Thursday, July 29, 2010

The Comfort Ink

I saw a man tonight who looked so much like my beloved Charles the Man, it almost knocked me flat.  Charlie was, for all intents and purposes, my stepfather for twenty-six years.  Mom started dating him when I was sixteen.  He passed away in 2006 at the age of 83.  It was a good death; he simply went to sleep and didn't wake up.  Charlie was the kindest, most thoughtful and bravest man I ever knew.  He was a Marine in the Third Marine Division during World War II, fighting in the Pacific on the islands of Bougainville, Guam and Iwo Jima.  My next project, which I've been researching for ten years, is a trilogy of books about his experiences during the war: one book for each island.  It initially started out as a single volume but Charlie remembered everything, even the serial number on his rifle, so we expanded it.  Our last Iwo Jima interview was two weeks before he died.  I had the honor of receiving the flag from his coffin and gave the eulogy at his funeral.  For weeks after, the grief over such a monumental loss was simply overwhelming.  I was lucky to know him, but such a gift makes a person greedy.  When they're gone, it leaves an almost unbearable hole.  So I got a tattoo with the Third Marine Division emblem on my left forearm, with his name above.  Such a strange comfort, inked skin, but it works.  I have him with me forever now.  Every time I see a veteran, I thank him or her for everything that I have.  Everything I own, everyone I know, exists the way they do because of the sacrifices of our military.  It's a universal truth that freedom is not free.  It's paid for in blood and most miraculously of all, voluntarily.  I've been so lucky with the people I've had the honor of writing about: my best friend Karen, a fourth stage cancer survivor, whose manuscript I've recently finished.  All those hundreds of hours of interviews with Charlie, where he trusted me enough to speak of the unspeakable. And FREAK, my own memoir, where I can show the world all the great people who've touched my life, who helped the broken mess that I was crawl back into the light.  I am, without a doubt, the luckiest person in the world.  I hope I have the proper gifts to tell these stories the right way, to show readers how extraordinary and magnificent people like Karen F. and my darling Charlie really are.  I'll give it my all.  They deserve nothing less.  So a toast, my friends, to the unsung heroes who pass by us every day.  May the best of their pasts be the worst of their futures from now on. 

Wednesday, July 28, 2010


Good news about the kitty cat.  He is very happy with his new family, running and actually jumping now.  He's not strong enough to jump on the bed but he can manage to scale the couch.  Since he's super mischievious now, they've named him "Loki," the Norse god of mischief.  Being a long follower of the Marvel Comics Thor, I can't help but envision green and gold costumes and gigantic horned headgear.  I love the name; a clever title from a clever couple.  There isn't a better home I could think of for that poor little waif.

Last night was my last evening of moon dancing for the month.  It's been an especially glorious moon, ringed by a thin nimbus of blue, bright enough to see the markings on my own palm.  A magical experience, watching the moon bathe everything in cool shadow.  Lovely!

My website designer, a dear and beloved friend, sent me rough drafts of the site for FREAK, my memoir, and my eyes teared up with what he'd come up with.  So far, it's beautiful.  My daughter Rhianna is hilariously telling me that there can never be just one memoir, that the weird shit never ends with me and the only answer is volumes.  I guess she has a point but I don't see myself churning out annual nut races so we'll have to hold that least until another bird lands on my head and won't fly off.  So far, that's happened twice: once when my kids were little and once a few weeks ago.  Usually it's just butterflies that like to land on me.  Just so long as it's not bats, which I DON'T like divebombing and grabbing my hair, I don't mind.  I finished the comic musical for the synopsis and it's black humor funny.  A normal synopsis just didn't seem right; had to do something artsy.  In junior high school, when we had to write a long essay on the American Revolution, I illustrated the whole thing as a comic, complete with every key historical fact required for the assignment.  Haven't stopped drawing funnies ever since.  All of this will be on the website too so it's very exciting.  My editor, who knows me inside and out, is working on the final draft and the covers are complete.  Everything is coming along splendidly and FREAK: The True Story of an Insecurity Addict will hopefully be out in time for the holidays this year.  Amazing!  I can hardly believe it.  Anyway, it's late and I'm weary and rambling so I'll say good night and all the best to all of you.  Take care.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Moon Dancing

Tonight I howled at the moon.

