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PTSD: He Witnessed The Deaths Of His Entire Platoon

Watching my children tend to their  “father  wounds” reminded me of a similar process with my father.

Howard died alone in the dilapidated trailer shortly after his wife, Vi, died from alcoholism. When they found him beneath the sagging tin roof, which was draped with a filthy black tarp to keep out the rain, dozens of empty booze bottles lay scattered at his feet.

Howard  and my mom had been divorced for many years at the time of his death, but she saw to it that he had a military burial. I remain in awe of the generosity of spirit that she alone extended to Howard by arranging his funeral.

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When does a habit become an addiction?

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It is the nature of desire not to be satisfied, and most human beings live only for the gratification of it.”

–Aristotle

When does a habit become an addiction? I have heard it said that with a habit you are in control of your choices, whereas with an addiction you aren’t in control of your choices—but what about a situation in which a habit slides into an addiction? For example: It may seem like a harmless habit to drink on weekends, but what if it seriously affects your family? What if you say and do things that you would normally never do? Would you call this a habit, or an addiction?

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The Disease of Alcoholism

Addiction E-book cover I will never forget my  last  night of drinking. It  happened on that sailboat, on a gorgeous evening in which we had invited the people on the boat next to ours to join us for dinner. I guess it’s kind of funny for me to say I will never forget that night, because the truth is, I only remember our guests coming aboard and then leaving.  I remember absolutely nothing in between.  When I awoke the next morning I had to wait for my husband  to awaken so that I could try and read his face. Had I embarrassed him? Had  I done anything outrageous? Was he mad at me?

When he finally awoke, he appeared fine, his usual, happy-go-lucky self. I was too ashamed to tell him that I couldn’t remember anything. I tried to discreetly ask him about the evening. He said that we all had a good time and that I was funny and engaging. Funny? Engaging? Thank God!  And I couldn’t remember a moment of it. I was utterly confused, mainly because I had yet to learn that when an alcoholic has a blackout they can appear to be totally conscious to others.  Years ago there were stories of pilots flying planes in a blackout. I had always thought blackout meant the person passed out. I  knew then that I was done with drinking, but I could not imagine how I would accomplish quitting.

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I didn’t Drink Every Day, Nor Get Drunk Every Time I Drank

Bahamas M&DI did not drink every day, nor did I get drunk every time I drank. I was always surprised on those mornings that I awoke struggling to remember how I got home the night before. I would often be terrified to answer the door on those mornings, fearing that whoever I met there would somehow guess—or maybe even know—something about my shameful behavior from the night before. All this, when I had no idea if anything shameful had even happened!

During  the next few years, as I finished obtaining my bachelor’s degree and somehow survived four unruly teenage children, I tried hard to control my drinking. Since I did not get drunk every time I drank, I kept telling myself there was no way I was an alcoholic.  Little did I realize at the time that the very fact that I was having this debate with myself was a sign that I had already slipped into the denial that is characteristic of every alcoholic.  People who do not have a problem with alcohol have no reason to even enter into this kind of self-argument.

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Meeting My Father

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“DON’T EVER  CALL  me  again!” my paternal grandmother warned harshly as she hung up the phone.  This abrupt conversation, actually just an answer to my greeting of “Hello,” left me bewildered. She and I had been having long-distance phone conversations for at least fifteen years. Sure, the conversations were brief, stiff, and unwelcome on her part, but many years ago, we had made a deal: if she would talk with me occasionally by phone, then I would not pursue the search for my father. I had kept my end of the bargain, so what in the world was the matter with her? I immediately called her back.

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An Abusive, Abandoning Mother, Fast Becoming a Lush.

Kimmy & MeMy daughter, Alex, and Ty’s twin brother, Jess, had age-appropriate sicknesses and little childhood traumas that needed tending, but Ty’s hearing, eyesight, lack of speech, and overall delayed developmental issues were so huge that they became all-consuming. Every day, I struggled with bills, scheduling demands, sick children, and now a controlling boyfriend who wanted attention and sex. Just like when I was married, these stressors caused severe physical reactions. At least once a week, I had either an ulcer attack or spasmodic gastritis so painful that I spent all night on the bathroom floor.

Fast losing ground in a number of ways, the final straw came the day my health insurance premiums doubled. The premiums shot up to $350.00 monthly, which was more than my monthly child support checks. I was scared to death. My son’s problems demanded that I maintain health insurance. My stress became apparent to everyone around me. I was losing weight, not sleeping, and stuttering more frequently, and my drinking and smoking increased.

