It is November 14 and I am on vacation. It is the first vacation I have taken this year and I will never – ever – go so long without a vacation again.
Normally I take a week in the spring, two or three weeks in the summer and a week in the fall or during the holidays. This year, I took a week off in the spring but it was no vacation. I felt myself slipping into a depression and took the time to deal with that. Throughout the year I have taken a day here or a day there when I wasn’t feeling well or needed a long weekend.
I realized in September that working so much with so little time off was affecting my mental health. Some mornings I woke up and wondered what day it was. Sometimes I tried to figure it out but I got to the point where I was like, f- it – it really didn’t matter what day it was.
I had to work – either at the newspaper or in the yard or on my 85-year-old house, which seems to be falling down around me. I felt that the only thing saving me from falling into my black hole was the floor beneath me – my medications. And I was flat on my ass on that floor.
The last two months have been hellish. As journalist for 30 years I’ve seen a lot of nasty stuff. However, September and November brought two new cases that raised the depravity and brutality bar. I won’t go into details but both involved mothers who ended up dead – one without a head – and orphaned or dead kids.
I am a newspaper reporter. In the 30 years I’ve been doing it, I’ve seen some horrific stuff – crimes and atrocities that grab headlines and break hearts. Last week I covered a case that knocked the emotional wind out of me.
I am hoping that my editors don’t read this. If they do, I’m afraid they will say I’m too weak to cover these kinds of stories – which I am not. Just the opposite.
Anyone who is regularly exposed to grisly violence and depravity and tells you it doesn’t affect them is either a liar or a sociopath. Yes, you can train yourself to disregard emotions and focus on your responsibilities – your job. You can wear emotional oven mitts when you have to reach in and touch the searing reality of what has happened.
But you cannot stuff your feelings or bury them forever. They are there, waiting to be acknowledged. If you ignore and deny them long enough, they will haunt you and stalk you until you either give in or become a mean, nasty, sarcastic and heartless son-of-a bitch.
It’s your choice – and it is a choice. I learned that lesson the hard way. Some people will drink or take drugs to take the edge off what they have seen or heard or smelled or touched. Some will become violent themselves. Many will become depressed.
I covered criminal courts for 12 years, which meant I hunted down the by-product of rage, terror and inexplicable tragedy every day. I trolled the hallways of the courthouse every morning in search of the saddest, most horrific, bizarre and violent stories on display that day.
In south Florida, where I have worked for most of my career, that’s saying something.
My mother, who lived her life in the midwest, would read my stories and say, “Things like this just don’t happen in Grand Rapids.” In my head I responded, “No shit.”
Fifteen years ago tonight I got very, very drunk. I don’t remember much of that night and what I do remember sickens me. I really hope that if my life flashes before me as I’m dying, this night is left out. I don’t really want to know what else happened that night.
Nothing has been the same since that night, August 27, 1998. It was simultaneously the worst and best night of my life. I hit bottom. I surrendered and started a new life- without drugs or alcohol. That night the first domino fell and since then I have learned that alcoholism is not my only mental illness. I also have hypomania – a kind of bipolar disorder with less dramatic and violent mood swings that bipolar I but my tendency is towards depression.
Getting sober was the beginning of my life making sense to me. If you do not have a mental illness, you may not understand how important it is for your life to make sense. Your life has probably always made sense to you.
My life was a disaster. I wasn’t even 40-years-old and I had already been through two marriages. I was a bitch. I had a lot of anger and spent a lot of time feeling sorry for myself. Removing the alcohol made life even more raw – like someone had taken a potato peeler to my soul. I not only had to learn how to live without alcohol, I had to learn to live. Period.
Having grown up in an alcoholic household and starting my own drinking/drugging career at 14, my social skills were a little lacking. I had to learn how to play well with others instead of conquering others. I had to learn to do things like apologize and mean it, tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth and learn how to dance without a dozen Coronas in me.
Fourteen years ago today I took my last drink. I’m not sure exactly what it was because much of that night remains a blur – in and out of a blackout. I remember going to a party where there were massive martini glasses on each table filled with goldfish. I was determined to SAVE THE GOLDFISH! when the clean-up crew started flushing them down the toilet. Ah, the joys of being the last one at the party.
I have a few other snippets of drunken debauchery from that night but I clearly remember waking up and my neighbor coming over and asking if I was okay because my front door was wide open when he went out to get his paper that morning and some of my clothes — the kind of clothing that neighbors usually aren’t privy to seeing — were strewn about my front yard.
I stumbled into a 12-Step meeting later that day, sat in the back and realized I was in the right place — even though I thought it was insane that these people could be laughing at stories like mine from the night before! How dare they take this so lightly! Can’t they see how much pain I am in? What is wrong with these people?
I live in Florida. Land of the profoundly weird and frequently stupid. Like the guy charged with illegally feeding an alligator after the gator bit off his hand. Or an image of the Virgin Mary appearing on a grilled cheese sandwich. We have wild pythons big enough to eat deer and a wanna-be plastic surgeon who injected women’s derrieres with Fix-a-Flat (Don’t try this at home.)
