Archive for the ‘Sobriety’ Category

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Acceptance

December 26, 2011

The very first time my husband and I entertained together, we had only been dating a few months.  It was New Years Eve.  We went to the grocery store together to buy food and soft drinks, the package store for alcohol, then to his apartment to get ready.  As soon as the groceries were put away, Bob said he had to run an errand and would be right back.  I didn’t ask any questions and kept cleaning as he walked out the door.

A few hours later he returned, more excited than I had ever seen him.  He found a vintage guitar and wanted to buy it.  As he paced around, I encouraged him to go back and get it before someone else bought it.  When he came back a few hours later, the apartment was clean, the prep work was done on the food, and all that was left to do was cook.

Seventeen years, fifteen guitars and countless parties later, Bob still disappears on the day we have company.  Each time he says he will be there to help, and each time he comes rushing in just an hour or two before company is expected to arrive.  He does the cooking and he entertains as he does it.  This Christmas Eve while I was home preparing a Feast of Seven Fishes for twelve people, he was at the galvanizing plant watching zinc melt.

I could hear myself yelling above the sound of the vacuum cleaner, “seventeen years and he is never here to help me get ready for a party, why should this party be any different…”  I was so mad.  Then I stopped.  The next voice I heard was my oldest brother saying the eulogy at my mother’s funeral.  He was telling the story of how my father would always come home late on Christmas Eve because he would stop on the way home to visit his friends.  My brother said, “Ma would get so mad…this happened every year.”

When Bob finally got home, he was so excited.  He said “the kettle didn’t crack and the temperature was at 850 degrees, right where it needs to be.  Everything is going according to plan, the zinc should all melted and we will be ready to galvanize product on Tuesday.  What do you need me to do?  I was thinking I would dust the guitars.”  I tried not to be mad and replied, “Do what you want, I will have everything ready, all you have to do is cook and entertain.”

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Searching

September 27, 2011

I talk a lot, but I don’t say much.  I am actually pretty shy.  Keeping secrets is a shortcoming.  Not secrets about you, secrets about myself.  Many people, even those closest to me, do not know very much about me.  They are often surprised to find out even seemingly ordinary things about me.  But there are people, those I know and those I have never met personally, who tell me my secrets.  These short stories are about some of those people.

“Honey, what are you going to do about your marriage?”

“My marriage?”

“I could see you’re not happy.  You’re too young to be unhappy.”

Was it that obvious?  He was quiet.  He didn’t talk very much during our visit up east, to me or anyone else.

“I am not making any decisions right now.”

“Maybe you should get some counseling.”

She only stands shoulder high, but her presence is undeniable.  When she smiles her teeth mash together as she crinkles her nose.  It was impossible to avoid eye contact when she talks.  She is my aunt.

Memphis had a tough start to life.  He was aggressive, and I could not control him.  I came very close to putting him to rest.  When he was only a few months old, he would go from sleeping peacefully in my lap to violently attaching the other dogs, Boston in particular.

To manage his behavior and to keep the other dogs safe, I strategically placed baby gates, crates and air horns throughout the house.  At the time, trying to manage the situation was all I could do, while I uncovered the cause of the behavior and to modify it.  I used special collars and leashes, changed his food, gave him supplements and adhered to strict rules and routines.  I would not let any of the other dogs stare at him; they learned to look away and not make eye contact.  Things improved, but there were still fights.

When Memphis would get into a fight, my first concern was always safety.  I didn’t want anyone to get hurt.  My second concern was all of the dogs’ emotional states.  I worried that Memphis was insane and that it was affecting the other dogs.  They all learned to be cautious around him, but were they scared and unhappy too?

My mother liked to play bingo.  This was the only time she ever went to church.  Every Tuesday, she would ask one of us in the house to go with her.  The answer was always no, but she went anyway.   Bingo was for old people, it couldn’t be much fun. One week she couldn’t drive, I don’t remember why; but I agreed to take her.  I was nervous, not knowing what to expect.  When we arrived at the church, we stood in line, waiting for the doors to open.  It was important to get there early, so she could get her “usual seat.”  The desk in the hall had piles of bingo cards on it.  People bought a hundred of them.  My mother got her cards, and I began to sweat.  “I’m with her,” I said.  “I’m just going to watch.”

