Follow the Creek

So I’m at a reunion for one of the many treatment facilities I’ve attended in the last several years. One of the staff here has been generously open about his recovery journey of over 30 years. Today he shared a story from his past that really touched me.  

One of the elders from his native faith tradition, during a time in which he was experiencing deep personal struggle, told him cryptically, to simply “Follow the Creek.”.   That’s it, no elaboration. As was tradition in his faith, he knew not to question the advice given, but simply to ponder it for at least three days and three nights.  But after the elapsed time, he felt exasperated by the cryptic advice, and returned to the elder in frustration, begging for further wisdom.  The elder relented, with the following explanation.
The Creek always wanders – sometimes East, sometimes West. It never follows a straight path. But it unfailingly heads towards it’s destination. This is like your recovery. You may wander, you may veer off course in one direction or another at times. But if you continue to Follow the Creek, you can rest assured that you will never truly be lost, and eventually you will reach your destination. 

Friends, I’ve veered off course so many times in the past year, and lately I’ve become afraid that I’ve lost sight I’ve my destination.  But today, listening to this story, I realized something. I’m still FOLLOWING THE CREEK.  

Yes, I’m struggling to eat right now. That’s the damned truth of it. I’m lucky if I eat what amounts to half a meal a day at this point. I’m fighting with my kid every day, still trying to reassert my role as parent after the chaos of active addiction over the past year.  I’m fighting off a deep depression, feeling defeated by circumstances that feel out of my control.

But I haven’t given in. I’m sober. I’m working my steps. I’m at this reunion, trying to reconnect to what made me go to eating disorder treatment in the first place. I’m trying to use all the tools I’ve learned in my decades of therapy to remind myself that my mood is maleable and I CAN choose happiness.  I’m trying to honor E’s life, my lovely little spitfire, by creating a life full of… Well, LIFE.

So, for this moment, I’m grateful. Grateful that I was placed in this moment in time, to hear this story, and receive this reminder.  Thank the Universe I’m still following my Creek. Wherever it’s leading. 

Let the journey begin.

Painting Over the Wallpaper

2011.  That’s the last time you heard from me.  It’s gonna be hard to put things into a nutshell for you, but I’m gonna try to get you up to speed.  For the sake of context I’ve left my original “Wallpaper” post from 2010 alive on this blog – but all other posts from 2010/2011 have been deleted.  They are no longer relevant to my life today.  Alright, buckle up…

When you last heard from me, I was living in a poly family in a small town in the Midwest.  Yeah, that crashed and burned.  All for the best really.  Our other partners moved out and S and I ended up sharing the house with my daughter N for several years as a happy little family.  So happy in fact, that we decided to add to our little family.  In October of 2011, I conceived with the help of a known donor so that we could expand our circle.  But in December, I suffered a miscarriage.  This was perhaps one of the most devastating experiences of my adult life up until that point. I sank into a deep depression, and dove into the bottle of prescription Vicodin they prescribed me for pain after my D&C procedure.  I didn’t fully come out of the depression for almost a three years.  I also got incredibly ill, first with pneumonia, then with chronic pain, and finally with fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.  I ended up filing for first Short Term Disability, then Long Term, and finally Social Security.  I’m still on it to this day.

Meanwhile, we sold the house and moved back to the city.  S struggled with her own depression after losing our son.  I dove further and further down the rabbit hole of prescription pill addiction.  My mother, who was dying of COPD and under hospice care, eventually had to move in with us.  I began pilfering her medication to feed my habit.  Finally, in October 2014, the shit hit the fan.  When talking to my then therapist, I dropped the bomb that I was stealing mom’s meds.  I was immediately sent to rehab.  It was the best decision at the time.  With the help of AA, I stayed sober for 19 months.

But… other behaviors began rearing their ugly heads almost immediately.  The opiate withdrawals made it almost impossible to eat.  And I remembered how much I liked the feeling of not eating and drastic weight loss that had followed my gastric bypass in 2008.  But this time I took it waaaaaay further. I dropped 75 pounds, and fast.  (I had gained a bit back in my battle with depression so I had it to lose, but still…)  I ended up for the next 19 months in and out of treatment for atypical anorexia.  (Meaning I was too fat to be ACTUALLY anorexic, but I had all the other characteristics.)  I was clean and sober, but battling for my life on other fronts.  And all the while S was at home caring for my dying mother and my daughter N.  Not happy making for a fiancée.