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Seven Times Seven

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I met Bo in a sleazy bar four weeks after separating from Bill. Bo was charming and funny and had beautiful blue eyes and boyish good looks. He would become both my inspiration and my abuser.

Bo entered my life filled with hopeful possibilities for me. He suggested that I obtain a real estate license, which would place me in a job situation with flexible hours. I pointed out that I couldn’t do that since I didn’t even know my times tables. He offered to teach me. True to his word, we practiced reciting the times tables every night while I attended real estate school by day. Unfortunately, this knowledge did little to help me with the closing statement part of the real estate exam, but I was good at the law portion, so I concentrated my efforts there.

Though hired by a prestigious real estate office, I had no time to feel proud of myself: it was 1972, and the bottom had dropped out of real estate in southern Florida. So while I was learning the field, running down leads and pounding signs in overgrown front lawns, I simultaneously studied for my life and health insurance license.

I was driven by every form of imaginable fear. What if I ran out of money and I was unable to support myself or my children?  What if I had no credit? What if I lost my children due to lack of money or some emotional or physical illness? The day would come when all of those fears would come to pass.

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NINETEEN AND TWICE-MARRIED

 

rag doll legs crossedNINETEEN AND TWICE-MARRIED, I had become a woman lost. There was no me to be found anywhere inside. Like an obedient puppy, I did what I was told to do. Whipped by life, I had become unable to make even the simplest decision on my own. For example, if I was driving and came to a stop sign, and wasn’t sure which way to turn, I would cover my face and sob while my car sat in the middle of the intersection. All of my previous coping mechanisms had failed me. Hope had failed me. I had failed me.

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Stealing Booze and Crash-Landing (part two)

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Within hours of Joey’s departure, I was drunk. All I cared about was escaping the pain. Running away always seemed to be a solution, like when I was a little girl and ran to the arms of the eucalyptus trees. I threw clothes into a suitcase and got a cab to the bus station, where I boarded a Greyhound for New York City. Why New York? Who knows?

Two days later, disheveled, hungry, and with little money, I checked into a sleazy hotel in New York City. In sheer panic, I called my supervisor and quit my beloved job, pretending a lengthy family emergency.

Just prior to my entering the six-week stewardess training program, I had begun dating a handsome man sixteen years my senior. We were introduced by a mutual friend. Bill held a Bachelor of Science degree and was a showroom  manager  at the Miami Playboy Club. Suave and debonair, he began pressuring me to marry him within weeks of our initial meeting. Although he was thirty-six, he had never married. I took his interest in me to be true love. I did not return his attention with a feeling of “love,” but  I was interested in his seeming maturity, self- assurance, and sincerity. I had half-heartedly  considered his offer, pondering if after my first marital experience I would ever feel comfortable with a man of worldly experience.

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Stealing Booze and Crash-Landing

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AFTER THREE MONTHS of adjusting to the climate as best as I could, mostly by staying in the air-conditioning, fall arrived, bringing welcome relief. I lived within a few miles of Miami International Airport, so cab fares were quite inexpensive. I loved the pastel colors of Coral Gables and the lushness of Coconut Grove. It seemed as if everywhere I went there  was a body of water; the ocean, lakes, canals, and blue swimming pools were everywhere the eye could see. Sometimes I even sighted a flock of beautifully multicolored wild parrots flying overhead. South Florida was truly a beautiful place to live.

Stealing had never been one of my early-life transgressions—except for twice when I was under the age of ten. While I dreaded the thought of being caught and losing my dream job, I began to sneak one or two miniature bottles of booze off the plane to soothe myself during our layovers. This violation was sure to get me fired if I were caught.

Since the rape, I just couldn’t seem to get myself into any type of feeling of normalcy, (as if my behaviors prior to that time were “normal”). If a door closed loudly, or something dropped on the floor, I would jump as if a bomb had exploded or stand frozen on the spot.

On several occasions while flying, other stewardesses commented on my jumpy behavior. I tried to laugh it off, but felt even more nervous realizing they noticed. This left me constantly believing I was going to be found out. I didn’t have a clue as to what it was that someone might find out about me, but that did not stop the internal alarm. Magnifying my discomfort were my recurring  nightmares.  In these dreams, people were laughing at me while I ran in tiny circles, trying to escape, but I could never find the door. Every day I told myself to just hang on, just hang on, just hang on. I had no idea, how long, or in what way—I just knew I should “Just hang on.”