My beloved roommate and I went outside after a fierce thunderstorm chewed up the humidity and washed all the clouds out of the sky.  And there she was: a gorgeous full moon, bright as the candle we held and twice as beautiful.  I always liked the moon more than the sun.  I liked the mystery of a bright light in all that dark sky, casting blue shadows and cool light.  Don't get me wrong, I love the sun too, but the moon and I have always been closer; kindred spirits of earth and sky. 
     Forgive my waxing rhapsodic this evening, but moon howls always do that to me.  Must be the lycanthrope in me.  I grew up loving monster movies.  My childhood crushes weren't on teenage heartthrobs or handsome leading men, but on Lon Chaney Jr.'s Wolfman and Bernie the Talking Skull on Friday night Creature Feature.  There's a reason for the title of my book FREAK, haha!  I am, unabashedly, a freak.  I never wanted to be normal, I never wanted to blend in.  I just wanted to be accepted. I didn't help in the establishment of my own alienation.  Anybody who cuts up their mom's fur coat so they can create werewolf Barbie isn't going to fit in no matter how hard they try.  Or gain brownie points with their mom.  But it's important to be yourself.  To value what you were born with.  So go on out there, my friends, and howl at your own particular moon, whether it be in the sky or in your heart of hearts.  Be true to you, be faithful to what you are, and even more important, what you can become.  Because you can become anything.  You can do anything.  The faith of a mustard seed can move mountains.  It's true.  I was once too shattered by my own self-loathing and poisonous relationships to believe in anything but grey misery.  Now I leap and dance in the moonlight, giddy with the incomparable joy of being alive.  You can find it too.  The Joy of Living.  Now go scamper...preferably with a big fat grin.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Subtle Digestion of a Secret

     I have come to the conclusion that secrets kill.  I kept the secret about my past (although you'd never know it now, the way I blab about it), and that made me feel dirty and unworthy, as if what happened in my childhood was my fault.  My mother kept the secret of our home life because of a fear of being judged unworthy.  That secret made her more unworthy than ever and all but destroyed her kids.  She hid her alcoholism and other addictions, and that just made them grow larger, like black mold in a dark, damp place.  My father kept the secret that he was capable of being hurt.  That made him a monster with a grudge, unable to express himself in any other way but violence and sex.  We all paid bitterly for his secrets.  My daughter hid her own misery from me, wanting to spare me pain, and that almost led to her suicide.  My son hid his addictions even after he overdosed and almost died. Secrets kill. 
     In my opinion, it's much better to be open.  Even if people reject you because of it, it's better to know than not know who your friends are.  Keeping a secret about yourself, something you're ashamed of, only makes it worse.  When you do that, the only audience you have is yourself, and an insecure person is a tough crowd.  Shame, blame and brooding self-hatred flourish in such an environment.  Cockroach emotions and creepy crawly doubt spread like wildfire, until it feels like every cell in your body is mobilized to hate, and hate only.  Self cannibalism.  You devour yourself from the inside out and nobody has a clue that a vicious feast is going on at all...because you keep that a secret too.  So open your mouth and tell.  Turn around, face the pile of shit that's been breeding in your mind and eat it.  Devour it instead of yourself.  There's a subtle change that occurs once a person starts gnawing away at their own terrible memories.  The mind digests too, just like our intestines, and what passes through as waste is then recognized as waste.  Something to be disposed of instead of clung to.  You're an addict?  Tell, and get some help.  You're a victim of incest?  Tell and let them help.  You're a battered wife?  Be careful what you're teaching your children by example.  If you can't leave for yourself, leave for them.  If you don't have kids, tell for all the ones who'll come after because nobody opened their mouths and pointed out how unacceptable a fist to the face really is.  The whole Catholic idea of confessing sins is not without merit.  Cleaning house.  Throwing out guilt and shame, angst and humiliation, rage and revenge.  They're all garbage.  They have no proper place in your head or heart.  They are heavy, thick and rancid secrets, rotten apples in the barrel.  Don't let them consume you.  Secrets kill.  Open yourself, be brave, be inspirational.  It's common knowledge now, that when you get a deep cut, you clean it and put a bandage on it or it won't heal properly.  However, we're in the Dark Ages in regards to being open about ourselves.  Misguided family loyalty, shame at our own dirtiness, whatever.  It's all garbage, that mode of thinking.  I did it all for decades and now I don't.  It's as simple as that.  The biggest surprise of all is how indescribably heavy those secrets were.  Like Jacob Marley's chains and cash boxes from Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, I dragged those damn secrets around wherever I went.  I was never free of them, and they colored every decision I ever made with their sepia tint of crap.  Everything is different now.  I still have a load of chains but far less than I did before, and I feel light as air.  Even able to scamper a bit.  Let go of your own miserable shackles, my friends.  Give a hop, skip and a jump and snap the bonds.  Be free.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Egomaniacal Insecure Freakazoid