While I was in treatment at an ED (Eating Disorder) clinic in 2015, I met E.  I was drawn to her right away.  She was mercurial to say the least.  Laughing and bouncing off the walls one minute, with flashes of hot anger the next.  She was in recovery from heroin addiction, and we became fast friends.  After I left the EDC, much to everyone’s surprise and some’s chagrin, we stayed friends. (Lots of treatment friendships don’t last.)  Months later, she relapsed and called S and I for help getting out of the situation with her abusive, using boyfriend.  I was in treatment at the time in St. Louis, but S immediately drove the three hours to get her, and moved her into our living room.

When I returned home a month later, we spent every minute together.  It didn’t take long for us to fall in love.  S and I were still in an open/poly relationship, so everything was above-board.  What WASN’T above-board was the fact that E and I started shooting up together just a month after we started dating.  It started with just the hint of a suggestion, and I was off to the races.  Neither of us were eating, and we were using IV crack cocaine nearly every day, and heroin when we could score it.  Speedballs.  It didn’t take long before we both OD’d and everything came out in the open.  S and N were devastated.  And the second time it happened, E ended up on life support for two days.  That’s when we swore off heroin for good.  So I went to detox, and E went to Intensive Out Patient (IOP).  And eventually we went back to using crack.  We just couldn’t get clean altogether.  The drugs were what fueled our relationship, our sex life, everything.  Like true addicts, we thought we could keep using if we just did the “safer” drugs.

E was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder.  This made our relationship pretty tumultuous, and she struggled with loads of insecurity and jealousy.  Eventually, E became intensely fearful that I would marry S and drop her (we were set to be married on 10/15/16) and I became so fearful of losing E and the lifestyle that we were living, that I broke off the engagement with S.  That was the last straw with the long-suffering S – she moved out weeks later.  Without S around as my reality check and anchor, E and I went nuclear in our drug use.  The days and nights blurred together.  We both began having seizures regularly.  Not that that stopped us.   I barely managed to get N fed and to school everyday.  I used all day when she was gone and all night when she was in bed.  I hustled in ways I’m ashamed to admit to this day to earn money.  I stole to keep food on the table because all cash went to drugs.  We were about to lose our apartment because we could no longer afford it without S.  My life hit bottom.

Then in July of 2016, I received a call from a stranger, informing me that she was my step-sister and that my father had passed away suddenly from a suspected heart attack.  And that he had left me a SIZEABLE inheritance.  I was in shock. Problems solved!  I scrambled the next three weeks to get all the paperwork Ps and Qs in order.  And on August 30th, I had cash in my hand.  That night, we bought $600 worth of crack to celebrate.  And that night E overdosed.  And died.

And a part of me died with her.

It’s 11 month later.  I wish I could say I got clean after E died, but I didn’t.  I buried my pain in drugs for another 8 months.  I ended up almost dying myself after a couple grand mal seizures and a bout with sepsis.  If I never see the inside of a hospital again it will be too soon.

But – I JUST CELEBRATED 90 DAYS CLEAN LAST WEEK.  This time I am working the program of NA.  I wouldn’t be clean without it.  I attend 3-5 meetings a week, and I have a great sponsor, D, who I call pretty much daily.  I am living in a small 2 bedroom apartment with N.  S and I are good friends again, but things are still strained sometimes.  I hurt her pretty badly.  My best friend in the program, H, just moved into the building next door, and she’s who I spend most of my days with nowadays.  We keep each other on the straight and narrow.  N and I have a little chihuahua/terrier mix named JoJo.  He’s an Emotional Support Animal (ESA) for N, who needs it after being through all the trauma she’s been through in the last few years – divorce, death, moving around, etc.   I go to ED/trauma therapy with a woman named A twice a week, and I do adjunct addiction and art therapy every few weeks as well.  A is encouraging/supporting me through the process of writing the first draft of my memoir.  The updating of this blog is a part of that process – which I’m sure you’ll hear more about in coming days.

