The Newsletter

I wrote recently about moving to my new site, The Truth of Being Us, and I did consider for a time if I might continue to use this space to write. I have decided to focus all efforts on that site and don’t intend to write here any longer. With that being said, I continue to receive comments and followers here, so I intend on keeping this space active in the event any of the content that remains helpful for others. Given that the new site is not on a WordPress platform, if you’d like to receive my monthly newsletter that compliments The Truth of Being Us website, I encourage you to visit here to sign up. I’ll send an update each month with links to a couple of recent posts, podcast and book recommendations and other helpful resources. That’s it. Simple and limited, so no annoying fluff bogging down your inbox (I hope!).

Thank you, again, to everyone who has followed along here. I am grateful for every one of you and hope to stay connected.

-Tracie

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Space To Be A Kid

I’ve dug back a bit to share something I wrote elsewhere back in October. Time spent just being a kid was so rare for me that those memories are easy to get buried beneath the heavier ones. The experiences described below were a beautiful reminder that there were brief moments in my childhood when I didn’t have to take on the role of an adult. I am grateful for these keepsakes that I somehow managed to hold on to all these years later and for getting a glimpse back at that little girl.

 

 

I have very few remnants from my childhood. In fact, most of the contents fit into a shoe box that I keep in a reusable shopping bag along with a couple of old school annuals that I’ve managed to hang onto. That bag has been in various places over the years and has spent the last 10 tucked away in an attic. I can’t recall the last time I peeked inside, it’s mostly filled with a few old letters, pictures, and a silver collectible spoon from when I lived in Arizona sometime around 7 years old. But after writing a prior post that touched on the time spent in front of my stereo playing DJ, I was struck with the thought that I may have seen a cassette tape stashed in that box once upon a time. Off to the attic I went to check it out.

The next thing you know, the box sat open on the floor beside me and I was lost in old letters from a friend whom I actually stayed in touch with for a number of years after one of our many moves. It was pretty comical to read about what we were so interested in as 12-year old girls in 1987. There was a lot of drama to be discussed about Madonna (of course), and then there was the shockingly obscene new song from George Michael – I Want Your Sex. Oh, the dilemma to listen or not to listen as the latter was certainly the parental preference. I also couldn’t resist a good giggle while reading about our deep love for Morten Harket, the stunning lead singer of A-Ha for those who don’t know. Pre-teen moments at their finest! Those letters were a nice reminder that once in a while I found some space to just be a kid.

At the bottom of the box were two cassette tapes. One looked quite a bit newer by cassette tape standards, but the other one was instantly recognizable to me. Someone else had written Thompson Twins on it in pencil (spelled Tompsen Twins), but had then scratched it out. I had an inkling that this was a tape given to me by my friend Juliana during the brief time I was in school in Birmingham, Michigan, but I couldn’t be certain. My first dilemma was that I had no way to play this tape, but thanks to the power of Amazon, the problem was solved rather quickly. When my nifty new boom box showed up on Saturday, I didn’t waste any time popping in the tape to give it a listen. I’ll admit, I was both excited and nervous about what I would hear, I genuinely had no idea what might be on it and I was pressing play with my husband beside me. Initial disappointment washed over me when it was apparent that I had recorded a Rick Dees Weekly Top 40 show on the first side, but it was tough to be too disappointed with a pretty solid week in music. INXS – What you Need, Prince – Kiss, and Falco – Rock Me Amadeus were all in the top 10. Based on the song order, and after some digging through the Rick Dees lists, it appears that this was the 3/29/1986 show. As I continued to bounce back and forth between the FF and Play buttons through a number of songs (the pain of cassette tapes came back pretty strong), I started to settle into the idea that I must have just recorded over any of my material, much like I expected. But right after Falco, things changed. There were some clicking and popping sounds and then a young voice popped in – and that voice was 11-year old me. I just about jumped out of my skin with excitement!

It turned out that the last few minutes of side one and then the entire second side were all me and the many characters that I played. It was pretty clear that I never used any sort of plan, and I was just running with my random radio call-in games (where I also acted as the ringing telephone), advertisements and news, weather and traffic reports on the fly – all run by my DJ alter egos Dick Farten and Dancin’ Panty Schafer. (To give credit where credit is due, these were loosely based on actual 95.5 Detroit DJs at the time – Dancin’ Denny Schaffer and Dick Purtan.)  Mary Lou Retton and Sophia Lauren made appearances in random sponsored advertisements, and Rambo even stopped by for an interview where he wanted to talk only about his trained frogs. Traffic reports got pretty wild with talk of giant tarantulas escaping after a massive freeway accident and zombies with pickled intestines were obviously another hot news topic. This goes back to an obsession with the old TV show, Mad Movies and their version of Night of the Living Dead. If I had a nickel for every time I said pickled intestines, well…you know the rest.