     I used to be an egomaniacal insecure freakazoid.  That term might sound like an oxymoron but it's more true than false.  The insecure are usually egomaniacs as well.  Now, after years of practice,  I'm just a second-rate egomaniacal insecure freakazoid, so there's been progress.  I've downgraded. 
     The theory's not so far-fetched.  The insecure mindset is always me, me, me, masked behind you, you, you.  As a kid, I tried to tell people what was going on in the clusterfuck circus called my home life, but no one was listening, or simply didn't want to hear.  But I did try.  That was me being brave, a spunky kid who recognized wrongdoing and wanted to have it changed or punished.  As an adult, I ran right back into the arms of not one, but two sicko versions of my father, the whole time telling myself I was breaking the chain of abuse while in fact I was forging a new link.  The only difference was no physical violence and a college education, but the sadism and emotional viciousness was rampant.  Maybe it felt familiar, like slipping on an old glove and smiling when the hidden razorblade cuts your fingers.  Oh, yeah...I remember this.  Then staying became all about saving face.  I was too embarrassed to leave, too terrified of doing it again, too humiliated by another failure.  So I decided to stick it out with the mess I knew and see if I could make something good from it, coming up with a reason why when my subconscious was screaming to get OUT.  So I devised a whole list of noble brain phrases to tell myself and I stuck to them like glue.  My first marriage only lasted two years, thank heaven, but my second was the one I was determined to get through.  Fourteen years.  I stayed with Peter because I rationalized that I was the only one who could really help him.  Inside, I smugly thought that even if the world was against him (which it often should have been), I would be the lone voice in the dark, the loyal one, the kind and giving one, the one who would never ever leave him.  It was people leaving him that made him the damaged goods that he was.  So to protect him, the inner child Peter, I let him damage me.  I let him damage my kids.  See?  Ego.  Like the famous phrase from the movie Highlander: There can be only one.  That special one, that magic one who if she tried hard enough, sacrificed enough, could save the world.  Save her family.  Change things.  So I twisted reality in my mind until I became that one. 
     On the flipside, the self-hating part of me stayed because I thought I deserved to be damaged; that I'd made yet another dumb mistake and screwed my life up.  I then joined in the caustic cruelty to myself.  Nobody was more brilliantly witty or unforgivingly acidic to me than me.  That's what insecurity does to a person.  Makes them nuts.  Puppets.  Yellow and miserable because we know we're yellow and miserable, and we still do nothing.  A vicious circle.
   Ah, but there's a silver lining in every black cloud.  A vein of pure gold.  Inside all of us, even the wretched morons like me who've screwed up most of their lives, there's something worth saving.  The kid inside, the clean one who is still there, who still needs to be rescued.  Because that will never change.  That can never be touched, insecurity or not, horrific past or no.  That kid is me.  You.  All of us.  When first attempting to change the mindset of a lifetime, I couldn't picture the little me inside, so I used photos.  It's weird how an insecure person always remembers the past not as the little tike they were, but as the modern idiot they became.  So I dug out photos.  Oh, here's one that was taken right around the time I was beaten with the yardstick until they broke it on my legs.  What's the date?  Holy shit...I was three-years-old.  Look how little I am.  Here's one from right after I was raped the first time...thirteen?  I know I was thirteen but I didn't realize how frail a thirteen-year-old is.  Hell, I'm just a kid.  Exercises like that, for someone as visual as I am, really helped: photographic proof that yes, I was a child and no, it wasn't my fault.  No self-deluding argument that I could have prevented what happened to me can hold up against photos of a baby girl in training pants, or a kid who hasn't even had a period yet.  I uncovered a vein of gold inside myself and have been trying to dig it free ever since.  Who would have thought that I could be a treasure?  Who could have guessed that I always was?  The biggest, best kept secret of all: my own self worth.  So no, I don't hate myself anymore.  I don't loathe the idea of my own existence, I don't long for death or dream of the freedom of suicide.  Not anymore.  Because I found something worth living for with that stack of family photos.  Myself.  What a beautiful, matchless treasure.  Like my favorite poem, Invictus: Out of the night that covers me, black as the pit from pole to pole, I thank whatever gods may be for my incomparable soul.  We're all incomparable.  We're all amazing.  We just have to dig it out and shine it up and care for it.  Happy prospecting, my friends.  Take care.

