Memory Day

Standard

It’s Memorial Day. A day to remember service men and women who lost their lives in the line of duty. As the daughter and granddaughter of servicemen, this day has a lot of meaning. I get it.  It’s a day of counting blessings, saying a special prayer for loved ones, and remembering that we live in this society because of those sacrifices.

But today, this day, is something else. It is my brother Matt’s 43rd birthday. I don’t know if he’s alive. He’s a heroin addict. I know that a few months ago he missed a court date in Portland, because they called my ex-husband’s house and left a message looking for him. My ex wasn’t going to tell me. One of my sons heard the message and let me know. Unfortunately they didn’t catch if it was state, county or city court. I was unable to figure it out (easily–I confess to not doing more than making a couple of phone calls). So he must have been alive at least recently enough to have committed some infraction.

I still remember him as the impulsive little kid he was before puberty hit his brain chemistry and everything went to hell. Before his ADD and Reactive Attachment Disorder and general “follower” style personality got him in trouble with the law, before his first prison stint at 18, and before he took his first hit of heroin.

I used to be the link between Matt and the rest of the family. He had my phone number. And address. I would get letters from him when he was in prison, and therefore clean. I visited him if he was within a few hour drive. If you have never visited someone in prison, you have no idea how awful it is. But then, when I was at  a really low and vulnerable place, right after I had left my marital home of 20 years, I let him detox with me. Twice. It did not go well. That’s an understatement. It was hellish. After I put him on a train, I ducked his calls. For a week or so, he was angry and called my phone every 15 minutes for several days straight. I knew he was using again. I turned off my phone.  I still do not feel strong enough to see him. Even when he isn’t actively using, the life he has had to live because of his choices have made him manipulative and I cannot be around that.

But today, I remember the happy little boy. I hope and pray that sweet soul still lives. And I wish him happy birthday.

 

This is Funny. But it also isn’t.

Standard

Here is a video that has shown up in my various social media feeds a few times over the past couple of years. It’s funny. No, really, it is. Even though I am the ex-wife of a gay man, one who was fooled for 20 years, I can definitely see the humor in this. It is also making a point I fully believe in–it really doesn’t matter what your religious beliefs are–even if they are that marriage should be between a man and a woman. By denying homosexuals the right to marry, you are guaranteeing that unwitting straight men and women will be in false marriages. Also, my personal opinion, even if it is “against God” that is between God and the individuals in question–not for you and not for me to say.

I debated linking this on the Facebook page of the Straight Spouse Network, but didn’t because I realized that some followers there are at different stages of their journey with this particular issue and it might be hurtful. It wouldn’t be difficult for me to allow this to move me to irritation and hurt–but I am actually beyond that and to allow it would be a step backwards.

If you have stumbled upon this blog post in a search for information about gay spouses, please check out the Straight Spouse Network. At the very least you will realize you are not alone.

If you are seeing this and are vehemently opposed to gay marriage–please; stop and think about the ramifications of what you are saying. There are so many more people involved. Continuing to (in my opinion wrongly) discriminate against gay marriage is incredibly harmful.

And if you just think this video short is funny–well, you’re right. It is.

 

My Clan; Scattered

Standard

Tribe. Clan. Words people use to describe those with whom they are sympatico… the group of people who share an interest, and an easy getting along. All my life I have stood on the outskirts of these groups, never quite belonging. Don’t misunderstand; I have friends in all kinds of different tribes. But I myself am not in the core of any group. This always kind of bothered me. I mean, where did I fit? I often became flippant about it, I didn’t fit, that was cool–I was far too unique to be in a clique. But it really wasn’t ok. I wanted to know where I belonged. In my darkest moments I figured I belonged nowhere. (thanks depression brain chemistry).

Jock. Nerd. Popular. Techie. Rocker. Artsy. Fashionista. Writer. Pundit. Intellectual. None of these labels fit. I can flirt with the edges, dabble and play, hold my own. But the fabric stretches, the seams awkward. These aren’t my clothes.

And then….I was explaining this to my therapist (yes, I have one, she’s awesome) and she casually says “that’s because your tribe isn’t colocated–you are all scattered, experiencing life.”  What a revelation. I’ve been pondering the rightness of this for a couple of weeks now. During that time, I went on a spur-of-the-moment road trip and sent a picture of myself to my best friends. One of them said “I love this picture of you in your element.” And I realized it was my element. Not the location, but being somewhere new and different and stopping in a weird place and the day not being the same. This. This is my tribe. My clan. The Wanderers. The Explorers. In another day and time I might have been a wandering minstrel (assuming I had different vocal chords–ahem).  I recognize those in my clan–we connect instantly. I just hadn’t realized how we were related. Now that I do, I am likely to recognize more. We’re out there, mingling and instilling awesomeness wherever we might be.