I have a lot of gratitude these days.  There’s a lot of good happening in my life.  I’m applying for a mortgage – hell, I may not get it cuz I messed things up pretty good financially there for a while, but I’m lucky that I even have a shot.  I’m trying to take a trip to Costa Rica with N.  I have the money to pay my bills.  I have clean and sober friends, a fully-paid-off car, a roof over my head, food in my fridge.  I still struggle with the ED.  I rarely eat more than one meal a day.  It’s something A and I are working on.  I miss E every damned day.  Right now I’m planning a Memorial Celebration of Life for the one year anniversary of her passing, August 31st.  It’s got me pretty depressed, to be honest.  But I need to honor her memory.  And maybe finally find some closure now that I’m doing it clean.  I’m sure you’ll hear more about that in the future as well.

The truth is, I’m doing alright. And that’s a damned miracle.

Well, that’s it folks, that’s enough, and more than enough.  Thanks for sticking in this long.  I’ll be back with some actual (and much shorter) blog posts in the future.

Peace to you, friends.

In which I attempt to show you the wallpaper of my life…

I promised background.  It’s only fair – if expect anyone to read anything I’ve written, it must involve a little baring of the soul, right?  But since I wrote that sentence the other day, I’ve been procrastinating.  Where do I start?  What if I try and describe my ridiculously complicated life and end up writing one dry, boring run-on epic drama that no one can even get through let alone be inspired to read more of??  Oh wait, there I go…

So fuck all the emotional angst.  I’ll just take a running leap.

I grew up on the state line between IL and WI, in a little armpit of a city notorious for their insanely high crime rate.  Despite this ghetto-like reputation I led an oddly middle-class life; well it appeared that way anyway.   A fat little black girl raised by two white parents wasn’t exactly inconspicuous.  I was ridiculously shy, horribly picked on, and completely unpopular.  I spent most of my non-school time with a after-school babysitter cum family friend and her kids, a woman I will always consider one of the most motherly and loving influences in my life despite that fact that she was poor as hell and trying to escape her own physically abusive husband.

To sum up my parents, I will say this:  my (biological) mother was a self-absorbed borderline survivor of child abuse masquerading as a maverick “non-traditional student” and raging feminist at the local college.  This gave me unique access to a higher-learning institution at a young age, which at least fed my intellect, and gave me a firm foundation of being radically more… well, radical, than many folks I’ve met in my life since.  My (adoptive) father was an emotionally dead chauvinist incapable of expressing the slightest bit of affection and more interested in a trophy wife and an invisible child than the mouthy, troubled chicks with which he found himself living.  I avoided him like the plague, cried every time he spoke to me, and referred to him as “the Brick Wall” in private.  They found each other when I was three (after my my biological father cheated and ran away with his mistress), as broken people often find each other, and lived unhappily ever after for 15 years before divorcing when I was in high school.   Meanwhile, back at the ranch, my broken, self-absorbed parents failed to notice that I was being sexually and ritually abused on two different sides of the family.  Oops.  Their bad.

By 11, I was clinically depressed, had an active eating disorder, was a social pariah, and had a counselor recommending inpatient hospitalization.  No go – dad was a cheapskate.  But I learned the value of a good therapist and have seen one on-and-off for the last 25 years.   I had fantasies of running away all through junior high and high school; I kept a packed backpack in my closet ready to go and always made sure there were a pack of hotdogs in the fridge (which my warped adolescent mind was convinced was the perfect on-the-run food since they didn’t require cooking and were full of protein.)  I planned to make my living through prostitution.  In the end though I always chickened out, sure that as fat as I was that no one would pay money to have sex with me and I would starve to death on the street, rejected and homeless.

At 17 I left home for college, a small private affair that I wept and boozed my way through for two years before giving up and moving to the “big city”, an hour away.  But before I left, college opened my eyes to a lot of things.  I realized that I hated my parents and myself, came out as queer, began the first forays into dealing with “the trauma”, had my first menage a trois, started smoking, and grew as big as a house.  Exit college.