On July 30, we learned that the Florida Department of Health – with the blessing of Gov. Rick Scott – would appeal a federal judge’s recent ruling that blocked the implementation of a new law that barred physicians from asking their patients about guns. With this appeal, Florida has set the gold standard for government-sanctioned waste and stupidity.
Why would a doctor ask a patient about guns, you ask? There are a lot of reasons. Maybe a doctor wants to know if there are guns in a patient’s home because 2,793 children and teens were killed by firearms in 2009. About one third of those deaths – 938 – were accidental or suicide. Maybe the doctor wants to know if the guns in a child’s home are trigger-locked or safely stored in a gun safe.
Maybe a doctor stitching the busted lip of a woman abused by her husband wants to know if there are weapons in the home. Or maybe a patient has depression and the doctor knows that about half of the 36,000 people who commit suicide every year do so with a gun and most of those people have a mental illness. There are many good reasons for a doctor would ask these questions.
Being a recovered alcoholic and boozeless for nearly 14 years, you can imagine how wide my eyes opened when I read recent headlines about research on lomazenil.
The commotion began when some zealous journalists got loosey-goosey with the facts – claiming that researchers at Yale University had released results of a preliminary study showing that the drug lomazenil, when taken before drinking, weakens the effect of alcohol.
Well, turns out that is not exactly true. According to folks at Yale, there has been no study at Yale about lomazenil’s ability to thwart the effects of alcohol. Yale is NOT developing a “sober pill.”
There are three dates I commemorate every year: December 18 – my birthday; August 27 – my sobriety date; and today April 25, – the date I slipped into my last – and hopefully final – major depression.
April 25 is the day the lights went out. That’s how I describe it. Game over. Done. I had tried to keep it together but on the morning of April 25, 2006 but I bonked. The woman who had run marathons and triathlons, restored her 80-year-old house and raised her daughter as a single-working mom could go no further.
I got up early that morning feeling spiritually and emotionally bankrupt. Crying but numb. I dragged my ass to the gym, thinking the endorphins from a spin class might help. I closed my eyes and pedaled so hard that my cheeks flapped like a racehorse and foam formed in the corners of my mouth.
When I finally got off the bike, my legs wobbled and I waited for the endorphin rush but there was none. Just failure, exhaustion and brutal anxiety
Both my parents died of cancer. Dad died first. The week after we buried him, Mom started her last round of chemo. Eighteen months later, she was dead, too. It was a really rough couple of years. I hadn’t wanted to think about this today but it seems I pressed the wrong buttons on the remote when I ordered a Pay Per View movie and instead of getting Steve Martin, Jack Black and Owen Wilson I got a movie about a young guy with cancer who was a given a 50/50 chance of survival.
When I realized my mistake I changed the channel. A few minutes later I changed it back. No way was I going to waste $5.99 and I wanted to see whether I had made any progress with my cancer “issues.” It’s been 8 years since Mom died and I am terrified of cancer and don’t want to be around people with it.
I eat organic, use botanical skin care products and I take damn near every supplement they say will prevent cancer. I don’t smoke, drink, eat gluten, soy or dairy. I get a mammogram every year. I see the dermatologist twice a year since she found two squamous cell carcinomas and I use a chemo cream one night a week on my face. Mom died of colon cancer and I would have a colonoscopy every year if the insurance would pay for it.
Sometimes the power of a bad example is as powerful as a good example. I’m thinking of Kim Richards, one of the housewives on The Housewives of Beverly Hills.
My daughter got me hooked on that show when she came home from college on winter break. There was a time – not too long ago – when that little intellectual dilettante in me would have dismissed such a show as a complete waste of time only to be watched by the mindless, vapid masses. Thankfully, I shut that little dilettante up and now I’m watching all the re-runs – thank you very much.
Watching Kim’s slow, self-destruction over this last season is good for me. I am, like Kim, am a single, somewhat middle-aged, mother whose child has grown up. We are both trying to keep our hair blonde and minimize our wrinkles. I am not going to pronounce Kim an alcoholic, but let’s just say there was a day – before I got sober 13 years ago – that I would have partied with Kim in a heartbeat.
I don’t think about David Funchess much anymore. I watched him die on April 22, 1986 in Florida’s electric chair. He was the first Vietnam Veteran executed in the United States. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder had yet to be discovered when Funchess, a highly-decorated combat Marine, fatally stabbed a couple during a hold-up in Jacksonville in 1974.
I was a cub reporter and was morbidly thrilled to have the opportunity to cover an execution. The little motel where I stayed in Starke, Florida was excited to see me, too, and had posted “Welcome Christine” on its roadside marquee. This story would be the crown jewel in my growing collection of clips – mostly stories of last night’s school board meeting and car wrecks. That’s how I looked at it.
On a personal level, I was hoping the execution would finally settle my doubts about the death penalty. I was brought up Catholic but having covered a few murders, I was not convinced that the death penalty was unjust. I was on the fence. I had heard of reporters who had fainted or barfed covering executions. I did not know how I would react.