Some of you who know me best will probably shake your heads and say “no kidding, how did you not realize this about yourself?” But I didn’t. For far too long I let doubt and other negative demons hold sway in my head. They are now mostly banished. Or at least I can see them when they are coming so I can head them off. For me, though, figuring out I do belong when for all of my years I couldn’t find that place is almost a relief. I couldn’t find a place because there isn’t a physical place–it’s a state of being.  It isn’t a job or a function, it’s a freed spirit, an insatiable appetite to see all the things and all the places.  So excuse me. I need to renew my passport. I need to get out there and represent my clan.

Living With a Brain Injury

Standard

It was a beautiful sunny day in early May 2006. My friend and business partner and I were working on a house we were flipping. One of the tasks we had set for the day was to get up on the roof and sweep out the gutters–after a blustery winter there were a lot of pine needles. It was a one level ranch house with a low incline roof. Neither of us was worried about getting up there. We had a good, steady ladder we had already used inside to get up to sweep out cobwebs from the cathedral ceiling in the living room.

I climbed up the ladder a few steps and tossed the broom ahead of me so I could give climbing my full attention. As I began to transition from ladder to roof, everything went awry. The ladder began to fall, but I did not have full grasp on the roof. At this point, my memory becomes spotty at best. I remember trying to corral the ladder with my legs. I remember thinking that what I needed to do was  roll out of the fall. And I distinctly remember a peaceful voice in my head advising “relax relax relax and drop”.

I fell. My right leg was tangled in the ladder which upended me. I landed face first on the concrete. Caught in the ladder, the Achilles tendon in my right ankle tore completely apart. I did not lose consciousness. I looked down on the pavement and saw a lot of blood and my teeth. I remember being in the ambulance. I remember a brief moment in the emergency room when a nurse commented on my pedicure. Then I don’t remember anything until I was home.

I never really had any treatment for my brain–I think because I didn’t lose consciousness and I was always able to answer the questions the doctors asked. The ankle injury took months to heal–I was not allowed to put any weight on it at all for four months so I had lots of time just sitting–and during that time, I was advised to do crossword puzzles for my brain. At first, I couldn’t even complete the ones for brand new readers (first grade level). It took too much concentration. I couldn’t read a book, or a magazine–too much focus. I couldn’t even watch TV–I lost track of the story after about 10 minutes. I had a lot of healing to do. Ultimately, it was two years before my mouth had healed enough to put in implants. I had no nose the day I fell–it was reassembled. The plastic surgeon I had was amazing–today few can see any of my facial scars unless I point them out. I see them– there are dozens of tiny scars. I did sit and rub vitamin E oil all over my face for days on end which probably helped a lot.

Slowly, my attention and focus increased. At some point I realized I had no sense of smell. For several years I assumed this was because of nose damage. Finally I realized it was brain damage. Although the fall happened right before my 40th birthday–or right when things like memory are going to change–I ascribe memory issues most often to the fall. Memory issues can be anything from walking into a room and forgetting why I walked in (not uncommon in people ‘my age’) to having no memory at all of things, even when several people tell me I was there (people I trust). These issues are most pronounced if I am tired–brain tired, not physically tired. If I have been concentrating at work, or reading all day, or writing–there is a definite falling off point. It’s not gradual–all of a sudden I can’t continue. I can’t focus long enough to do one more problem, one more sentence, one more invoice. This is the legacy of my fall– loss of a sense and loss of some memory.

I often make light of my injury–I’ll laugh at an error and say “oops, brain damage!” I once had a co-worker roll her eyes and say “You know, you can’t use that forever.” and I replied “Actually, yes, yes I can. That’s exactly what a brain injury means–forever I have brain damage.”

I’m actually pretty lucky. Losing my sense of smell and getting brain tired  aren’t really that much of a permanent loss. There are many many more TBI patients who deal with far more profound losses every day. I don’t “look” like I have a brain injury, whatever that means. But if I can in any way make it so others with more profound injuries than I can be better accepted, I will do it.

This is Brain Injury Awareness month. Many people with brain injuries don’t want to talk about it because they are afraid of a stigma. My hope is that by talking about it, the stigma can be erased. Get educated, get informed. You probably know somebody with a brain injury. Like me.

