The Curse of Knowing how Healthy Feels

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I was observing my surroundings. How did I get here? I was lying on a flat table with one needle in my right arm and one in my left—the one in my right drawing dark, heavy, apathetic blood  from my sick body so it could pool in a machine where it got an expensive make-over,  the one in my left  feeding me an upgraded, strawberry-like vibrant blood. My dear friend sat next to me with a book she was reading aloud to keep me calm. Two innocent-faced,  pretty nurses that didn’t speak much English were nearby watching multiple patients. We were in Bali, Indonesia. My eyes grew fainter, my body more restless as though something inside of it was dying and fighting for life. The needles hurt, the treatment exhausted me,  I was afraid. Across from me was another woman receiving the same treatment but with no friend sitting at her bedside. How do you do this alone?  We struck up a conversation because it was weird to be receiving such an intimate treatment in the same room and not say a few words like, “hello. funny to see you here.” or something. As it turned out, we were both in the grips of Lyme disease.

A lot of people with Lyme disease—especially Australians— go to Bali for this one doctor and this one treatment. Penny was in her forties—she had an incredibly sweet demeanor, long nails, tan skin, a great body, she wore modest shorts, a tank and flip-flops. Her hair sat in an effortless pony tail, her face was untouched by makeup.  I had so many questions, “when, how, what have you tried, what are your symptoms, do you work?” I was constantly comparing myself to others with Lyme, I was on a mission to find out whether or not I was making it up, whether or not it seemed likely that I would recover—or maybe I was on a mission to feel less alone. Most of what she said was all too familiar to me. Her words confirmed that Lyme was real.  She knew how tired I was when I said I was tired; I knew how much she needed to rest even though she didn’t want to. Together, we understood the loneliness. So few actually understand what I felt, what I was going through. It felt like a hit of validation any time someone else talked about the symptoms I had been complaining about: We can’t all be making up the same symptoms. We aren’t in fucking cahoots. But there was one big difference. I was newly sick —just a year and a half in— and she had been sick since she could remember.

I remember Penny sympathetically saying to me, “I think it’s harder for you. Because you know what feeling good feels like. You know? I never really knew that. I don’t really know what it is to do a cart-wheel on the beach without pain. It’s been this way since my early teens. But you know what that feels like. And it got taken away. And, I can’t imagine how hard that must be.”

“………..Really?” I asked, dumbfounded.

“Yes. don’t you think?” she said.

I didn’t. I definitely didn’t think. I thought she was way off.  My god, I was so glad I hadn’t been sick my whole life and, to be fair, I still am glad about that. But now… now I get precisely what she was talking about.

Recently, it torments me—the memories of effortless late nights and early mornings, the fearless dive into sugary desserts, the hikes without pain, the ability to hustle and spend my money on things that weren’t about my health, the ability to push through, the tight body, the very rosy cheeks, the falling asleep without the assistance of melatonin, 5-HTP and sun-theanine, the drinking coffee first thing in the morning instead of celery juice and water and tea, the plan-making, and jam-packed schedule, the giant smile I’d have as I ran uphill, downhill, and through the hills, the dancing, oh the late- night- anytime dance parties, the bountiful, delicious hope that lived inside of me for my bright future, and the innocence—the not knowing the dark underbelly of life.

My positivity reserves are all used up, they are tattered and unrecognizable now.

And here’s the confusing thing: I’m so much better now! Today, I CAN make plans, I can hike, I can be spontaneous again, and I can work again. Most of my days, I feel very alive. But it’s not without work. It takes a very careful house of cards to keep me stable and that takes up a lot of my precious time. Time that I would much prefer not making doctor phone calls, or peeing into a cup or getting blood drawn or screaming while I receive an infusion on my couch. There was a time when feeling like I feel now would actually be the predecessor to getting a cold. A time where I would lay low and wait to get back on my feet. But this is the new “on my feet.” So, when I sit at home writing a post or memorizing lines or sending emails, sometimes I remember when it was all so much different—a different body and a different mind. A mind before illness. A mind free from years of discouragement, rejection, and crazy depression.  A heart free of the trauma that three years of illness comes with. A free and happy and hopeful body—before I knew that my body could abandon me.  I would be lying if I said I didn’t miss it. I would be lying if I said that sometimes I wish this didn’t happen, sometimes I wish nothing changed, sometimes I wish I didn’t need this lesson in order to grow to my fullest potential. But I did.

I’ve posted a lot about my triumphs and how much I’ve grown as a human and about how I wouldn’t have it any other way. Blah blah blah. It’s not untrue. I DO feel that way. And I also feel betrayed and ripped off and really really bummed that the second half of my twenties were spent….suffering. I imagined those years would be full of very sexy successes. But, in so many ways, they are my most fucked.