I followed my mother down the long hall into a huge room full of tables and chairs.  We sat down in her usual spot.  She spread out some of her cards.  They were made of newsprint, so she took some tape out of her bag and taped them to the table.  In her bag was also two plastic bottles of ink, a bright red wand with a magnet in it, lots of red translucent markers, and cash.  She took one of the bottles of ink and dabbed the free, center square of the nine cards in front of her, then placed the bottle down.  She was ready.

Memphis had not gotten into a fight in almost four months.  Then one night, Memphis and I were sleeping and I rolled over onto him and woke him.  He instantly stood up on the bed, looked me straight in the eyes and froze.  I was sure he was going to kill me, so I was quietly making a plan to defend myself.  Then, just as suddenly as he’d stood, he looked away, shook, jumped down off the bed, circled a few times, then got back on the bed, laid down and went back to sleep.  He shook it off and was now sleeping! I could not close my eyes.  This was the moment when I knew he was better, this was the moment I saw him look away.

“N32 . . . B14 . . . G50.” The man calling the numbers was on a stage with a round basket next to him, and a large sign with numbers and letters above him.  The sign would light up each time he spoke.  “B1!”  Everyone in the room swiped their bottles down the B column and dabbed the corresponding square on their bingo cards.  No one spoke.  Their gaze was on the cards and their ears alert for one word.

“Only a few people know this: my husband is a recovering alcoholic.  He has been sober for three years.  It was hard for him to stop drinking, but he did it.  We are still adjusting to our new life.”

“Three years is a long time, honey.”  She said as she leaned in closer.

I wanted to tell my aunt everything but I couldn’t.

“I know, but right now he is focused on his work and staying sober.  I can wait.”

“Are you getting help, have you gone to meetings?  They really do help.”

How does she know about meetings? Look away, look away!

“Ya I go to meetings, we both do.  We are working on it.”

“That’s good…”  I don’t remember what she said next.  I was trying to hide my pain and fight the tears.

Finally, I said,  “when my parents had their 50th anniversary party, my mother said, ‘Fifty years, and they weren’t all happy.’  Well, how do I know if these are the years that aren’t so happy?”

“You know if you have a good foundation.  You have to be good to each other; but remember, you are responsible for your own happiness.”

BINGO!

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Hope

July 31, 2011

“I think you should get her thyroid checked.”

“Her what?”

“Her thyroid.  Goldens are not supposed to be this shy.  She may be hypothyroid.”

That conversation happened at a dog-training center.  We were talking about Virginia, when she was about two years old.  I was taking a class to prepare her for her Canine Good Citizen Certificate (CGC).  She did not approach strangers, she was uncomfortable when anyone pet her, and no one was allowed to touch her feet.  I just accepted that she was shy; I did not imagine it could be the result of a medical condition.  After a few weeks of have having every person I saw pet her, touch her feet, and give her a treat, I made a vet appointment.  Virginia learned to tolerate the attention, but was still never as accepting as a Golden Retriever should be.

“Who told you to get her thyroid checked?”

“Natalie.”

“The dog trainer?  Oh, . . . there is no need to test her thyroid.  If she had a thyroid problem, her coat would be thinner she would have dry skin, and be overweight.  Virginia is healthy.  She is just shy.  Some dogs are shy, even Golden Retrievers.”

Most people think I am outgoing, because I talk a lot and I have no trouble talking to strangers.  I am equally comfortable instructing a small group of adults and a gymnasium full of elementary students.  I do, however, have a problem making friends and forming long-term relationships.  I have only a few close friends.  Typically, I only contact them when things are going well.  When I hit a rough patch, I keep to myself.  The friends who know me best know exactly how long to leave me alone, until they call or visit to bring me back to life.

When I met Bob, we were working together in Charleston, South Carolina.  The company was recruiting people from all over the country to build a “World Class Manufacturing Plant.”  The first time he saw me, he told his friend, “Now, that’s trouble.”  At the time, I was married to someone else, so I said no the first time he asked me out.  The next time he asked, I said yes.  My husband was still living in Indiana, and it was becoming clear he was not planning on moving.  I was also realizing that I ran away from him, as much as I went to a new job.  When it came to fight or flight, I always chose flight.

