What if my lobster is addicted What if she's in trouble and her life has become unmanageable? Glennon talks about her family loving her very much, just not having a plan. I am stuck in this cognitive mess of "don't judge,” "just love,” but "don't enable,” "don't turn your head/sweep it under the rug/act like it's not happening" but I don't know what that is all supposed to look like from day to day.
My question is: Do you wish more people shared their concern with you about your drinking? I have worried about an extended family member's drinking for many years. This family member is functional but drinks far more than is healthy. This person is also very defensive (in general), and I do not think they would be open to hearing concern from me or anyone else.
When I was fifteen, my father called me at my mom’s house and asked me to come over. Told me to. It was a seven word conversation and he said six of them. I was familiar with the tone in his voice: the flat sound of disappointment. My dad lived a half block away from my mom – one of his ways to stay close to us, but also indicative of his lack of boundaries – maybe hers too.
I walked to his house, my entire body tingling with fear, my mind racing with what he might say – the unspoken words already causing an almost unbearable physical reaction. I cannot now remember what had precipitated this particular episode. I was in trouble a lot for doing teenage things then. Sneaking out. Getting caught drinking. Ditching school. I wasn’t a bad kid, but I was making bad choices. It could’ve been about one of those choices. But it could’ve been about something else entirely. He had his own weather systems and they were unpredictable and volatile and sometimes the wicked storms just came, without notice.
As I took the last few steps up to his doorway – to the gold door handle (always unlocked and loose) I prepared to start traveling inward, into myself. I had learned this tactic young. When the outside just got too painful, too raw and too much, I could turn my vision inward, create an invisible barrier between me and the rest of the world so that the voices would grow small and hollow; the images blurry and dream-like.
Turns out, this type of disconnection from oneself is a well-known defense mechanism.
Dissociation is when a person loses track of time and/or person, and instead finds another representation of their self in order to continue in the moment. In this manner, a person who dissociates can “disconnect” from the real world for a time, and live in a different world that is not cluttered with thoughts, feelings or memories that are unbearable.
I walked into a quiet house, him sitting in a chair facing me across the long stretch of open space between the front door and the living room. Somber. I sat down. Anxious, light headed, nauseas.
“Laura, you are losing your father.”
I swallowed thick and slow, like so many dry rocks.
I wasn’t losing him because he was sick; I knew he was not sick. I was losing him because I was making shitty choices. Because I was a shitty kid.
I don’t know what else he said after that. With my dad, it was never a two-way conversation but more of a telling. I was beyond terrified of the damage his words could do – they were the truth, always the grittiest, deepest, truth that ran deeper than all the other truths and they could sear me. I did not know how to talk to my dad, I never did. I revered him. Loved him madly. Hated him. Pined for his approval. Drank in his praise. Needed his infrequent laughter. Feared his heaviness, his darkness. Soaked in his dogma – always contrary to everyone else - like gospel, like air.
I was “losing him” and remember nothing else of that day, except that I left feeling that complex, toxic mixture of shame, remorse and relief that it was over. I walked home to my mother’s filled with hatred and angst. I was losing my father. I was a disgusting person. I am a child. I am not a child! This is not unconditional. I am losing my father. He is discarding me. I hate him. I love him. I am wrong.
I am so, so, so wrong.
A lot of people in the rooms say they’d always assumed all their problems were other people’s fault – that they actually could not see their own role in their unhappiness, in conflict, in disappointment. I am the opposite: I’ve always assumed I am to blame, regardless of logic or circumstances that would argue I share responsibility. I will willingly shoulder full responsibility of any situation if that means bypassing the part where I hear what a horrible person I am. I have a visceral reaction to criticism, which is only multiplied by the shame and anxiety of drinking. In the heaviest days, I walked around in a constant sense of panic, unease, fear. I did shitty things when I drank, and I drank to forget both the things I did and the way I felt about them.
This is the cycle.
I’ve only recently started to unravel cause and effect here. It wasn’t until my early thirties that I could even begin to separate my own beliefs from my dad’s, and that shift came in a huge 1,000-pound-hammer-to-the-chest kind of moment, where there was no longer any way to deny his culpability. Children are slow to believe their parents aren’t the truth, because after all, isn’t that the ultimate disappointment? It’s amazing to consider that your first and primary compass in this world is not only imperfect but in many cases, very, very inaccurate. Potentially even harmful. I did not come by this undoing easily, but oh, was it freeing to realize I had autonomy.
I am not my father, my mother, my daughter, my brother, my friends, my lover. I am not what they think of me. They play a part, but they do not decide. They do not have the keys to the belly of the machine – the part that steers and guides and is connected. I do.
So much of this journey forward requires going back. Reframing and rewriting with a softer, wiser lens. The part of me my father threatened to take away could not have been lost…it was never his to begin with.
It's important to say that my relationship with my father has changed quite a lot in the past several years. He’s softened a bit, I’ve grown up and started to take responsibility, but most importantly, I don’t hold myself accountable for his happiness (or unhappiness). And in that, have (started to) learn I am not responsible for anyone’s moods. None of this is personal, as they say.
I've been trying to think of something more artistic to capture in the current scene, but it's not really that kind of day. I'm visiting my 95 year-old kindred-spirit-saw-her-every-day-of-my-life growing up grandma in Colorado. For the first time in my life she seems old. She's sick, stomach cancer, and while she's all with it mentally she doesn't feel good physically. There's not a lot to do but putz around, chit-chat, watch TV, eat, drink ice water and make sure she's comfy. She's been sleeping a lot. Alma is bored to tears but hanging in.