From what I’ve learned, my current experience is extremely common. Since I’m safe now and not desperately trying to survive, I’m more aware of how difficult it’s been—what a beating I took. I’m less focused on needing to lie down and be spoon-fed so I get some nutrients and more focused on the fact that I used to be able to wake up without joint pain. I see clearly all I’ve lost and I’m not entirely clear on everything I’ve gained. Not yet. I’m trying to welcome my new self to the table and get to know her and respect her. And I also try to use my old memories to my advantage when they come stampeding in. I use them as fuel to keep striving for health, for a pain-free body, as fuel to persevere. It will always be different than it once was because I am different. I am forever altered. For better and  worse. I can find that little seed of hope that’s left over and nourish the fuck out of it—start sewing up the tattered positivity reserves. I can just keep going. If there’s one thing I’m good at it’s keeping on no matter the circumstances.

Just keep swimming.

Fun and love,

Jackie xx

The Power of Whispering “Please”

 

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I was in a yoga class last Tuesday afternoon, August 30th, 2016. I had spent an hour “opening up” (insert: eye roll), breathing, and getting in touch with the silence and stillness of my body, feeling so grateful for how far I’ve come on my way to wellness. After savasana, I felt all calm and centered, all like “mmm namaste.” Slowly packing up my mat and water bottle, I swiped my phone out of airplane mode simultaneously driving my energy to erratic and off-center. A message from my cousin immediately popped up that read, “I’m sure you’ve heard the news. Will you be at the funeral?” PANIC. I hadn’t heard the news. I was about to hear the news. My 23-year-old cousin passed away tragically in the earliest hours of Tuesday morning. “Passed away” suggests some sort of peaceful movement into another realm, but, I can assure you, nothing about it felt peaceful. Not to me. For me, it was more of a disorienting impact, like when those cartoon characters see stars after getting hit really hard. I couldn’t breathe. The same room I had just gotten all namaste in, held space for my hysterical tears. I immediately thought of his mother—notably one of my favorite people on this planet— and his brother. My heart aches deeply for them. I made a fierce and confident decision in that moment, on my knees in tears, that no matter what, I would be at the funeral. Yes, I knew it was across the country, I knew my health wasn’t super stable, and I knew that I was super short on cash, but I also knew that I WOULD be there. My (almost) three-year long struggle with Lyme disease has taught me a thing or two or three or four about compassion, about humanity, and about empathy. Well “you” taught me, actually. You know who you are—all of the people who have had my back again and again and again over the last couple of years—you’re the reason I know how necessary it is to show up. After I pulled myself together from the shock of the news—out of the hysterics, floating into more a cloudy daze of confusion—I got in my car and drove home to look up airline tickets. Apparently, I had spoken too soon and too confidently. The cheapest ticket was $930.00, and painfully out of my price range. And yet, I went, and I went fully available to my family. How in the fuck, you ask? Because just when I thought I had been shown my fair share of love in this lifetime, I was proven wrong, love saved the day. . . again. As it turns out, there might not be a shortage on that shit.

I’ve always been way more comfortable in the role of care-taker. I truly believed that I didn’t need— “you” clearly needed love and support and help, but, me? I’d be just fine. I’m tough enough, I can take it, I thought. As a kid, I would watch my brother or mother suffer under my father’s cruelty and wish/pray that I could just trade places with them, thinking that I had some sort of magical armor that they didn’t. I played that role for a good long while— giving, giving, giving until I used up all of my energy, got Lyme disease and had nothing left to give. OK, I had to stop giving, but I certainly wasn’t going to ask for anything. GASP. How could I? I would just take care of myself, like I always had.

I continued working as a waitress (I don’t suggest this) to desperately try to pay bills. I refused almost every offer of accompaniment to the doctor, assuming I would just need a couple of months and lots of antibiotics to get back to my “normal life.” Without my asking, a couple of friends jumped in over this short period— my dear friend ran a $1,500 fundraiser so I could cover some antibiotics, another friend took me to one doctor’s appointment, my mom paid for a months worth of an intramuscular antibiotic, and my boyfriend held me while I cried a few times. I thought, at that point, that I had used up my predetermined supply of love, help, and support one gets in this lifetime; as though, upon entering the world, we are handed an allotted number of chips or tickets, and each time we are loved, we hand one in, making us want to “save them for a rainy day.”

My storm came. I took a nose dive into the unfathomable darkness of Lyme disease and multi systemic chronic illness. If I was going to get well or survive, I was going to NEED help—next-level help. I certainly didn’t know how to ask or what to even ask for. It seemed like I needed too much—like I’d probably die waiting for my needs to be met. Finding myself in fetal position, terrified and disturbed, I whispered out into the universe, “please.” Just. . . please. Looking back, it seems like all I had to do—once I surrendered to reality— was sit back and ACCEPT what people were offering me. Here is just a glimpse into what people have done for me over the last two years:

You fed me : One friend flew across the country just to cook me batches of healthy food. My freezer was full of cauliflower soup, lentil stew, lamb burgers, tzatziki sauce, and carrot ginger dressing. Another friend delivers me groceries or home-made meals during every single IVIG treatment. I’ve been treated to countless lunches, dinners, green juices, and smoothies. I have been sent gift cards to Whole Foods or Gelsons just…randomly. I’ve opened my front door to surprise packages from friends and family chock full of nutritious sustenance—from meat, to protein bars, to nuts and tea. hehe. My boyfriend has spoon-fed me / force-fed me more times than I can count, and my family—oh, my lovely family that knows nothing about the insane diet I’m on worked their asses off last time I saw them to meet my dietary restrictions. THANK YOU.