Friday, July 16, 2010

This Place of Wrath and Tears

Firstly, the kitty is doing very well, even showing some attitude and lashing his tiny tail.  Very wonderful.  Now, on to the heart of this particular post.  I have so many friends and relatives who are addicts.  I dodged that particular bullet only insofar as not inbibing, snorting, shooting or swallowing things (except too many cookies), but didn't recognize the fact that I was an addict anyway: to behaviors, not substances.  Insecurity has colored my judgement since I was a very little kid, just like it did to pretty much all my relatives and at least half the people I know.  How did this unseen plague begin?  I think it's always been there, lurking in the shadows, hiding the truth of its existence like gothic vampires hiding in plain sight.  Folks will advise you to "ignore what people think" and that's good advice only if a person were actually capable of doing that.  I think the real answer is to be true to yourself.  Don't ignore it, simply understand that your own opinion about yourself is the most important.  Like the great line Gregory Peck says in William Wyler's The Big Country: "I'm not responsible for what other people think, only for what I am."  That's the key, the simple but monumental task of actually valuing yourself enough to do the right thing, regardless.  And the problem with an insecurity addict is, they only value what other people think because they look in the mirror and see a piece of shit.  Maybe a nice person, maybe somebody who tries but doesn't believe, etcetera, but still a piece of shit.  The paradox of our subconscious recognizing that we're good and our conscious shrieking about our shortcomings.  We wear glasses, both rose colored and shit stained, to view life.  We need to see things clearly, not with any tint.  Even when you can't observe things as they really are, try to recognize that your view is askew and practice concentrating on what's real.  I spent so many years harming myself, getting into terrible relationships and sticking it out because at least I had loyalty, you know?  When I was married, both times, friends told me what an awful person I was married to and my dumb way of responding to that was to prove my own loyalty.  Here's the thinking: My God, look how few friends he has, my poor husband.  Nobody is on his side but me.  What would he do without me?  Who could he turn to?  I know he has goodness in him.  I stay, so there must be a reason other than my own failures.  If I stay long enough, prove my loyalty, he'll change.  He'll become kind.  He'll recognize my worth because I can't find it on my own.  I need input.  I'll save him and finally be a hero.  And that kind of thinking makes an insecure person steely.  This will I do.  This one thing.  I will stand fast in this place of wrath and tears of my own making and endure.  I am brave.  I am loving.  I am worthwhile.  But your subconscious doesn't buy it.  Your subconscious needles you to leave, to see the light, to stop being so ridiculous, and that's where insecurity steps in.  Insecurity is the Spock vomit-drop creature hooked onto your spine, controlling you through pain and self doubt and the whispered reminders of all those years of screwups under your belt.  When you've made enough dumb mistakes of judgement, you can drown in them. And all that time, insecurity feeds like the parasite it is.  An unseen enemy within, invisible to the naked eye or microscope but there nonetheless.  The only regimen to combat it is self love.  I don't know if there's a cure because I haven't found it yet.  I am so much happier and more fulfilled than I've ever been before, and it's been my own doing and a major accomplishment, but I still get ice in my guts at the smallest thing.  Like a diabetic, I take a dose of mental sugar to sweeten the sour taste of self hatred and fear of other's low opinions.  I recognize that the chill waves running through me are simply years of conditioning, the brainwashing of a lifetime begun by my parents and continued by myself, abated by the choices I've made in partners and even friends.  Cruel, selfish people with whopping insecurities that took the form of vicious behavior and spoilt manners.  My insecurity used to be sarcasm.  I used my wit to cut and wound, venomous humor that always left a scar and a laugh from others, from which the parasite inside me could feed.  Then it morphed into servitude.  I became a wonderful servant: loving, loyal, selfless to the point of self-destruction.  Now, I work daily to control it.  I love myself, which is a strange place to be, a Shangri-la of, again, my own making.  Your life is your life.  Value it.  Value yourself.  I do these simple but dumb sounding exercises every day.  I've always dreamed of the perfect mate, piling all my longings into a mold of who and what I wanted, so I took that list and decided to become that myself.  I am kind to me, I recognize good deeds that I do, I know the value of generosity over servitude.  Every night, I tell myself, "good night beautiful mind, good night beautiful spirit, good night beautiful body."  This from a woman so screwed up after my divorce, I hadn't worn sleeveless shirts or shorts for ten years because of an intense hatred of my body and a terror of showing it.  I love my body now.  Dumpy, skinny-legged but absolutely beloved.  This thing has survived everything and I adore it, am grateful to it, want to take care of it.  But insecurity still bites me with needle teeth.  It probably always will.  But the sting is less.  With time, it'll probably get to be merely irritating and I can live with that.  So hang in there, my brothers and sisters of circumstance.  Never let anybody say, "Oh, you're just insecure."  Insecurity is a monster.  Be George and get to slaying your own dragon.  I know you can do it.  I believe in you! 