Western State Cemetery

Standard

I am not afraid of the dead. I love cemeteries, the older the better. I find them peaceful and if there are restless spirits, they likely belong to the living. A visit to an old cemetery is my idea of time well-spent.

Near where I attended high school is Ft. Steilacoom park and within that park is the cemetery for Western State, a hospital for the mentally ill. Buried in the cemetery are over 3000 patients, their graves originally marked with numbers to spare the families the ‘humiliation’ of mental illness. In high school there were dares to go to the cemetery at night–visions of deranged ghosts in teenage minds. I was never afraid. I thought the falling down, grown-over stones in the moonlight were beautiful.  I didn’t know that in the early 2000s a group called Grave Concerns Association had begun the work to match up names to the numbers and mark the graves more fully.

We have come a long way from the days that Western State was named Insane Asylum of Washington Territory (for the care of insanity and idiocy). But still, there is stigma attached to mental illness. This cemetery was utilized from 1876-1953. I was struck, as I wandered around, how many woman were buried there. That even with the matching project, many of the deceased had incomplete records, such as a date or even year of birth. I saw a couple marked with “Indian.” I wonder how many of the ‘insane’ were depressed, or anxious. Or if their insanity was being not white. First homesteader of Des Moines, WA John Moore is buried here. He had Alzheimers. There is a Civil War Veteran. I wonder if he had PTSD.

The entire time I was aware that had I been alive during that time, I would likely have been a patient there. That one of these gravestones could be mine. It renewed my commitment to be open about my struggles with depression and to continue to belligerently insist that mental illness be openly discussed. It is not shameful. It is not something to be embarrassed about or to hide. It simply is.

Please peruse the gravestones I photographed.

Violated. Betrayed. Pfft. Rising.

Standard

2017 is off to a less than stellar start. After spending several wonderful days with my sister and her extended family on the Oregon coast, I returned to work today to find that a coworker has complained that I get preferential treatment because I have a flex schedule to accommodate weekly doctors’ appointments for my chronic depression, traumatic brain injury and (latest addition) ADHD. A doctors’ note will put this to rights yet I am annoyed that a colleague would first of all have an issue and secondly then tell our HR that I “don’t really have any disability.” It’s a problem many with ‘invisible’ disabilities face, but this is the first time I’ve had it smack me in the face like this.

And then mid-morning my housemate called, upset. She did not have work today, ran out to do a couple of errands and came back to find the front door kicked in and cash and gift cards stolen. The police were called. Evidence collected. The door frame repaired thanks to a handy brother. The house was not ransacked–hinting that the burglar knew where the cash was hidden. It doesn’t really matter. The fact is, somebody felt that they had the right to break in.

It’s only the second day of the year.

And so while I could wallow in betrayal and violation–because these instances are serious occurrences– I will not. I will not allow a petty, bitter person to steal my joy. I will not allow someone bent on vengeance take my peace.  As a dear friend says “They throw rocks at things that shine.” I will not allow my shine to dull. I lift my head and I continue on my journey, more determined than ever to Rise. To Create. To Love. To Live Ferociously.

Music Saves my Mortal Soul

Standard

Last night, I went to a concert. Not just any concert, not to me. This was a concert that I had to attend. And I had to be front row. Because this was a concert with two bands whose music has literally saved me. Sixx A.M. and Shinedown.

If you are not the kind of person for whom music is vital, you will not understand this. You will think I am ‘silly’ or possibly ‘crazy’. We have a fundamental, possibly insurmountable, difference. I am a person for whom the lyrics to a song are chronicles of life. If I cannot connect lyrically to a song, it will not speak to me. I may enjoy the music–the chords, the bass line, the rhythm–but the song will not become a part of me.

I got turned on to Sixx AM about four years ago. I had purchased Nikki Sixx’s book “The Heroin Diaries” a few years before that, but it had taken me that much time to work up the nerve to read it. I knew it would knock me back emotionally and I didn’t read it until I felt emotionally capable of handling it. When I did read it, I read it straight through without stopping, sobbing and screaming the whole way through. I’m sure my neighbors at the time thought I was crazy. I have a brother who is a heroin addict, and who has been for over 20 years. I detoxed him twice. There really are no words to express this horror. Nikki does a good job of exposing the depths of living as an addict. It has helped me come to terms with my brother–to understanding that he will literally do anything when he’s in an active addiction. I can’t help him. He’s got to do it alone. Plus, I have my own demons to fight.

