ears really spike up. We lived in NYC together so all day long, your body comes into contact with the most disgusting things like subway seats and other things that a million other people touched that day and haven’t been cleaned in a decade. Not to mention, that I would wear jeans like 6 times before actually washing them because who wants to go to the laundromat?? When I’d crawl into bed with my jeans on to read a book, my mother would say, “EW. your jeans have been touching subway seats all day, don’t sit in my bed with them.” It’s like her one ‘tidiness’ pet peeve, AND, I have to say, I appreciated this lesson. It’s true. That is fucking disgusting.

3. On Classic American Sayings: “I need this like I need a hole in my head”: It’s a good saying— very clear. When I write my book, this will be the title of the chapter on my childhood. It pretty much sums it all up. My dad was a maniac and all, but my mom had a lot more presence in my life. Her reactions to the storm were just as horrifying as the storm itself some days. She’d be so sad and so angry, repeating day in and day out, “I need this like I need a hole in my head.” And I didn’t understand it or know what it meant, but it was always my cue that mom was in a wicked bad mood and most likely dad was the reason for it and DEFINITELY everything would be better if I wasn’t alive. Too dark? too bad.

2. On SEX: How to give a blowjob: OK OK. That was for dramatic effect- she didn’t give me a visual tutorial or anything. But I DID request and receive in depth instructions. It’s not her fault, I was curious and an incredibly persistent MOFO; I would get the answers I was looking for. I came home from school one day. It had been another long day of pretending that I knew what the cool kids were talking about when they said words or phrases I had never heard in my life. I was 12, a little confused, and had enough. I confronted my mother in the basement while she was in the middle of her 25th viewing of Annie Hall and cracking open her 100th sunflower seed. I sat on the coffee table and said, Mom I have some serious questions..” Naievly, she said, “OK,” paused Woody Allen, and  got catapulted into a world even more uncomfortable than his affair with his step-daughter. I took it as far as I could, not letting her off the hook, “So, how do you get him hard again? Oh it needs to be hard before you have sex? You put your mouth on it and like all the way in? And so then he puts his mouth on your vagina? And that feels good? That’s what getting eaten out means?” Oh, it went on for an hour, at least. As uncomfortable as she was, she winced through the answers to every question including, “So you do this with dad?” EVERY MOTHER’S DREAM DAUGHTER.

1.On Strength, and Courage: Never give in to panic attacks– This is the most profound thing my mother ever taught me, and, in my opinion, her greatest accomplishment as my Mother. I may have been a late-blooming-menstruator; but panic attacks invaded my brain at the ripe young age of .. ten. The thing that set me off: I found out Mama Cass died choking on a ham sandwich and thought, what if I choke during lunch at school and nobody hears me? I spent the next couple years crying through classes, begging to go home, going through stints of not eating, and trying to convince myself that I was safe. But I was a child with no real life references that made me believe I was safe. My father was a real dick about it, but my mother would hold me in bed at night as I sobbed, “I’d rather have anything else but this. I’d rather have cancer.” No kidding— I have been in physical hell for over 2 years, and I would never trade it in for a life of panic attacks. My Mom had her own debilitating past/present struggles with panic attacks;  her knowledge and compassion were indispensable. All of my peers thought I was certifiable, but my mother kept explaining, AND she kept making me show up for life— she never bailed me out. My turning point was 7th grade field day. That morning, I had a wicked outbreak of panic. I was hysterical, “I’m not going, don’t make me go, I can’t go, please mom, please mom,” unable to breathe, I was pleading. I think I ended up in the closet at some point. My mom said, “You have to go, you cannot let anxiety win. I promise—if there was anything dangerous about this field day then I would not let you go. Please trust me.” I sort of did trust her but the panic was stronger. In the end, I was forced to get on the stupid bus. I went unhappily and full of terror.The kicker?  I had a fantastic day; I even won a first place ribbon for track. I’ll never forget running that track, feeling free or running through my door that afternoon shouting, “Mom . mom, I had the best day thank you so much for making me go!” And she said, “see that!” That was it. Anxiety has never controlled me. I moved to Hawaii, I moved to LA, and I’ve done everything in between that has ever scared me. Best part, I do not suffer from panic attacks anymore. I have shit loads of anxiety (SO DIFFERENT), but the beast that controlled me for so many years on and off has dissipated. I pass this on to all parents with children who have anxiety. Honestly, it’s not just the most important thing my Mother taught me; it’s been one of my greatest lessons in life. And, for that, I will be eternally grateful to my Mama. Thank you, mom, for not giving in to my demands. You were right. That’s what all Moms want to hear, right?

