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A Dumb Joke For You

As I passed the old art supply shop, I noticed an open trash can at the edge of the curb. I drove a little further and made a U-turn. There was no traffic at all when I did so. I drove very close to the curb, hung my arm out the window and slammed the small bag of trash I had into the top of the trash can.

Immediately, I saw blue lights come on ahead of me. I pulled over and waited for the policeman to come up to the window.

“What’s the problem,” I asked him.

“I’m going to have to give you a ticket for Dunk Driving.”

A Lesson I Revisited Today

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It’s strange the things you find out later in life. When we’re young, we don’t understand that our older family members are adults, working jobs with the same stresses we’ve grown accustomed to as adults. We see them as caring or not, attentive or distant. A precious family member of mine died what seems like forty years ago. It’s no cliché to say that she died too early; we all lost a bit of our luster when she passed.

I found out today that this beautiful human being suffered the presence of a horrid bully at work. It’s difficult for me to imagine her in such a scenario, despite the Pennington Realization affecting everyone. The bully drove her to curse, something she never did. You know you’ve achieved negative success when one of the nicest people in the world not only curses as a result of your presence in their life but that they recall your mean-spiritedness vividly until the day they leave the earth. Even her children remember the bullying and the fact this person waged a war of hatred on their mother. There was no ‘why.’ The bully simply needed an outlet on which to pour her wrath. We all know someone like her.

Her bully died this week. She died after slowly and methodically losing her mind.

I didn’t know the bully. Only her actions. Someone told me that she was monstrously mean to their loved one, someone I knew as a bright soul.

She lessened the world for a few people, my family member included.

I read her obituary again. My opinion doesn’t stain her legacy. Though it reflects poorly on me, I have no uplifting words to lessen her harm to her small world, no neat bow to tie up these words.

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P.S. The Pennington Realization is an older rule I created in recognition of observing another gentle soul being crushed under the weight of an unrelenting pathology.

For You, Though You Know It Not

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My tuxedo cat lay on the couch, his nose buried in the embracing and welcoming fleece of a blanket adorned with pictures. What dreams bid him hello I can’t fathom. I stopped writing for a few seconds and looked outside. The sky concealed itself with the overcast moisture of a cold February day, the hills to the east and north shrouded in silvery-white mist. Though it may sound strange, a brief urge to run outside and lie down against the numbing cold of the concrete overtook me. Not too far away, a passing garbage truck echoed between the nondescript houses, its scrambling workers continuously emptying the mass of our discarded lives into the metal coffin to be compressed into a lesser burden. I could sense the workers’ haste as their day shortened in front of them. Would they hasten as enthusiastically if they could see the measured minutes in front of them? Earlier today, I read of a life lost at 24,883 days; my life had only briefly intersected with hers. I imagined I could hear the burdensome regrets of those left behind. Each of their clocks had suddenly reset by their friend’s unannounced exit. I couldn’t help but feel a bit of relief to know that the tide had rolled into another’s life today. Not because I’m found more worthy. Not because the rhyme and reason of it all are even discernible to me. I looked away from the windows and back toward the limitless content of the internet. A friend had shared a precious and profane sliver of her life, one artfully disguised as a story. In it, I recognized the universality of both promise and pain. That equation can never find balance. Despite the words of the wise and the protestations of many, we are swimming in a zero-sum game, precisely because we fool ourselves into thinking we are living outside the reach of the confines of our own minds. I took the last sip of bitter coffee from my cup and turned back toward the distractions and wondered what surprises might yet greet me. Be of good cheer; all else is dark folly.

Avoidance, Part Two

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As with the post two days ago, this is personal. Don’t gatekeep me or question my motives. It’s my story to tell. Although it happens with less frequency now, I remind anyone with gatekeeping tendencies that such criticism reflects on those doing it rather than those accused by them. (Gatekeeping arises either from silencing behavior or apparent superiority, neither of which reflects well on those doing it.)

I wrote a post about my personal take on struggling with someone prone to alcoholism. Anticipating tsk-tsking, I expected a bit of passive-aggressive blowback, along with a few people surprising me by sharing something personal. It surprised me to see that several people shared their own personal stories in the ways they did. Some wrote in the comments, while some shared with me in other ways. Those who commented on the post itself would be astonished to read the range and emotion of those who wrote me privately. Alcoholism and addiction have ruined a lot of lives, most families, and destroyed the possibility of relationships among those around them. Alcoholics and addicts are ghosts who haunt us, whether they are dead or alive.

We’re wasting a lot of our time with this issue. Time wasted on those who won’t help themselves or each other is time we can’t recoup. In an ideal world, this is easy: if you need help, you get it until you’re better. Anything else tells us you’re not in control of your mind or life. Any of us can succumb to addiction. No matter who we are, we all need to get help, whether we are the addict or the person standing next to them. In my ideal world, society gives such help freely and for as long as needed.

No one escapes this. You can fool yourself if you want to. It’s your right. But the lingering effects of addiction stay inside those around the addict.

Conversely, it’s why we are so joyous when someone gets help and leaves addiction in the past. It reminds us of our frailty and also of our ability to live better lives. I could have easily drowned in addiction. No good person turns their nose up at someone who had the ability to rise above.