Anyways, after I read ‘Heroin Diaries’ I bought the album. And fell in love with the intelligent, thoughtful, hopeful lyrics accompanied by a driving bass line (crucial to me) and solid hard rock. Then I bought “This is Gonna Hurt” which is, in my opinion, one of the best albums of all time. I can, and do, listen to this album on repeat.  I bought ‘Modern Vintage’ and ‘Prayers for the Damned’ the days they came out. ‘Modern Vintage’ is musically diverse and compositionally complex, but not my favorite. ‘Prayers for the Damned’ is flat-out excellent.

The lyrics on all of Sixx AM’s and all of Shinedown’s albums hit me in the gut. They speak to me viscerally. I have wrestled with major depression for over 15 years. I have been nonmedicated, undermedicated, incorrectly medicated, and (with any luck) properly medicated. I have suffered a traumatic brain injury after a fall off of a roof, landing on my head. Lyrics such as “I’m on the front line, don’t worry I’ll be fine, my story is just beginning…. I say goodbye to my weakness, so long to the regrets, and now I know that I’m alive” (Shinedown, “Diamond Eyes”) enter my brain and wriggle down to my heart, bolstering the spark of desire to keep going. When Shinedown sang “Fly From the Inside” last night, I cried. This song is one I played on repeat one night, one really bad night when I wished I could just go to sleep and never wake up again. This song, these lyrics, focusing on what’s next, the next open chapter, and learning to fly found inside me what I needed most at that moment. An ember, nearly out, an ember that warmed instead of cooled. Because of this band, this song, these words. brentsmith

Sixx AM has had the same effect on me. Songs that understand the dark, secret places nobody wants to acknowledge while simultaneously focusing on the hope of another day, the joy of finding a way out, the beauty of an act of kindness, or a smile, or a thank you. The first song of theirs that brought tears to my eyes was “Permission” off of ‘The Heroin Diaries’. ‘All of my devils are free at last, and all of my secrets revealed. And your permission is all I need to heal’. Gut-wrenching. Truth. In my case, the permission needed was from myself, and from my children.

And then I heard ‘Are you With Me?’ and everything changed for me. ‘Are you with me now, come back from the dead, you’ve been inside your head for too long. Are you with me now? Find the places that scare you, come on I dare you!’ This vocalized my reality. I was stuck inside my own head. I wasn’t living. How long had I been dead? How long? At least a decade. This song, these lyrics, opened a window in my soul allowing in more light, more air. Would I still struggle? Of course. Every. Damn. Day. But I was taking positive action. Gaining determination. Losing doubt. Losing fear.

On the same album, ‘Oh My God’ reminded me that the best way to feel better about yourself is to help others. ‘Oh my God, this is insane, how did it get like this, or has it always been this way?’ are words I have literally said over the years delving into seemingly unsolvable problems. I began sorting out what matters to me, what do I care about, what makes my blood boil that i want to tackle? Can I make a difference? Can I make a small dent in a huge problem? Can I help even one person–because helping one person may not change the world, but it is the world to that one person. I can. I can!

The latest Sixx AM album has several amazing, fighting songs that I have taken on as personal anthems. ‘Rise’ reminds me to keep going. ‘The Last Time’ strengthens my resolve to move forward, unguarded, walls down, open and aware. And that no matter what negative voices in my head tell me, I Was The Innocent. ‘Everything Went to Hell’ cuts me open, as one of the lines says, and is an unflinching reminder of the brutal way my marriage ended. (See my post on what would have been my 26th anniversary for more detail).

For all of these reasons, I had to be at the show last night. I needed to be there. I needed to look in the eyes of the men who created these songs, these words, these poems of my life without knowing they were doing so. And I did. I was on the front row, the rail. James Michael looked me in the eyes as I sang along with him, singing and dancing and releasing the pain, the past. Never before at a big concert like this have I felt so compelled to be there, to be at the rail. When I bought the ticket, I gave up coffee for several weeks in order to afford it (those who know me will understand this sacrifice–perhaps James Michael will as well, he seems to be a fellow coffee addict!!). My friend Megan and I arrived at the Tacoma Dome at 6:30 am to ensure that we were first. People said we were crazy. No. For both of us, this was a concert of vital importance on a personal level. Sixx AM and Shinedown delivered. With strength, beauty, and a powerful positive energy I value beyond measure.

Long live the day that I decided to fly.I am with me now. I am Rising. Because rock music reminded me of my inner strength.

 

**cover photo by M. Counts. Photo of Brent Smith by the author.