Not long after that first date with Bob, my life changed dramatically.  I divorced my husband, moved in with Bob, got laid off from work, found a new job, and moved to Nashville.  During the time we were separated, Bob held our relationship together.  On several occasions, I said I could not handle a long-distance relationship and I wanted him to let me go.  He is a fighter.  He fought to keep his job and me.

Bob was the last one out of the building, when the plant closed 18 months later.  He got a job with the new owners in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and convinced me to come with him.  We got married 5 months later.  Bob and I stayed in Wisconsin from New Year’s Day to Valentine’s Day three years later, before moving to the Chattanooga area to build a manufacturing business.  We were working together again and I was happy, really happy, for 12 years.

Virginia did not pass her CGC; she failed, not on the touching tests, but on the separation test.  She did not like being left with Natalie for three minutes without me.  She pulled, barked and lunged on the leash to get to me across the training building.  I was not upset we failed; she wanted to be with me, and that meant more to me than a certificate.  After the test, Natalie recommended Virginia and I take her obedience class, saying that it would help socialize her.  So we did.

On the first night of class, a small, mixed breed dog leaned into her and growled.  Virginia fled under a table.  Then the dog blocked the entry into the training ring.  The dog’s owner did nothing to manage his dog, so I picked up Virginia and carried her over the threshold.

“Don’t pick her up.”

“She was afraid.”

Natalie said, “Put her down.  She needs to learn how to behave around other dogs.”

I thought, “What are you correcting me for.  The owner of the other dog did nothing when his dog chased her away.  That dog and owner need to learn how to behave around other dogs.  In the meantime, I am going to protect Virginia.”

I later learned that picking her up was the wrong thing to do, but for a different reason.  Picking a dog up like that makes the dog and the person the target for attack.  That did not happen.  Virginia was safe, which was all that mattered.  I have been teased and made fun of my whole life, and there were many times when I wished someone would pick me up and carry me to safety.  I didn’t pick her up anymore, but I did get her out of harm’s way every time she was threatened.

Three years ago, life took another turn.  The owner of Bob’s business sold it to some bankers.  The workplace was becoming hostile and he did not want me to get hurt; so Bob fired me.  For the first time, Bob started losing his grip on his work and his life.  So, Bob stopped drinking.  He withdrew into his work and his program.

While he was holding on to his job and his sobriety, I was holding on to him.  Then Virginia got cancer and died.   I felt so alone, I wanted to jump into the grave with her.  I cried for months.  I still cry.  Many of my friends believe I am having such a hard time with Virginia’s death, because I am mourning two losses: Virginia and my marriage.  Now my mother is dead.

Friends are asking how long I will stay with Bob.  He is hardly ever home and when he is, he barely talks to me.  He spends all of his time at work or at meetings.  They say, “It’s been 3 years of grief and it may be time to move on.”

They are right.  It is time to move on, I need to quit grieving not my marriage.  All my life, I have run away from my problems.  This time I want to stay.

I am feeling better.  Wisconsin is beginning to fill the space that Virginia once held.  She has brought play and joy back into the house, into my life.  I don’t feel alone anymore.  My mother is with me all the time now.  We are no longer separated by time and distance.  Bob is working hard to make a good life for us.  What I need to do is stop pulling against the leash.  He can’t pick me up; but if I wait, he will come to me.  Barking and lunging will not bring him closer.  I am moving on.  I am done grieving for my past, and I am staying right here.  This time, I will not flee.  I will fight.

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Grief

August 24, 2010

Dedicated to my dear friend Rainey and her dog Wolf

 

On the day the tumor ruptured and Virginia clung to the floor in her safe place, Bob was the first to come home.  He called me on my cell phone, I was on my home and he did not feel it was reasonable to tell me about it.  He did show alarm when I arrived.  Earlier that day, Virginia was slow retrieving her football.  This had happened a few times in the months leading up today.  I knew there was something wrong, but three different veterinary specialists said there was not.  I immediately called her vet and told them we were coming.  Bob carried her to the car and put her in. Bob did not go with us.  He had a meeting to go to and asked if I would be back in time for dinner.

This is a story of grief and loss.  Virginia’s story cannot be separated from Bob’s story.  But this is my story, not theirs, and I will do my best to keep it that way.