While it may not have exactly been comedy genius of an 11-year old, there was something pretty special about being able to hear my young voice. I both laughed and cried. I could picture myself sitting on that bedroom floor in front of my stereo, bouncing back and forth between recordings, entertaining myself for hours in my little escape. My mind was blown. When you go through therapy as an adult child of an alcoholic, or anyone who has been through difficult childhood experiences and trauma, there is a lot of work to give great consideration to your inner child. To picture them and talk to them, to feel what they felt and remind them that everything is okay because they are still very much a part of you. There was something profound about this moment for me, to be able to actually hear my own voice as that little girl created a connection that can sometimes be a challenge for me to find. It was a hilarious experience, but more importantly, it was beautiful and maybe even a little bit healing.

On another note, as much as I’d like to bring back my DJ days, I think Dancin’ Panty Schaffer should probably remain in retirement.

 

child alcoholic

The Guidance Counselor Who Never Was

This is something I wrote a number of months ago in my brief and prior blog, documenting life as an adult child of an alcoholic. Slowly, I’ve been sharing some of those memories here. Thank you for reading. – Anne

Everyone’s heads lifted from their books as the office aide burst through the classroom door to deliver a note to the teacher. While this wasn’t an uncommon occurrence, what was unusual is what happened afterwards. The teacher’s eyes immediately caught mine and my heart started to do back flips. The other students were staring as she made her way to my desk, passing me the slip of paper without a comment or explanation. Some of the kids let out an “oohh, you’re in trouble” – forcing me to sink further down in my chair. Looking down at the words written on the notice, heat flushed through my body when I saw that I was to report to the guidance counselor’s office right after lunch. How could this be? At twelve years old, I had never been in trouble at school, I was always the good kid that no one ever had to worry about. They must have made a mistake. I wanted to ask my teacher what this was about, but was too terrified. Instead, I tucked the note inside my book and proceeded to freak out for the next couple of hours.

I contemplated dropping my books and running out the door, straight across the playground and beyond the fence.

I skipped the cafeteria that day to hide out in the library. While this wasn’t unusual for me given that I didn’t have a particular group or friend to sit with, this time was very different. I couldn’t think straight enough to even pretend to read a book. My heart was racing and my stomach hurt, as I prepared myself for the worst. Whatever I did must have been really bad, because they only called you to the counselor’s office if they were going to suspend, expel, or paddle you, right? Yes, this was at the tail end of the days of physical punishment in some schools where paddles were still hanging on educator’s walls as a threat. How was I going to explain any of this to my mom or dad? Dad would be furious and mom so hurt. I was a goner, for sure.

The bell rang to signal the end of lunch and I trudged my way down the long corridor towards the main office. I wasn’t even sure how to find the counselor, so I peered over the tall counter behind the door labeled “Office” and timidly asked the woman standing behind it for directions. Without even a look, she asked if I had a permission slip to be there. Embarrassed, my shaking hand pulled the appointment slip from my book and handed it over. Her smirk only reinforced that I was in for something serious. For a moment, I contemplated dropping my books and running out the door, straight across the playground and beyond the fence. Normally, I didn’t think anyone would even notice if I was gone, but this time uncomfortable attention was on me. The sound of a voice snapped me back to reality and there stood our school counselor, Mr. Riley.

It was like a lifeline was being thrown my way, but when I just barely caught hold of it, he cut it loose.

I followed him into his office with my head hanging and sat myself nervously in a chair across from him. As he proceeded to talk, I could barely make out the words because my mind was so anxious, it was like being lost in a fog that I couldn’t manage my way through. Then I heard one word that became clear, “absences.” It hit me that Mr. Riley was expressing concern about why I had been missing so much school lately, and he wanted to see if there was something I’d like to talk about. As I sat in that seat slowly processing what was happening, I started to get a sense that this was someone who really did care about me. It took a moment, but I realized that I wasn’t in any trouble and this kind man just wanted to help. No one else outside of my mother had ever reached out to connect with me like this, and I found myself wanting to tell him the things that I had kept quiet about. I wanted to tell the truth. So, I did.