You tucked me in: I kid you not, I have been rocked to sleep. My back has seen many loving hands, and my forehead has been calmly caressed by countless. I have been sung to, massaged, and even CHANGED into pajamas. YUP. Those were the days…when I’d be so sick I couldn’t take my own pants off. More than one person has changed me into comfortable clothing. More than one person has seen to it that I fell asleep. More than one person offered their bed or couch or arms when I needed comfort. THANK YOU.

You STILL take me to the doctor: In extreme ways and not so extreme ways, I have been taken to the doctor. One woman who suffers her own struggle with Lyme disease, took me to get blood drawn before she ever even met me a couple of years ago. Other friends held my hand for blood draws or took me to the doctor when I simply COULD NOT do it alone anymore. And then there were three special people who did long-term treatments with me. One friend took me to Florida and did a week-long doctor visit with me. He wheeled me around in a wheel chair so I could be a tourist in between doctor appointments and bedtime. Another friend traveled to Indonesia with me for two months, reading me books, singing to me, and cooking for me while all of my blood got removed, restored, and returned. My boyfriend met us during that treatment and has sat through days and day and days of IVIG treatment with me and doctor’s visits and ER visits with me, entertaining me with things like, “Heads up.”  THANK YOU.

You paid my way: We raised over $18,000 to help cure me. I think about 300 people donated to my health. 300 people! Each one of those souls played a part in my recovery. Some people donated 1,000 dollars and other donated 5.00 and every penny cracked me open a little more, showing me just how abundant love is. I needed every cent that came my way, and I still do. A sweet friend of mine just purchased me a very expensive air purifier that I couldn’t afford, my aunt and uncle got me a much-needed new pair of shoes, and my mama buys me supplements. I wouldn’t have had a chance in hell without your help. A certain “you” gifted me a laptop. UH, THANKS. And a certain “you” gifted me crazy expensive supplements, coffee enema supplies, meals, and striaght-up cash. THANK YOU.

You LOVE me: You have listened to me, you have let me cry on your shoulder, you have had endless compassion and kindness for me. You have talked to me for hours, given me advice, loaned me special weird healing things, cried with me, cried for me, sent loving texts, made me laugh, came to visit, taken me for walks, called to check in, skyped with me, and cheered me the fuck on. THANK YOU.

That’s just grazing the surface of the last two years. Here’s what happened in one day:

Last Tuesday, August 30th, 2016, I sat talking to two of my favorite humans about my cousin’s passing, “I don’t know what to do,” I said, “I want to be with my family, but I don’t know how to get there. I can’t afford it. It hurts to be so far away.” And one of those women, a woman who knows too much about death, said, “do you want me to put it on my credit card?” Just as I was saying “no. . . that’s too much..” my other friend casually said, “Why don’t I see if I have miles.” I’m still not super good at accepting help. I STILL think I’ve used up my fair-share so instead of saying, “oh that’d be great, thank you,” I was more like, “well. I mean. If you’d be willing and..” awkward weird space-filling chatter and shifting and nail-biting. While I got weird, she found a flight and booked it. When I said, “you’re an incredible human,” she said, “nah, just a human. You’ll do it for someone else one day.” Two people were willing to get me to my cousin’s funeral. And two other people helped me pack/decide what to wear, AND another person drove me to the airport at 4:30 in the morning the next day. I swear all I did was whisper please.

I landed in South Carolina on Thursday afternoon, walking into the heartbreak. I’m wordless. I just love them so much, and I don’t know what else to say about it.  I watched person after person flood the home of his mother with food, flowers, and hugs. I watched her struggle to accept all of the kindness. I watched people step up and pay for expensive and necessary things because death is not only so heartbreaking for the loved ones, but it is also bank-breaking. Grief is not a weekend deal. It goes on for a long, long time and so should support.

Before I left, I told my his mother, “keep accepting the help. Everyone wants to help you. Let them.” She looked at me and said, “But I’ve already gotten so much help over the last year.” She has been in the throes of her own serious health struggle this year. “There’s no point at which you’ve used up help, support and love. There’s always more,” I said. And I KNOW that to be true because of what “you” have shown me.

For some reason, I still slip back into thinking that I’ve used up my chips. I landed back in LA around 1 am on Sunday night and, get this,  two different friends offered to pick me up from the airport. At 1 am! Just when I thought I’ve had enough, my phone rings, a text comes through, a note comes in the mail, someone donates to my fundraiser, or I get a much needed hug.

I love you, my friends and family. I only hope I can give back an iota of what’s been given to me. Thank you, Lyme disease, for giving me an opportunity to learn about love so that I can show up during this trying time. And *please*, if you read this and know my family, show up for them right now and in the months to come. It takes a freakin village and every single person counts, every single hand, counts. And, I beg of you (I’m not whispering now) if YOU are the person who needs help, ask for it. Ask anyone.Because shame is deadly.

Here is my cousin’s memorial fund.

love upon love upon love,

Jackie

 

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.

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