When I saw Bob for the first time, I told to stay away from him.  He was known at the ax man and everyone who he came in contact with got fired.  That explained why he was standing alone passing back and forth with a cigarette between his stained fingers.  I said yes when he asked me out weeks later even though I was married to someone else at the time.  I enjoyed working with Bob, sometimes working against him, and wanted to spend more time with him.  From the start he held on to life with white knuckles as he tried to build the business and a new life for himself.  After I divorced my husband and moved away, he continued to hold on.  Bob held our long distance relationship together for over a year until we were together again then got married.

Virginia loved the mornings.  She would greet me everyday with a smile.  She would sit on my chest and insist I pet her on her belly until I got out of bed.  In time, I saw the mornings through her eyes and came to love them with her.  I would let her outside with the other dogs to take care of her business.  She was always the last one back to the door.  Virginia never learned the business first rule, no life was too short, and she always played first.  After chow, she would lay on the couch with me while I drank my coffee.  If I didn’t pay enough attention to her, Virginia would stand up rub her face in the cushion and stomp her feet.  Not sure what she was trying to do but it got my attention.  We would laugh a bit, then she would lie down and I would go to work on my computer.

When I married Bob I knew that I would take second place to his work.  He did have a business first policy.  His work was important to him and that was okay with me.  There was enough of him left over for me.  We were always together.  We worked together and we danced together.  Every local band and bar tender knew us.  We enjoyed each others company.  That all ended in the months leading up to his sobriety.  He fired me from work for the third time.  Well, the second time, the first time he fired me, I didn’t technically work for him.  The business was becoming hostile.  Bob was losing his grip as the alcohol and the bankers wore him down.  I could only watch as the alcohol softened his brain while the bankers hardened his soul.

My biggest fear when Bob went into rehab was he would come out a jerk.  I decided I would rather have 10 good years with him than 30 bad ones.  We had what appeared to be a very loving relationship.  After ten years of marriage, many of the people we met thought we were newly weds.  But Bob was deteriorating.  None of his forefathers lived past 65 and that milestone was only ten years away.  Every time I asked him to stop drinking his response was always the same “not going to happen”. So imagine my surprise the day he answered “okay”.  I knew Bob.  I knew he meant it.  I knew he was going to stop drinking.

Virginia loved to ride in the car.  She would lie down and hold her head up so she could see out the window and get some fresh air in her mouth.  She would smile in anticipation of where we were going.  That day on the way to the vet, she had a different kind of smile; the kind I knew meant pain.  We both knew this was not a ride like the hundreds we had taken together before.  She went to agility shows and demonstrations with me, to elementary schools and to visit friends and family.  No this ride was different.  It was the beginning of a new journey we would take together.  The very next day she was able to walk to the car following emergency surgery.  They wouldn’t tell us how long they thought she would live.  I was hoping for at least four days I got six months.

At the time we put Virginia to rest, Bob had been sober for nearly 2 years.  In that two years the only time he really hugged me or showed any emotion was the day we buried her.  Even today as they are trying to bury his business, he is emotionally bankrupt.  Before he was born, alcohol took over the part of his brain that controlled emotions.  Without alcohol he has no emotions.  Many wives of drunks lost their husband to alcohol, I lost mine to sobriety.  Virginia was my dog.  She was one of four dogs in our house, but Virginia was mine.  She filled that place that Bob held for the first ten years of our marriage.  She loved me unconditionally, as I now try to love Bob unconditionally.  I want to be like her.  Even in pain, she loved.  She greeted every day with a smile.  I try, I really try, but I have not smile for him.

Grief is like a bright orange life vest.  It weighs heavy on my chest, but somehow keeps my head above water.  It is so heavy, sometimes I cannot breathe, but it reminds me of when Bob would hold me tight as we danced well past midnight in the bars and night clubs and of Virginia sitting on my chest each morning.  As I long for the past, grief floods my mind with memories of Bob and Virginia.  But it won’t let me sink into despair.  It pains me to keep me in the present.  It is stronger than pain or love.  Perhaps it is all that is left when the pain is over and the love is gone.  Grief is mine.  And I will hold on to it with white knuckles until a greater love comes to take its place.