With tears in my eyes I explained to him that my dad was an alcoholic and that things at home had been bad lately. He was always drunk and often angry. But before I could say anything further, Mr. Riley quickly interrupted and asked what my dad drank. To that, I replied “beer.” In one moment this man, this person of authority who I trusted and wanted to confide in, crushed me with his response: “Your dad can’t be an alcoholic if he only drinks beer.” My mouth fell open and a lump formed in my gut. I was so confused by this. Wasn’t he supposed to be helping? How could even think this way? I stumbled and tried to explain that dad doesn’t just drink “a beer”, but that he goes through at least a case a night that’s usually half gone between hitting the store after work and arriving home. That doesn’t even touch the amount he drinks on the weekends or the drugs, but I didn’t speak of the drugs because I didn’t have a chance. Mr. Riley stopped me in my tracks and firmly asserted his statement to me once more that beer does not make someone an alcoholic. I knew this was going nowhere. He didn’t believe me, he brought me in to talk but wouldn’t listen when I tried. Instead, he dismissed the shattered 12-year old girl, and the subject was never brought up again.

This incident remains very vivid in my mind today. When I look back, this person who was supposed to provide support to a child, instead only reinforced the sense that adults could not be trusted. This was a period of my young life when things had grown particularly difficult with dad, his behavior was more erratic than ever and there was no question that it was impacting me. When Mr. Riley first reached out, I actually recall feeling relief. It was like a lifeline was being thrown my way, but when I just barely caught hold of it, he cut it loose. I remember how much that hurt, but true to form, my resilience kicked in and I brushed it off telling myself that I knew more about alcoholism than the guidance counselor did. This is definitely not how any of this should have gone down, and I sincerely hope that when a child reaches out for a lifeline today, that someone is there to hang on.

 

alcoholism seizures

The Hospital With Dad

I wrote this piece below in another space that I started up last year, where I was much more focused on just my experience as an adult child of an alcoholic. I was proud of what I was doing there and it felt freeing to be so open to the world, to my friends and family, but that same openness also halted my writing as I found my personal growth taking shape and discovered that there is so much more that needs to be told. I have a resounding obligation to myself to share my deeply personal stories and the openness of that blog made me afraid of hurting some people close to me. I would like to revisit it some day, and maybe somewhere down the line I will feel that I can be fully open up to those around me, but for now, I feel just a bit safer in this place.

 

The Hospital

I travel off and on for work and some of the locations I head to are what some might consider remote. Finding a nearby airport can be a challenge and two weeks ago was no exception. I was headed to a small town in southern Alabama, and the closest airport is about two hours away in Tallahassee, FL. I don’t mind driving the distances at all, in fact, I usually enjoy the time with the radio and no distractions. As I made the trek north of the airport, it wasn’t long before my mind started drifting to my therapy session the day before. We had touched a bit on my father and some of the traumatic events during the year leading up to his death nearly 24 years ago. Our conversation only scratched the surface, as much about that period isn’t exactly at the forefront of my memory. Moments into my reflection I was struck with the thought that it was a Tallahassee hospital when I last saw dad. Now it may not seem like there was much point in visiting that place, but staring down the two-lane highway in front of me, I was consumed with the need to put my eyes on it.

When my work day wound down I had some time to kill before heading back to the airport, and thanks to a bit of sleuthing on my smart phone, I found the hospital and set directions to head that way. At first, I questioned if I even had the right place, but as I approached the area the familiarity was strong. In fact, the visuals from my memory were stunningly clear as I reached the top of the road where the hospital came into view. On that day 24 years ago, I had received word from my grandmother that dad was sick again and had been admitted to a hospital in Tallahassee. I didn’t even know that was the city he was living in at the time. The last time I saw or spoke to him, I was barely 18 and living with him and my stepmother in Orlando, a few hours south of Tallahassee. We had parted ways under very unpleasant circumstances, and although only a handful of months had gone by, the wounds were still fresh and I didn’t want to be anywhere near either of them. The urgency in my grandmother’s voice gave me the sense that she didn’t know if he was going to survive this time, so with heavy hesitation clutching at my heart, I gave in to her prodding and made the drive up.

During the prior year, dad had started to develop some rather serious physical problems, much of which presented itself in the short period of time when I was living with him. He had always been young and healthy (as healthy as an alcoholic can be) as far as I had known, but then around the age of 42 things started to drastically shift. The substance abuse was finally catching up to him. The first outward sign of trouble was the day that he had a seizure while I was laying out by the swimming pool. It started with him walking out of the house clutching my stepmother’s black handbag close to his chest with both hands. Something looked very off and when I repeatedly asked what he was doing he wouldn’t respond. Instead, his eyes were darting around, he started to stagger and stumble, and my voice increased to shouting as an attempt to get his attention. My head immediately went to the thought that he must have taken something and this was the effect of whatever the drug of choice was that day. He dropped the bag and his body started to shake. In my escalated state of panic, I actually had the sense to jump from my chair and run over to push him so that his pending fall didn’t take him into the pool. I could barely collect a single thought after that as I watched him trembling and writhing on the ground with a sensation that I was seeing it all from a distance.

