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.
I screwed up. I am blessed to have an amazing prescription drug plan. I send in my prescriptions for $60, I get a three-month supply. Doesn’t matter which drug or how much it really costs. I pay just $60. So, why do I wait until I am nearly out of my meds to mail in the refills?
This time I waited so long that I have run out of one of my meds. Today is my third day without it. I called the prescription service and they said they sent it four days ago. Hopefully, it will come today. Still, I am going to see my nurse practitioner first thing on Monday morning.
I have never been this reckless before with my medications. I always – ALWAYS – take them as prescribed and I feel good, even great, most of the time. I’m waiting for withdrawal to kick in. Last night I had an incredibly vivid and terrible dream. I was in a building – seemed like a hotel – and it was stormed by some guys who were going from room-to-room shooting people. Everyone was trying to hide. I was under a table covered with a long tablecloth. Another woman was with me. The shooter pulled back the tablecloth and killed her but did not see me. I woke up with my mouth hanging open, feeling like I had been in such a deep sleep for so long that I could not move. And now I am feeling a little manicky. I’m not bouncing off the walls but, man, do I have some great ideas!
Another one over, and just one more holiday remaining in the emotional trifecta known as Thanksgiving, Christmas/Hanukkah and New Years. We’re almost there! Just a few more days and the tree comes down, the sales begin and my moods no longer zip around like a hockey puck.
Of the three, New Years is the easiest for me. Thanksgiving kicks off the season with a guilt-inspiring glutton fest. As for Christmas, there seems to be no escaping those despicably sweet diamond commercials or those damn Jingle-Bells-barking dogs. New Years is the home stretch. I am almost there. I have survived. I have persevered. I have used all the tools given to me by my therapist and the meds prescribed by my doctor. I refuse to ring in the New Year looking like those triathletes who crawl across the finish-line at the Ironman in Hawaii.
My mental health needs a nice, relaxing New Years. I need simplicity, serenity and gratitude – not pointy hats, noisemakers, champagne and wet, drunk kisses. How will I do this? Ix-nay on the booze. Amongst the reverie it’s easy to forget that alcohol IS a depressant. I know it’s hard to believe when you’re dancing on the bar at 11:59 p.m. but trust me, alcohol IS a depressant. Think of it as guilt and regret in a liquid form. Your first thoughts in the new year should not be where you left your car, purse or underwear.
“Brace yourself,” she said.
It seemed like any other Friday morning. I went to the gym, took Dog to the park, made lunch and drove to work. I parked in the same spot. Swiped my security card at the same door and said “Mornin’” like I do every morning.
My co-worker, Carol looked like she had been crying.
Three in my department – 24 overall.
The layoffs and buyouts began at my company about three years ago. The company has offered generous severance packages and had always let us know when layoffs were looming. Not this time. Although they still offered generous severance packages, we had no warning.
There are some truly annoying people in the world. Among the biggest jerks are those who refuse to believe that mental illnesses are real. I know one of these folks. He’s a control freak. He’s right. Always right. It’s his way or the highway. There is no telling him – or even suggesting to him – anything. I think the reason I find him so annoying is that is used to be a lot like him. A lot.
Then I fell into a deep depression. One of the few – maybe the only thing about hitting bottom – is that it gives you an open mind. You can no longer hang onto your humongous ego. The harder you try, the more it hurts. As you are holding on with a death grip, you become even more annoying and controlling. You’re not just right about everything, you win every argument and then spike your opponent’s opinion in the end zone while doing a little happy dance.
Last Saturday I celebrated 13 years of sobriety. Whodathot? Thirteen years. It sounds strange coming out of my mouth. Thirteen years.
I don’t miss alcohol or drugs. I don’t even think about alcohol or drugs anymore. I don’t miss the taste. I don’t miss cooking without it. And I definitely don’t miss the hangovers. Just conjuring up the memory of a hangover is enough to keep me sober.
I drank a lot. I drank wine, beer, vodka gimlets, Long Island iced teas and anything with a little paper umbrella in it. I loved to drink. I even trained my dog to jump up and grab a lime from my lime tree when I popped open a Corona. She was a great dog – the best drinking buddy ever. If only she had been able to drive…
My mother was not a particularly happy person. She worked very, very hard. She was a devoted mother, dutiful wife and she fulfilled her responsibilities in a state of resignation.
I am not a doctor but I believe she suffered from dysthymia – chronic, low-grade depression. Just before she died, during one of our many conversations in her room at hospice she said something that guides my life: “I just wanted for you kids to be happy.”
I thought about this yesterday after my conversation with a woman who has been verbally abused by her husband for years. She is not happy. She has been so unhappy for so long that she has come to believe that happiness is not important. Happiness is not a goal for her. She values discipline, commitment, hard work, responsibility and respect above happiness.
“I don’t believe in my heart that happiness is necessary,” she said.
Recovered alcoholics have two birthdays. Our belly-button birthday – the day we took our first breath – and our sober birthday – the day we took our last drink. We get presents for both.
I’m telling you this not because my sober birthday is coming up – August 27 is 13 years without a drink – but because we live a life divided. Our sobriety has given us a new life but it comes with price. Secrecy. Anonymity. I am speaking about the life we lead among our clan of fellow recovered alcoholics.
We have sayings – “Keep coming back it works if you work it” – and we have tokens of devotion – colored poker chips to denote lengths of sobriety. We have clubhouses and private meetings. But there are no dues for membership.
I am not knocking any of this. I love my sober life. I am telling you this because this is not always an easy way to live. Especially if you are a dual-diagnosed recovered alcoholic. For many of us, we have spent much of our lives either denying we had a problem, convincing ourselves that we could handle it, ignoring all of it and covering our tracks.