For every such post I write, I’m amazed at the depth of things all of us seem to share. One person surprised me with the depth of what she told me. Though I wasn’t seeking affirmation, she gave it to me and reciprocated by telling me that what I wrote needed to be written. The pathology of secrecy seems to have angered her as much as anything else. She identified with the crazy-making of being expected to pretend that her life wasn’t affected by a deep undercurrent of pathology. She’s like me; she needs to understand it and talk about it. Not everyone in her orbit sees it that way. That disparity angers her. We can talk about the weather if we need to fill the minutes of our lives. Doing so to exclude the more important and difficult conversations leaves only damaged people in its wake.

Another person who reached out failed to engage meaningfully with the gist of the post. It’s easy for me to judge why that happened. I’d probably be wrong. It’s not wrong for me to admit it disappointed me and rang a broken gong in me to have it sidestepped. She has the power to reach out and heal herself and many people. It’s her story to tell – or not, though. I don’t know how she manages. I would have lost my mind already. I’m hypocritical about my opinions on this. It’s not cut-and-dry.

Most people interacting with me, especially those who did so privately, insist that the only way to live a good life in the shadow of angry alcoholism is to save oneself when they angrily fight the world to continue their addiction. All universally insist that the pathology of such alcoholism ruins everyone who tries to mitigate the effects instead of fleeing it. One woman compared it to domestic abuse and with the same consequences. Most males who are angry alcoholics are guilty of abuse. It’s no secret.

Interestingly, I think most saw the difference between an angry alcoholic and a garden-variety alcoholic or addict. While it might not be easy to put in words, it’s easy to recognize when you’re dealing with one.

A couple of people told me that they had to abandon everyone around the alcoholic too, even when they were close to them. They said that the enablers felt cornered and inevitably lashed out, too, in defense of their choices and their allegiance to the alcoholic, whether based on love, secrecy, shame, or necessity. One person told me she had to learn a new set of skills to deal with the manipulations, accusations, and fallout. Only talking to a therapist made her realize that she couldn’t rescue the alcoholic or those around him – and that she’d lose everything positive in her life and herself if she tried. She still misses someone she once shared much of her life with. Her old friend is still alive. She’s ruined and bitter, but still alive. She blames the world for her choices.

I’m hard-wired to cut out the danger of staying in the sphere of people who have demons they refuse to address. It’s a dance I’ve done several times, in large, looping cycles with different family members during my life. It took me most of my life to hit the wall with my mom. I’ve dealt with the backlash of other family members telling me the same tired “it’s your family” nonsense for my entire life. There’s no obligation to allow biology to demand allegiance that strangles me. It’s possible for everyone to live their own lives if they can release the pathological need to require obedience to family. (The same family that damaged you.)

When I was younger, I was fooled often by the demands toward family allegiance. I fought it. It is that very kind of groupthink, though, that enables families poisoned by shame or secrecy to perpetuate it. If we demanded authenticity and open discussion of everyone in our lives, family included, none of this nonsense would survive very long. Our excuses would be outed immediately. Those who needed both intervention and accusation to get help would be forced into the sunlight quickly. We don’t do that. We whisper in the shadows and tolerate otherwise unacceptable abuse.

I’ve read hundreds of stories of people who’ve successfully burned their bridges. All of them say that the only way to succeed is to burn the bridge and stop looking at its remnants once it is gone. People will judge you in the best of circumstances.

I’m guilty of ignoring the necessity of consistency. As we get older, our lives become narrower and the number of people we’ve shared our lives with shrinks. I don’t know how others deal with knowing they’ve chosen to reduce their lives when people show they can’t behave like we need them to. It’s hard to excise a family member, no matter how other people might characterize your decision.

Until someone can be honest and bridge the gap between reality and fiction for me and I can stop being forced to roleplay, I will stay away again. I’ll work on my guilt. I’m not abandoning the alcoholic. Rather, it stops me from lashing out in anger because of the crazy-making. People had the ability to bridge the gap but chose not to. They’re just dealing with their lives in their own way. Those are their choices. I wish they chose otherwise. To me, it seems as if the alcoholic is still controlling all of us who don’t put our foot down, abandon secrecy, and live for those who aren’t reducing us.

I don’t want to be reduced anymore, or dreading a phone call or random, strange texts at all hours. That’s not joy. That’s disability. I’m messed up enough without feeling obligated to do this dance.

If I can’t tell reality from fiction, I’m out.

Continuing to let the shadow steal the minutes from my life is pure absurdity.

Wordless Eulogy

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I would not dare utter a single syllable in a vain attempt to express the breadth, depth, or width of a life well-lived. If you were lucky enough to have shared her presence, look inward, to find that memory, and embrace it. Our days are numbered, our friends but few.

 

Jackie Lou Dorman

Where The Crawdads Sing

“Writing a book demands so much specificity, in disagreement with the obvious truth that our most profound moments and memories call to us from inside the gauzy shrines of cheap childhood blankets, our tiny, unlearned hands clutching portals to the world disguised as books. We remember the creeping heat of a wood stove in the middle of a room, the silence before grandmother could shout at us for slamming the screendoor, or the interval between day and night when the fields slowly darkened as lightning bugs began to dance, granting us momentary amnesia from the remembered itch of an army of mosquitoes. And yet, we ran outside to greet them, no matter how hot the air or tired our bones. Another moment awaited, even if the moment drummed its fateful fingers to get to us. If you find a book that effortlessly draws you into another state of feeling, you should add it to your list of gratitude. If it does so while not shying away from the lesser of our human failings, it is okay to weep for the time when the book will be finished and its last page revealed.” – X

I see no need to mention the plot of the confines of the book I’ve mentioned.

These words speak, as did the words of the book.