My stepmother finally came running out of the house to his side, but her shouts to call 911 weren’t registering with me. Instead, I sprinted out to the front yard and yelled for the neighbor watering his lawn across the street. All I could come up with in that moment was to grab the closest person nearby to come stop this. I was terrified, I felt like I was shutting down and somebody had to help. As the neighbor dropped the hose and started running in my direction, I again heard my stepmother screaming to call 911, but I still didn’t quite get it. The neighbor, a very kind man named Richard, without even knowing yet what was happening, grabbed gently onto my shoulders and calmly told me to call 911 before he ran to my dad’s aid. That’s when I finally went inside and picked up the phone. (Thank you, Richard.) My breathing was so erratic that I am surprised the 911 operator could even make out what I was saying through my shaking voice, but an instant relief washed over me when the emergency vehicles pulled into the driveway a very short time later.

That was the first time that I saw dad in a hospital. It was the time when the doctors ran tests and discovered that this hadn’t been a bad drug trip as I had suspected, this was the years of severe alcohol abuse leaving their mark on my father. One doctor described his shock at a scan of dad’s head, stating that there were sections of his brain that appeared damaged and in his words, “almost non-existent.” His description was followed by my immediate recollection of a project that I did in middle school on something called Wet Brain or Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome. (My fascination with the brain ran deep.) It’s a nasty condition that sometimes affects those with chronic alcohol use over an extended period of time and among a number of symptoms, it’s been known to result in what is described as holes in the brain. Now, I’m certainly no expert and couldn’t say definitively that this is what dad was suffering from, but there was no denying that the alcohol and drug abuse were finally taking their toll.

The seizures continued off and on from that point. Many times, I would try to catch them before they progressed. One doctor told us that placing an ice pack at the base of dad’s head when we started to notice “bizarre behavior” might help. Bizarre behavior from dad wasn’t exactly unusual, but there was a pretty distinct difference in him when a seizure was about to occur, so I always stood on alert, ready with a cold pack close by. Sometimes it worked, sometimes not so much. Then there was the day that dad confessed to me that he had started hearing voices speaking to him. The vivid and frightening description of what they spoke to him about is something best left for another day, but as much as he believed they were real, I knew it was all because of the damage to his brain. To make matters worse, the bloating and periods of internal bleeding soon followed. A number of hospital trips were made. He would get bad, doctors would treat him. He would get better for a while and things would go back to normal but we never knew how long his good days would last.

After parting ways on the messy terms I mentioned above, I found myself standing at the foot of his hospital bed in Tallahassee some months later. He was unconscious this time and so bloated that I wouldn’t have recognized him when I walked into the room if it hadn’t been for his strawberry blonde hair. A tube was sticking out of his abdomen, feeding into a vessel that was collecting the blood that was draining from his body because of the severe internal bleeding. It was a sickening sight and no one knew if he was going to pull through. It broke my heart and scared me all at the same time. Hours passed and I remember thinking – what good was I serving anyone by just sitting in that room watching the blood drip through that tube? Was he even going to wake up? What would we say to each other if he did? What would I do if he didn’t? He had abandoned me time and time again, and maybe I didn’t see any reason at all to stay, but didn’t I have an obligation? As a little girl, I had grown up with a sense that I had to take care of my parents, that I was able to make things better for them somehow, but here I was at 18 years old, a so-called “adult”, and I was lost in that room. So, I left. When faced with fight or flight, that day I chose flight.

Dad didn’t die in that hospital. He ultimately improved after a few more days and then went on about his usual life of drinking for a number of months after. While it’s possible that I needed to take that detour to the hospital two weeks ago because of residual guilt for when I originally walked out, the more that I have considered it the more that I believe I was simply looking for a connection to some of my memories. As an adult child of an alcoholic, these connections and the feelings they bring with them can be quite complicated, but the work to reconnect them has become so important to me. While the trip to the hospital two weeks ago didn’t start out with any obvious intention, the outcome now leads me to believe that somewhere this mind of mine knew exactly what it was trying to do. The brain is a strange and beautiful beast.