In Madtown, all hell broke loose.  The depression and PTSD reached full blossom after a few years of scraping by, and finally 1994 became my “year of insanity.”  5 suicide attempts, 7 mental hospitals, and scars on my arms and wrists that will never go away.  Cue violin music.  After a almost a year of that shit I finally realized that the mental health system was not designed for child abuse survivors, particularly survivors of extremely sadistic abuse, and was just as likely to kill me as help me.  Somehow I pulled myself up by my mental bootstraps, spent a few years working my way off of SSDI, and “made something of my life.”  I held down better and better jobs, started exercising a bit, sowed some wild oats while living in a house full of vegetarian coke-heads, went on a few dates, fell in love with a psychotic woman who faked brain cancer before dumping me, helped with some anti-pornography crusading until I realized that all that shit I was looking at was actually turning me on, did more college on-and-off and eight years later found myself single and knocked-up at 29 years old.

Everything changes when you have a child.  My life will forever be divided into pre-N, and post-N.  Now, I freely admit that I am probably a woman who should never have become a parent – I am hereditarily prone to self-absorption, scarred by trauma, and just now at 38 figuring out how to have fun.  To say a child cramps my style is an understatement.  But from the very beginning I tried to do it right.  I read a gazillion books on attachment parenting, breastfed her until she was 2, made our tiny home a place to say “yes” instead of “no”, bought her every classic children’s book I could afford, and co-slept with her every night in my futon.   But it is because of N that I know the universe has a sense of humor.  I ended up with a mini-me, or maybe more accurately a mini-would-have-been-me.  She is 8 now, and is fierce, sarcastic, loud, brilliant, temperamental, prone to fits of depression and low self-confidence, and an incredibly gifted ballerina.  She is a force of nature.  I would gladly die for her a million times over, and I have never loved anything with more soul-shattering devotion in my life.  And she drives me up the fucking wall.

Three and a half years post-N, I fell in love with a woman on the internet.  It worked, by god.  Actually worked.  (Hi Honey!)  She moved in with me less than a year later and we have been together ever since; we even had a commitment ceremony in September of 2007.   In so many ways, this has led to some of the happiest years of my life.  We are a FAMILY, K and N and me.  We love and take care of each other.  Cook dinner and do laundry.  I have lived more fully in the last 4 years than in my entire life.

But therein lies the rub.  The more fully me I became, the more truths I had to face about myself.  Before our wedding ceremony, my wife and I saw an alt-sex therapist for some pre-marital counseling.  Although we were referred to her as an LGBT couple, it became immediately obvious that one of the topics we needed to let out in the open and explore was our kink.  Luckily, this happened to be this particular therapists specialty.  Both my wife and I “came out” as kinky – she a submissive, me more of a switch with bottoming tendencies.  We entered the local kink scene arm and arm and never looked back.  I have made some of the most amazing friends, and truly astonishing discoveries about myself.

Next major life crisis please.  After being overweight and eating disordered all my life, and topping out at 375 lbs, I couldn’t ignore it anymore.  I was the elephant in the living room.  So in September of 2008 I underwent gastric-bypass surgery.   Today, I weigh around 175 lbs, which seems to be the right weight for me.  I could try and lose more, but quite frankly, I like my curves.  I am healthy.  I run and play with my daughter, and I can dance and climb stairs with the best of them.  I’ve started MMA-style grappling, and periodically attempt jogging and training for a 5K.  I am (fairly) content, most days.

Lastly, a year ago February I admitted to my wife that I am and always will be polyamorous.  She sorta knew this before we were married, but we both allowed ourselves to think marriage would dissolve this trait away.  I no longer believe this is possible – I view my inclination toward more than one love as just an inherent a part of my sexual persona as is my bisexuality.  After many hard months and brutally honest conversations, we seem to have made the transition to a poly couple fairly successfully.  I have even fallen in love again…

Which brings us to the present.  Last week, my wife and I moved in with S and A – another couple who are both my lovers.  We share a house 20 miles outside of the city.  It is about to become one of the most important experiments of my life.

Whew.  Criminy, that’s a lotta words.  If you made it all the way through, brava!  If you skimmed, well honestly, I forgive you.  Wallpaper, is just that, wallpaper.  The background.  Necessary canvas in front of which the current decor of our life is constructed.  It seemed necessary to put it out there, but I think I am done with the soul-baring epics for the time being.  We’ll now commence with our usual programming…