With Fun and Love,

Jackie

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In Loving Memory

 

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My father is not dead- not by medical standards. Not yet. Tick tock- I’ve been waiting for him to die, watching, angrily, as the more innocent go in his place. He’s more..missing with an expectation of no return- I expect he’ll die, lonely, on his lifelong search for the unattainable. I tried. I tried to show him that maybe I could BE all he was searching for, but there’s no competing with the ever- sparkly temptress crack cocaine. She comes with immortal magic AND hookers. At some point, it’s just demoralizing to compete with that world ESPECIALLY when it’s for the attention of an abusive lunatic- the whores can have him. I let him go. He’s now an unrecognizable imposter still called my dad. He’s the walking dead. This kind of grief is very complicated- losing someone completely before they’ve actually departed. I tried to avoid the feelings for a decade, covering my heartbreak up with “forgiveness,” “acceptance,” and “apathy.” When I got sick and was stripped of all of my defenses, maintaining any sort of relationship with my father felt like voluntarily signing up for a causeless war that puts me in the front line alone with no protection or weapons. Being on a mission for total wellness, that would be insane of me. Instead, I faced my past- my devastating heartbreak, and, very recently, uncovered the love I had forgotten all about.

It’s SO easy to vilify my father: he’s an abusive crack addict/ alcoholic, narcissist with sociopathic tendencies, cheater, liar, and he left my family in shambles. I spent most of my childhood tortured by fear, wishing my parents would divorce, or wishing him dead. He was a scary, nasty, and handsy drunk that I could honestly say, I did not love. SO when, at my very impressionable age of 9, my Dad sobered up and ripened into a tall, dark, handsome, and rich man, I was bamboozled into falling in love. I didn’t know how to brace myself for a love like that so I just let myself fall like the naive child I was. I was totally taken by him. My heart went all fireworks every time he held my hand or gave me a hug or said something nice to me. When he wanted to be with me, when he wanted to take me on a date, I put on my best dresses and sat cross-legged across from him at fancy restaurants as I tried to be his peer, his most beloved. Sound a little weird? TOTALLY. It is weird. It’s unhealthy but kind of sweet at best and like super creepy at worst. It’s the truth, though, my father was my first all-encompassing love. And my first (arguably my only) shattering heartbreak.

In 2001, after just a few short but poignant years of sobriety, he started drinking again. There were signs. He was being cruel, and he had that look again: that feral look. I lived with an unshakable faith that my father, MY FATHER, would NEVER use again so it was very confusing for me the first night he didn’t come home. At 6 AM, on my way to school I asked my mother what happened. She said, “ I’m not sure what happened- I think Dad’s in the hospital. Maybe a car accident? He’s drinking again.” I was dumbstruck. I thought about it for the rest of the day in a sort of daze- a world where my dad drinks again? The puzzle pieces didn’t fit- it just didn’t fucking fit. I admittedly have an active and dramatic imagination, but I could have never thought up what was about to come.

2001-2003 were bad years- challenging and disorienting, but they were also the hopeful years. Yes, the downward spiral was picking up speed, and, yes, really nasty things were happening in the home, and, yes, my father was not only drinking, but also snorting coke, and not coming home and acting unstable at best but, he still had a job, and it appeared from my 15-year-old perspective that, at any minute, he’d change his mind and it could all just magically go back to “normal.” I attempted to sway him- believing if he loved me enough, he’d come around – be my knight in shinging armor again. He had an office in a dark corner of the house. It was filled with all of the expensive things that he purchased at the height of his simultaneous success and sobriety. In 2001, he sat behind a big oak desk, smoking cigarettes, clicking away at his computer, and taking business calls that he always sounded so authoritative and intelligent on. By 2003, it was a drug den. He locked the door, and left the lights out so there was always an uncertainty about whether or not he was even in there. His oak desk was now piled with clutter of all sorts and his drawers were filled with the paraphernalia of his new lifestyle. I sometimes knocked on the door. I often wondered if he was around, if he would be willing to see me- if he would maybe hold me once more, and tell me it was OK. I would write him letters and slip them under the door with high hopes of how they might affect him.

He responded to one of my letters, and I saved it all of these years. I think I saved it because it is this one piece of loose leaf that proves what he and I had together- the love we shared as father and daughter. It slipped out of a book the other day, and inspired this post. From late 2003:

Dad,
There are just some things I have on my mind that I want you to know. I want you back in my life…You haven’t hit rock bottom yet because you still have a family who loves you…don’t let that slip away. I hate seeing you do this to yourself but I believe in you. I have hope that you will pull through this. You have a problem that you understand better than any of us so all I truly get is that you are in lots of physical and mental pain. I see the anxiety and guilt in your eyes. I just ask one thing: please don’t turn your back on me and pretend I don’t see what’s going on. I see it, but I still love you soooo much and am extremely concerned about you. I just want you to know that people still care…especially me..hitting rock bottom is when you lose that. I LOVE YOU. I hope you can feel this deep in your soul. LOVE, JACKIE

and on the back of the piece of looseleaf, he returned this…

Jackie:
When did you get so smart? So mature? Sorry I am giving you this particular lesson this way. Yes, I am in a really bad place filled with fear and guilt. It’s nobody’s fault and no one can help. It’s all up to me. Unfortunately, the same things that have given me success in life bring me to this place. It’s part of who I am and I have to overcome it. There is no denial on my part. I see and feel everything which is why I will prevail! I need you to stay strong and stay on course. I feed off that. Ultimately, this will make me stronger and a better person. Don’t cry baby- let me see your strength. Show me how people like us handle things! You know what I mean- I know you do. God damn I’m proud of you! Love, Dad.

I remember reading that letter and feeling so much hope- dad was on the horizon! The very next thing I remember is Crack-the fucking Devil’s drug- I’ve never seen anything like it. That drug hijacked what was left of my father’s heart, his spirit, in the middle of the night, leaving no time for me to say my goodbyes. That letter is the last thing I have from him that resembles the man I loved. The years 2003-2005 were the most violent, destructive years we lived through. I wondered often whether my Mother would get out alive as there were ever-increasing attempts to take her out. I wondered nightly whether or not my father was alive. I heard his screams in the middle of the night (if he was home).  He’d convulse on the couch so fiercely that his crack pipe would fall out of the pocket of the terry cloth robe his body was now too frail for. If he was alive, I considered killing him myself which, by the way, I am VERY GLAD I never fully attempted.  He lost his job, our cars, our house, and my parents divorced all in those 2 years. The last engagement I saw between my parents as married people was October of 2005 when my dad said, “Jackie, there’s one last thing I want you to see me do to your mother,” and then he spit a wad of yellow phlegm right on her face so it dripped off of her nose. That was not great. See- IT’S EASY TO VILIFY MY FATHER.

I thought I walked away from all of that unaffected. It was my mission to move on and be unaffected. I numbed it- who could begin to deal with all of that garbage AND continue living a life? I talked about my past like it was some story- someone else’s life. “Yeah like that time my dad had hookers in the house and beat my mom and threatened to eat my dog,” I’d laugh while others would crane their necks in silence.  I moved 6,000 miles away from home, and I decided to be the best daughter I could be regardless of who he was. All that meant was that we maybe talked once every six months, and I sent him a “Happy Birthday” text. The last time I saw him, 2 years ago, he was so high that I swore/ hoped I was leaving him for dead, and I had NO PROBLEM leaving. Five minutes after I left him, my doctor called to let me know that my Lyme results came back still very much positive.

When I got sick and my father was what he had been for 15 years (absent and high) I fell apart. I lived, I think, with some reservation, that if I ever needed my father desperately enough, he would show up. Surely, if I got sick, he would revert back to 1999 Dad. When I had to face the reality that my father was no help whatsoever but only a hindrance to my well-being, I was faced with a level of grief so painful, I thought I’d never get over it. As a coping mechanism, I again turned to hate- vilify the asshole.  I felt and often feel the anger, but he’s not just this one thing. He’s not just “monster.”

When I found that letter, I remembered everything I ever loved about him, and I remembered how much he loved me. There was good there- there was even something innocent there, I think. I can take an eraser to my hard edges that leave no room for mistakes. I can see the whole, messy, imperfect picture. It’s weird, I know, to talk about him in the past. It’s so complicated to grieve the loss of someone who is still bodily alive…somewhere…I don’t even know where. Today, I wish he was dead just so I could talk to him. I really do miss that man- the man in that letter.

I remember my father telling me one day in 2004 while we both fiercely sucked down cigarettes in his Porsche, “The opposite of love is not hate, the opposite of love is not caring.” I TRIED so hard to not care about my Dad- just to show him. Wouldn’t it be so easy to not care? But I’m on a fucking mission to heal, and that has meant unveiling all of the nasty shit, facing it, and finding what lives underneath- an innocent, unshakable love. It also means, staying the hell away from the toxic, lunatic man he’s become. But, dammit,  I love you, Dad- can’t wait till you find peace.

Fun and Love,

Jackie

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