I keep telling her we're not hungry, but she keeps asking. She got tears in her eyes a while ago and said she's upset because she can't do anything and it's frustrating. I know what she means. She's never stopped moving: cooking, cleaning, painting, knitting, fussing around with us and for us, worrying, doting, daydreaming and now she's just sort of stuck with The Food Network and all of us hovering around. Getting old sucks. I don't tell her it doesn't. I rub her back and her bones are light, which is new.
I'm not particularly sad or foreboding. There's a nice peace about being here and the nothingness of the clock ticking by. I walked Alma past the street where I grew up and pointed it out, but she was more interested in the rock collection she was building in her shirt pocket. The sun is out in the big Colorado sky and we both turn our faces up to it, our white Northeast skin soaking in the unfamiliar warmth like dry sponges in a puddle.
In this picture Alma sniffles from a lingering cold while watching the iPad and my grandma checks out her eyebrows in the magnifying mirror (just in case, you know). Her hair - which has never quite been any singular or natural-looking color - shoots out in seven different directions, holding the shape of the pillow from her last nap. About a Boy is on the TV and my almost-finished knitting project is tangled up at my feet. My uncle stepped out to have some cocktails with the neighbors (this is his house) and I'm contemplating heating up the bolognese sauce my mom left here. My grandma will no doubt ask if we're hungry again in 5 minutes, I'll assure her we're not and check Facebook again.
She's been sneaking stares at Alma all day and will look at me like, Did you see that? Did you see her?
And I'll say, What? What's she doing?
Nothing, she'll say. Che charina. Che bella. She's just so beautiful.
And I'll nod, and say, I know, I know and I'll think, so are you.
My dad used to dance with me. I’m not sure I actually remember it, or I just believe I do because I saw it on video 1,000 times growing up. But I do remember listening to music in our house, especially on weekend mornings. Some that would be considered bad, even in nice music circles, but I can recite the words to almost any Anne Murray song on command and certain bits will choke me up. Yeah. My brother must remember it too, because a few days ago, during one of our ongoing Blackberry Messenger conversations, I made reference to our less than lovely financial situation. And Joe. (This is why I love him, why I’d be friends with him even if he weren’t my only brother.) He says:
"And even though we ain’t got money." "I’m so in love with ya honey."
To which I immediately picked up and started humming the rest of the song…then singing… then singing loud, “AND IN THE MORNIN’, WHEN I RISE, BRING A TEAR OF JOY TO MY EYEEES, AND TELL ME, EVERY-THINGS, GONNA BE AL-RIGHT.”
So. I was singing Anne Murray to my phone, but on the upside, whatever I was so twisted up about had vanished and I was belly laughing.
I want Alma to know about music, so I play it every day. Mostly for me, but sometimes just for her, meaning I’ll play a song that we can dance to and I can sing. When she was growing in my belly I would press the little headphones of my ipod to it and wonder what the music sounded like underwater. She went to a few concerts with me that way, too. When we first brought her home from the hospital, I remember playing Sigur Ros and watching her drift off. I played Bon Iver for her over and over and over, because that’s what I’d been doing the entire year prior, so. Sometimes she seems to react to certain songs, or perhaps she’s just reacting to me “dancing”. Tonight I held her before bed and sang to Ziggy Marley’s acoustic version of “Love is My Religion” and she tried to eat my face. We’ve got time.
I have a lot of memories around music. Memories that I can taste and feel and smell more than see. I don’t recall a lot about my parents being married, and only small clips of moments before the age of 9 or 10 are available to me anymore. But I do remember sifting through my dad’s record collection and putting on the giant headphones that swallowed each side of my head and suctioned me away. I listened to the soundtrack to Annie and Grease that way until I could sing every single song on my own. I listened to Michael Jackson’s Thriller, even though the songs gave me nightmares. I listened to Tina Turner’s songs and coreographed entire videos, complete with giant hair and too short mini-skirts, where I was the only star and the only audience. This is how I remember my weekends; how I remember spending a lot of my time growing up.
Later, my dad owned a country western bar and we used to go there before it opened so he could get things done. There wasn’t much for my brother and I to do while we waited, so I’d turn on the lights that hung over the dance floor, put in Chris Ledoux or Garth Brooks or Brooks & Dunn, turn up the volume and take the stage or perform some hideous solo version of the two-step or a line dance. I can hear those songs exactly as they came out on the giant speakers and echoed through the empty room; I can smell the stale beer, grease and cigarette ashes stomped into the carpet and wood. I was almost a teenager at that point and would’ve been too self-conscious to do that in front of anyone else, but I remember feeling so happy and free and like there were a million possibilities.
I’ve been thinking about music more lately, simply because I can listen to it again. It’s not that I stopped listening altogether, but over the past several months I noticed myself forcing it, turning down the volume, stopping songs mid-track, or just closing it up completely for days at a time. I can’t explain it other than to say it would push me over - or into - a place where I couldn’t breathe and my heart was squeezed too tightly. And I’d be pissed. Pissed that whatever was going on had made it so that I couldn’t even listen to music. MUSIC. I was worried that my insides were turning a little black, or worse, that I was turning into someone made of glass, who would break if the wrong song came on the radio, or they heard someone say something mean to a spider.
But one day, or over the course of many days, weeks, months, I started noticing that I was listening again. Even to the sad ones. And I didn’t have to turn down the volume.
This is good news. It means I’m not missing out on things. Like this: