I wake angry. Riddled with residue. Rageful at the past. Pissed that I will have to write my way through what was meant to be a different kind of morning on this, a frosty first-day of spring.
Last night, I took my 13 year-old to Mount Snow for a presentation on drugs and alcohol–a requirement to earn a ski pass.
The speakers were newly married. One–a famous Super Bowl star, turned addict. The other–the mother of a 17-year old girl who died in two feet of water at a party in the woods.
Their stories were painful, provocative and prey-ful. There was some concrete take-way; But mostly, I left triggered.
My family is rampant with addiction. My childhood was flooded in it.
I HATE IT.
I hate fucking addiction.
I’d like to end this piece right there, but the rage hasn’t drained.
There’s more work to do.
I don’t want to feel this.
This pain. This vulnerability. That mother’s loss. That man’s pain. My mother’s vacancy. My Nana’s ugliness. My Gram’s despair. My aunt’s carelessness. (And I’m not even touching my generation or the one after that.)
Compassion. My physician father taught me to understand addiction as disease. But how long does this disease deserve to live? My mother died over a dozen years ago. Her drinking died a decade before that.
How is it still hurting me?
I don’t want it.
I don’t want to lie there waiting outside on the ice with a broken arm calling… “Mom, mom, MOM!”
I don’t to wait for her to arrive without any sign of effort as if she dragged herself to respond to the cries of her first-born.
I don’t want to see her impassive face.
I don’t want to hear her flatly say, Kelly, what is it, without a single question mark of concern.
And I definitely don’t want to feel her rub my fucking head and tell me how beautiful I am a decade later when she’s clearly bombed.
The WOMEN in my LIFE only touched me when they were drunk. Only told me they loved me when they were drunk. Only looked at me with affection when they were drunk.
I don’t want to hear how my siblings and my nieces and my nephews and even my sons are going to avoid addiction. With their minds. Ha!
We have great minds. We have depression. We have anxiety.
The last time I was drunk was St. Paddy’s Day, 1986.
And no, I’m not an alcoholic. Or a teetotaler.
I still like my Chardonnay and my Margaritas…
But I used to like to get smashed.
I grew up, I guess. I crossed the line a few too many times in my early twenties, and drunkenness started to feel ugly and sad instead of fun.
That partying lifestyle is a hard one to sustain. Especially when you’re happy. Being hungover feels like crap.
Leaving the bar & restaurant world made it easier to let it go. So did becoming a teacher and a mother. Neither of those roles is very compatible with drunkenness.
Do I miss it?
Sometimes I do. But mostly I’m surprised that it’s still going on. (Without me 🙂
I guess there’s a lot of pain to medicate. At least that’s what I was doing. I drank to wash away feelings of not being enough. I drowned out anger and confusion. I hid from disillusionment.
When I was drinking, all that pain disappeared; and I got to catch my breath. Only the break never lasted; but the mistakes did.
Both my grandmothers and mother were alcoholics, and somehow I didn’t inherit their propensity for that disheartening disease; but I gave it a good effort–with nearly a decade of dedication.
I still got good grades, had goals, and met them; But I missed out on a lot. Like the day after St. Paddy’s Day, 1986, when my sweetheart and I were meant to be in Wyoming. It was a dream of his to see that great state, and it was the first time that the two of us had the opportunity to get out of town together. We were living in Steamboat Springs then, Colorado, working our butts off at the Mountain, and we were thrilled to have 3 days off in a row, together, to finally explore more of the West (before we headed back to the Atlantic.)
Instead, we spent that big adventure in bed, with one of the worst hangovers either of us has ever had. We fought over the last Ibuprofen and shook our heads at the pile of our mud-laden clothes on the floor. Later friends told us that we had been seen wrestling up the hill on our way home from the bar.
We still laugh at that story, and I tell it too much–maybe to point out that there is life after drinking–even though it seems like the most fun in the world when you don’t know what else you’re missing.
Now I define fun differently. Now it’s about creating more of what I want in my life, instead of running from what I’m afraid of.
And when I have pain, I like to “check IN” instead of “check OUT.” Well, that’s not entirely true. Sometimes, I’d rather watch Netflix or check Facebook; but what I’ve learned, again and again, is that there’s gold to be mined in my discomfort if I just show up: Pain is transformed. Memories heal. Disillusionment is replaced with new, vibrant visions. Dreams come true. And I begin to like myself just the way I am. I cut myself a goddamn break; and I don’t even have to be drunk to do it.
At 42, I left the cocoon of my life as a mother, and set off to a friend’s seaside cabin in Maine.
I went alone–with my laptop, my journal and my drawing pad–planning a long weekend of retreat. I spread my personal things throughout the cabin–into the second bedroom, the loft, onto the desk and coffee tables, and even onto the porches; but I couldn’t fill the absence of my family.
When night came, this vacuum left me engulfed by peril–from the beautiful lapping water right off the front porch, to the Maine woods on each of the other sides of the cabin. There weren’t any neighbors to speak of–not within shouting distance–and I had this creepy seventies horror-film fear that someone or something could be lurking in the pines outside the window beside my bed.
My imagination prevented me from falling to sleep for hours into every night, and woke me early, before the dawn, exhausted, but relieved to have one less night of terror to face. What were these feelings and where did they come from? Was I experiencing some existential theater? Unresolved childhood trauma? Was I really in danger? Or was this simply the dark chasm between motherhood and the return to self?
With a map in hand, I jumped into my vacant mini-van, and drove toward Acadia National Park in the dark. A visit to the park hadn’t been part of my plans, but the previous guests had left a pass behind so I thought I’d see what all the fuss was about.
I decided to at least go see the Park, assess its merit, and return to the cabin to write in the comforting light of afternoon.
I never did return to the cabin that afternoon or during any of the following days until late into the evening, because once I entered the Acadia, I was gone. It was if I had mistakenly slipped through the cracks of my life into a slice of heaven. My small contracted mother-chasm-self expanded there–into all those open vowels, tall trees, mountaintops, lakes and streams, ocean and sky, boulders and cliffs.
On the second dawn, I drove to the summit of Cadillac Mountain to greet the rising sun atop the highest peak on the East coast. Before the day grew warm, I climbed to the top of another peak, Penobscott, and stood there alone—with mountains and water and air in every direction. On the way down, I formed a crush on a bolder and even took a self-timed photo of us together before I pulled myself away.
I swam at Echo Lake and at Sandy Beach where the ocean waters barely crested 50 in July. In the afternoons, I journaled beside Jordan Pond with a pot of tea and a basket of popovers and jam. I fell in love with Acadia– and with myself there.
Why then, driving around its stunning Loop Road, did I see myself leaping from the rocks to the water below?
Were these delirious daydreams? Blissed out fantasies? Suicidal threats?
Desiring death made no sense… because I was so happy.
Happy– and exhausted– I suddenly realized–from a lifetime of holding on so tightly that I finally wanted to just let go.
This exhaustion began, not with motherhood, but with a childhood steeped in fear and abandonment–influenced by birth order (first), alcoholism (my mother’s, grandmothers’ & aunts) and divorce (my parents.)
I had been “gripping” for as long as I could remember, and I was ready to let go—forever–right here at Acadia, the closest thing to heaven on Earth. I saw myself turn the wheel so that I would fly off the road ringing the ocean and head into the air over one of those amazing cliffs; or parking my van and carefully crossing the road before jumping–right into the water or into the rocky beach below.
These images came to me over and over again, even after I returned home–sweet Acadia beckoning me to death.
But if I was so ready to die, what was this fear I felt each night in the cabin?
I’ve felt it before, I realized–during a particularly poignant gulf of understanding with my husband, so that even though he was beside me, he felt miles away, so very small—or just the opposite–so close that he was a smothering giant.
This fear-induced delusion first came at four-year’s old in the huge expanse of my grandparents’ bedroom, entombed in the hum of the air conditioner, and manifested by high fever.
Where was my mother?
Where was mother when those feverish images returned years later so that the cellar shelves grew closer and closer to my bed– and then so far away that I had no idea where I was or if I existed apart from them at all?