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Laziness of Cruelty

Good news on the kitty front.  It now looks like a kitten and is even trying for a scamper or two.  Not strong enough to run, but it gives a great tail thrash.  Seeing this tiny creature now, and remembering what it looked like only a few days ago, makes me wonder at the sheer genius of Nature, and how quickly it can recover with only a few simple things: food, water, shelter and love.  Can you imagine what the world would be like if acts of kindness could spread as easily as disease?  If generosity and thoughtfulness were contagious?  In a way, they are.  We're all mammals, and mammalian instincts get us only so far.  Everything else is learned behavior.  I know that seeing somebody do something kind, even as simple as opening a door for somebody struggling with a package or baby stroller, makes me smile, even feel grateful.  I like proof, you know?  Proof that people are worth saving, so every random act of kindness reminds me of that fact.  I see it every day, too.  That's what's cool.  Overwhelmed by crap, panicking at super crap, rushing along on the tsunami of disasters and angst and financial worries and broken spirits, a small act of kindness can do so much.  It's like a super pill, a bright light in the day to day stress of living.  My beloved Marcus, who died in 2006, was a Marine in World War II.  He tells a story that reinforces the truth of how powerful kindness is.  On the island of Bougainville, in the South Pacific, Marcus was lying on a cot, wounded by grenade shrapnel and raging with dengue fever, unable to even sit up, when a Red Cross worker came up and offered him some dry paper to write home.  He was so grateful until the RC worker told him it was a dollar a sheet.  That'd be around twenty bucks or more today.  He told him to get the hell away.  The RC worker flounced away, pissed off.  Marcus laid there, shivering and miserable, and heard another voice say softly, "Hello, brother.  Would you like to write a letter home?  I have some paper."  Marcus snapped at him, saying he didn't have any money.  It was a Salvation Army worker.  The man seemed horrified that Marcus thought it would cost anything, and assured him that it was free, as much as he would like.  Suddenly shy, Marcus asked if he could write two letters, one to his mom and one to his wife.  So the Salvation Army man, seeing that Marcus was wounded as well as terribly ill, sat on the dirt floor of the tent and took dictation as Marcus composed the letters.  He mailed them, too, adding a post script to Marcus' letter, telling the wife and mother that he had seen their son/husband and what a brave, wonderful man he was.  Marcus never, ever forgot that.  With inhuman cruelty all around him during that terrible war, with enemy and comrade alike, himself included, Marcus never forgot that small act of humanity.  I think that cruelty is simply an act of laziness.  Kindness takes effort.  Wish me luck on making sure my own soul is buff when it comes to that.  If I exercise it every day, do some free weights of generosity and bench presses of philanthropy, I can make my tiny sphere of the world a better place, if only by a little bit.  Because kindness can go a long way.  That short twenty minutes of letter composing in the midst of war has lasted over sixty years and counting.  Bright versus dark.  Stars look like tiny pinpoints in the sky, but they're what makes us catch our breath, not all the darkness surrounding them.  Kindness is like that.  And for an insecurity addict like myself, I am always struggling to feel worthy of anything.  So I do something worthy every day.  Good luck to you all, and take care of yourself and those around you, bit by bit.  Let's turn kindness into a contagion that's desirable, that's popular.  Gandhi said that goodness always triumphs in the end over evil, and history has shown him correct.  Amidst all the darkness of humanity's crimes, there is a movement toward the light, a foothold on a slippery slope.  The pendulem has already begun to swing back, away from sarcasm and cruelty.  You can see it in the commercials on tv, even.  We're sick of meanness and greed, thoughtlessness and inaction.  People are moving, becoming brighter, lighting the way.  It's very, very cool.  It's possible to be fierce and kind at the same time. 

Monday, July 12, 2010

Kitty Update

Took the kitten to the vet today and the results were startling, to say the least.  The vet says he's two months old, less than one pound in weight, and if I hadn't seen him when I did, he would have certainly died within hours.  She said she couldn't believe he was alive at all.  He had virtually no blood pressure, a bad upper respitory infection, no mites or fleas so was probablly what she dubbed an "indoor torture toy" for the schmucks who tossed him out the window in the first place, and I also saved his vision by unsealing his eyes when I first got him.  She had an adopted cat who was blind for exactly the same reason.  So, thank you, powers that be, for putting me in the right place at the right time to witness the little tike winging out of the SUV.  They gave him antibiotics, an IV of fluids, blood tests said he doesn't have feline leukemia or AIDS and drops for his eyes.  He is already amazingly improved and even tried to haphazardly play with a bit of string on the floor about an hour ago.  A life, any life, is so precious and I'm so damn lucky to have seen him, and so lucky to have my dear friend Beth drive me to the clinic (North Shore Animal League, you ROCK) and my roomie for setting it up in the first place.  Now I have to stop typing because a certain straggly furball is begging for another syringe of baby food!  'Night.

Sunday, July 11, 2010


I'm probably misquoting here, but something happened yesterday that made me think of John Steinbeck's line: There are things that look out from behind human eyes, but they themselves are not human.  No kidding.  I was on my way to work, walking in the rain, enjoying the cool mist after such a long heat wave here in New York, when I saw an SUV stop in the middle of the road and throw their garbage out the window.  I was about half a block away, thought, "Pig" and continued forward, planning on taking their lunch bag or take-out junk or whatever trash it was and tossing it in the Subway outdoor garbage can, which was nearby.  As I reached the spot, there was no garbage, no bag, nothing except...a kitten.  A teensy, tiny, mewling, starved and filthy little kitten.  The scum suckers had thrown it right out the window and driven away.  If I'd known what it was, I would have memorized their license plate number so I could report them.  I picked the poor thing up and thought at first that his eyes were burned or something because they were still closed and gluey looking.  I ran to the 711 down the street, bought a can of wet cat food and proceeded to coax the little sack of bones to eat.  I called work and told them what happened.  They were great, said, "take care of the cat and don't worry about it."  Then I took it home.  Right now, I'm ridiculously poor; I rent a room in a house and don't even have a car so I was sweating bullets about what to do.  Thankfully, my landlady, who is awesome beyond words and owns three cats herself, knew what to do.  As I bathed and dried him, she went to the store and got supplies.  She's already called some pet rescue places which will look at the kitty tomorrow and give it a checkup and maybe even shots for a nominal fee.  I swabbed his eyes all night (yep, he's a boy) and hydrated them with drops, coaxing him to eat a tiny thimbleful of food, which he did about every hour or so.  It was very scary during the night because he was so still and producing so little body heat that I thought he was dead.  Well, today he perked up enormously, eating like a pig, taking a teeny dump in his new litter box, and valiantly trying to cover it up even though he was barely able to stand.  I adore him.  We're going to try and adopt him out once he's got some meat on his bones.  He's a pretty little silver tabby, looks to be about five weeks old but I'm not sure.  His eyes are much better than they were even yesterday so I suspect dehydration as the culprit.  Hopefully, anyway.  Wish me luck on his recovery and swift adoption to a good home.  I'll keep you posted on his progress as time goes on. Good thing I like to walk in the rain.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Rending and Tearing

Hello, all.  For anybody who's ever had anything they've written edited, it's usually a rending and tearing experience.  FREAK, my upcoming memoir, is now being edited and I am in the usual state of flop sweat terror and semi-irritated self righteousness, all before seeing an edited word.  When you finally get the manuscript back, scrawled with the dreaded red marker, emotion sets in.  After the initial hop-skip-and-jump rage dance, at first directed toward myself (how could I have misspelled "myopic?"  ARGH!!), one can then proceed on passing the buck of anger toward the hapless editor.  What do you mean, that part's not necessary!  That's my baby!  You're an IDIOT!  A few days pass, you absorb the suggestions, realize you overreacted when you fantasized about burning the whole manuscript and sending her the ashes, and you get to work on deciding what's a good suggestion and what's not.  For an insecurity addict like me, that's the hardest part.  Insecurity likes to whisper your own shortcomings 24/7, letting you know that everything you do is crap, and oh,'re fat and ugly too and you have no sex appeal.  And if you have any kids, they hate you.  So do all your friends.  So, resist that pissy little voice, wipe the shit off your mental glasses, and work on seeing things clearly.  You're a miracle, no matter how low and skuzzy you might be at the moment.  Pick yourself up, make an effort to say something nice to youself every day (even if nobody else does and you don't believe it anyway), do one little act of kindness for someone else, and move forward.  If you want to feel worthy, then become worthy.  It's a slow process but you can do it. 

Now I should apologize for egging my editor's car...just kidding.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

The Beginning

Hello, out there in cyberland.  I have begun this blog as a means to get the word out about dumbass thought patterns and false self beliefs.  I have been the victim of abuse from infancy, as were my parents, grandparents and great grandparents.  My father has traced abuse back in our family two hundred far.  He's done this by reading newspaper accounts, arrests, and family letters, etcetera.  I am forty eight years old and have been divorced twice: once from a two year marriage, and recently from a fourteen year one.  After years of counseling others by telling my own crazy story, I have written a memoir entitled: FREAK: The True Story of an Insecurity Addict.  It'll be in print and on audio by the end of this year.  I wanted to show all my brothers and sisters of circumstance that, having been shattered by a crappy childhood, there are other options than crack whore, homicidal maniac, or brow-beaten miserable loser.  I fully realize that many struggle beyond their past and don't end up as one of the above life styles, but my book isn't for the ones who've succeeded, but the ones who've failed.  Like me.  I spent forty years trying to get past my own insecurities, but I was a hamster in a wheel; running and running but getting nowhere.  What sets me apart from the majority of my family is the fact that I never turned to drugs or alcohol.  For that, I'm REALLY lucky.  I just watched the descent of so many family members into cheesy-lipped addiction and God-awful behavior that instead of joining in, I became adamantly opposed to drugs.  As a kid, I was abused in all the ways possible: physically, mentally, sexually.  By the time I was in high school, I could pick an abused student out of the crowd easily and gravitated toward them, wanting to save them, wanting to show them that it was okay, they could get past them, the future didn't have to be this.  But it didn't stop me choosing people for my own life who were abusive.  Not physically; that's something that makes me nuts even today and I won't put up with it.  But that was the net that caught me.  I thought that, as long as my husband didn't beat my kids or me, do drugs or drink excessively, that it wasn't too bad.  I thought my two children were fine, would make it, even while their dad treated them terribly with pretty extreme mental abuse.  By the time my daughter was sixteen, she was suicidal and my son was on drugs.  Right under my nose.  My insecurity had put my own children into danger.  So I left my husband, got my daughter out of there and put my son in rehab.  The last eight years have been spent cleaning up a pretty big mess.  But it's cleaned up now and I want to help other idiots like me to see the good in themselves, to understand that no matter how low you are now, how disgusting a skank you might be, there is always hope for the future.  You can change.  If a moron like me can do it, anybody can.  So take care, look at yourself without rose or shit-colored glasses but clear eyes, and see what's really there:  Potential.  Magic.  Gold.  Start digging. 

Sunday, July 4, 2010

A Blind Eye

When you first discover your own child is mixed up with drugs, it’s a hard thing to absorb. Most people, myself included, go through an absurd period of denial.  “He was just experimenting. I caught it in time. He’ll outgrow it.”   
     When the school principal told me he suspected my fifteen-year-old son Leland was using drugs, I first reacted with anger. How dare you? Then I went home and sat in the dark, arguing with that deep hidden feeling; the possibility that he might be right. So, I tricked my boy into taking a urine test. I’m a realist. No use getting upset until we have the facts. 
     The lab results were the stuff of nightmares: Leland tested positive for marijuana and cocaine. When I confronted him about it, he laughed. “Everybody smokes weed on the weekends, Mom. That was the first time I ever tried coke. My friends sprinkled it on my blunt while I was rolling it. Don’t worry. I didn’t like it. I’m not stupid enough to do it again.” 
     Thankfully, I wasn’t convinced. The school principal suggested Daytop, a drug rehab center for adolescents. So, I dragged Leland in for the interviews. It was a terrifying place: a cinder block cracker box with no windows, and kids as young as twelve hysterically begging counselors for anything, even “a sip of cough medicine.” Leland and I were interviewed separately, and at the end of the day, I’d enrolled him in the daycare program. He would be at the facility from seven in the morning until five in the evening, but be able to come home at night.
     Leland was less than enthusiastic. He countered with frantic arguments about my ruining his future, teaching him how to use “serious” drugs by putting him in contact with all those addicts, and the destruction of his life by my poor judgment. He called his dad Peter, a physics professor, and roped him into the fight. My ex-husband tried logical reasoning, telling me I was going to destroy any hope Leland had of a decent college if I did this to him. But our son hadn’t seen his dad for over a year, and Peter was going on blind faith in his son’s abilities. He didn’t know, and wouldn’t believe, how far Leland had sunk. 
     Personally, I struggled with my own sense of responsibility toward my child and a need to keep him from the worst scourge of the modern age. What I didn’t realize was that Leland was lying. He’d already been using heavily for four years. Baby junkies. The new trend. 
     I wrote a poem once about Leland’s drug use; a maudlin bit of self-pity and sorrow. Not very practical. It was rather like stating the obvious. Of course my heart was broken. Of course it was the worst time of my life. But where’s the good in that? How is that going to help me, or anyone else? I had to find a way to show other parents how dangerous a blind eye can be.
     So, eight months after Leland began his rehab stint, I started lecturing about the red flags I had ignored in my boy’s behavior, the glaringly obvious warning signs of drug abuse. I wasn’t interested in discussing how terrible the experience was. I was interested in educating other parents so they wouldn’t have to go through the same thing. 
     You hear the term “tough love” all the time, but it’s amazingly difficult to enforce. When dealing with a drug addict, it’s pretty much impossible without outside help.
     The first problem I had was with my own instinct for privacy. Oh, keep it in the family, this is nobody’s business. Don’t tell. I can handle this. 
     Wrong. If your kid had cancer, would you be thinking that way? No. You’d take your child to an oncologist immediately. To a professional. Drug addiction is as dangerous an enemy as cancer, although I don’t consider it a disease. It’s a willing self-destruction, where the addicts themselves become the virus. Users hate doing drugs alone, and pushers give out freebies to anyone who brings them new clients. That’s how it spreads. “Don’t knock coke ‘til you’ve tried it.” One addict I know addicted his entire high school soccer team that way. Peer pressure and charm. “I don’t get tired on the field because I do a few lines first. Here. Try it.” Children are the easiest to corrupt when it’s fellow children doing the corruption. The old days of sinister pushers in scandalous clothing are over. Today’s pushers are classmates. “Did you know cocaine helps you lose weight? How about some speed? That’s the main ingredient in diet pills, anyway. Heroine is an appetite suppressor. Here’s an eight ball for the prom. You’ll fit into that dress or tuxedo if you do this. You won’t even want to eat. Want to stop being such a shy nerd? Try some of this. You won’t be afraid of anything or anybody, ever again. Depressed? This’ll fix it.” That’s the kind of conversation swirling around our schools every day. They know what will get the kids to use, because they’re children, too. Free samples for everyone.  
     And it happens right under the adults’ noses. Non-users simply don’t recognize the behavior of users until it’s too late. The warning signs are often shrugged off as depression, lack of physical activity, or plain old teenage angst. Mass vomiting at school, for example, is usually misunderstood as a particularly violent strain of flu or food poisoning, when it could be free methadone tablets handed out at lunch. Itching is a side effect of many drugs, especially heroine. Paranoia and a short fuse are symptoms of cocaine. Do you find cigar butts around your property when you don’t smoke them, or loose tobacco in the trash can? Somebody’s rolling blunts: cigars carefully unwrapped, the tobacco scooped out and replaced with marijuana. My son smoked blunts which helped cause his heart attack at fourteen. He filled the blunt with hydroponically grown marijuana, sprinkled it with cocaine, then soaked the whole thing in liquid angel dust. He smoked three to six of these a day, along with his other habits.  
     After first experimenting with liquor at a friend’s house (I don’t drink), Leland started smoking marijuana because he had a nervous stomach and insomnia. An advanced placement “brainiac,” Leland had a genius IQ and a problem with worrying about everything. Liquor just exacerbated the problem. After trying “weed,” it became his gateway to being cool. His nervous stomach disappeared; he could sleep through the night. Other kids accepted him, admired him, and when he started on the cocaine, all trace of his pathological shyness disappeared.  He talked back to teachers, protected other students from being ridiculed, and considered drugs to be the best friend he’d ever had. Now, effortlessly, every social problem could be solved by sniffing, snorting, shooting, or swallowing something.  He had new friends, cool friends, and the teachers were afraid of him. His new personality was as addictive as what he was ingesting, and there was no way he was going to give it up. 
     My own problem started with denial. I was going through a particularly nasty divorce from my husband, and I initially blamed Leland’s moodiness and sarcasm on the breakup. After all, when I questioned him about it, that was the reason he gave for his antisocial behavior. “Come on, Mom. I’m just having a hard time with the divorce. I know Dad was rough, and I don’t blame you for kicking him out, but he’s still my dad. It’s just hard, that’s all. Be a little patient, huh?” 
     I believed him, and even felt guilt about putting him through all the divorce trauma. So, I reassured Leland that he had my support, and that I was glad he was making so many new friends, even spending the night with his new buddies. Before the divorce, Leland had always been too shy for sleepovers and parties. Now he was going out a lot, and I rejoiced that he was learning such important social skills. Maybe his friends could snap him out of his funk. 
     Denial takes many forms. My personal choice of denial was my own insecurity. Since I’d never done drugs or turned to drinking, and my childhood had been far worse than Leland’s, it never occurred to me that my brilliant son would ever do anything so stupid as drugs. I’d drummed it into both my kids’ heads since they were tiny, that drugs and alcohol were bad. My daughter Rhianna, the eldest, had never been interested in any of that nonsense, so I took it for granted that my son wasn’t, either. 
     Symptoms of the addiction showed themselves early, but I didn’t know what to look for. Hiding out in his room, snapping at me for nonsensical things, loss of appetite and weight; all of these made me uncomfortable, but I decided to persevere and wait for my once cheerful son to return.
     Discussions with my friends were no help. They laughed at my trepidation and told me to relax. Leland was a typical teenager. “Don’t worry. We all went through our wild period. He’ll grow out of it.” 
     Experimentation as a youth is often looked at with a sort of whimsical fondness, a laugh and shake of the head remembrance that few parents want to admit to. High school, college, short-lived partying before getting serious and going to work; these were the common “coming of age” stories so many adults think of when they look back at their own lives. But the fact of the matter is, people who did drugs and were able to stop when they “matured” are very, very lucky individuals, and the drugs of today are not the drugs of the past. Through genetic engineering and manipulation, the addiction properties have skyrocketed, and the common pusher is now a pre-teen. Just saying “no” doesn’t work much, either. Open soda cans or bottles, fast food spiked when a kid’s distracted; it’s easy to drop something in a drink or sprinkle on an order of fries. Effortless. Most present adults weren’t solicited by the time they were nine, the average age of today’s children. Childhood is being stolen from our kids, right under our noses. 
     So, if you discover your child is doing drugs, smoking weed, drinking on the weekends, understand that it’s like a cockroach. The one insect you see on the counter is a fraction of how many there actually are behind the wall. If your kid admits they’re doing a little, chances are there’s a lot more behind their wall, too. Get them in rehab immediately. Don’t believe anything they tell you. That’s the hardest part, because you want to believe a loved one. You want to honor them with your trust. But that kind of thinking is what helps so many of our precious young die from overdoses every day. Get them tested, get them the right counseling, and brace yourself for a whirlwind of horror and rage. Rehab facilities treat everything from residential, hardcore users to after school-once-a-week discussions. Parents willingly drive their kids to soccer practice or other activities. If you can’t get a  school bus, be willing to drive them to rehab. Let your child know you’re serious and don’t give in until the professionals think he or she’s ready to return to normal life. The consequences of simply believing your beloved child can be catastrophic. My son had a friend in rehab; a bright kid, the same age, with a cocaine addiction, just like my boy. They hatched a plan to torment both their parents into signing them out. They agreed to keep nagging until we all gave in. I refused, but the other set of parents didn’t. They signed their boy out, grateful and happy to have him back, relieved that the worst was now over. In less than a week, their sixteen-year-old boy was dead from a crack overdose. The only crime the parents committed was that they loved their child and believed him when he said he was all better. Just because you can’t visually see addiction doesn’t mean it isn’t a malignant nightmare. Hold on, and finish the regimen. A drug addict is a low down, dirty dog. They have no nobility, no honor, no honesty or principles. They will say anything, do anything, to keep using. Until you realize that terrible truth, you can’t help them. And drug addiction is an epidemic responsible for most of the crime committed in this country. Do what you can for the children. My boy, so far, is one of the lucky ones. He’s a junior in college now, with a 3.8 GPA in physics, and he’s been clean for five years. Keep your children safe and your eyes open, no matter what horror you might see, and never forget that this is, quite literally, life or death.