Dancing on the Dark Side Of the Moon

lab

“I don’t like standing near the edge of a platform when an express train is passing through.  I like to stand right back and if possible get a pillar between me and the train.  I don’t like to stand by the side of a ship and look down into the water.  A second’s action would end everything.  A few drops of desperation.”  – Winston Churchill

By Darin Barry

When I am in the labyrinth of bipolar depression, I am always reminded “it gets better” by therapists, psychiatrists, and loved ones. I call it a labyrinth because I am blinded with despair, murky, and unquiet thought, and I have many paths I can go down in trying to find my way back when in the midst of severe depression.  A wrong turn can often mean death to someone like me who suffers from bipolar one. Fifteen-percent of us, and thirty times more than the general population without psychiatric disorders, do end up taking our own lives.  Saying “it gets better” might seem sort of cheap, or at least overly simple, in terms of what to say to in attempting to coax someone out of suicidal thinking, but I can tell you from experience that it is not. Neither are the words “I care about you”, or “I love you.”

Bipolar depression is the biggest, and most dangerous enemy I have in life. It’s cunning, baffling, mysterious, powerful, and tells me lies when I am most vulnerable—lies that tell me I am without hope, without love, and living a life without meaning, or purpose. I have lived with bipolar disorder throughout my life, with symptoms manifesting strongly in my mid-twenties. Suicide attempts happened. The first time, my father saved me after a friend tipped him off that I may be in trouble. Dad burst through my bedroom door after I had not answered his knocking, and he found me weak, and trembling in a pool of blood. There would be other times, but each time I lived through a major depressive episode someone would reinforce the truth that “it gets better.”  It gets better is a truth that it’s extraordinarily hard to believe when my mind and body are betraying me. But Dad said it would, and told me he loved me when he left me with a sheriff deputy guarding my side in the E.R. all those years ago. He also said that God wasn’t finished with me yet. So with his love, and with me borrowing his faith, I carried on.

A lot of my behaviors were chalked up to drinking in my late twenties, and thirties. A lot of my behaviors where chalked up to environmental stressors as well.  After my first alcohol rehab, I lived with a serial killer’s family during his murder trail. One of Cary Stayners’ family members, my good friend Dana, brought me into the family fold working, and living with her in Mariposa, California the early part of the oughts. When Cary was sentenced to death, the Stainer family collapsed and so did I. I started drinking hard, and eventually hopped on my motorcycle heading north towards my hometown in the Lake Tahoe region of California. I did get sober again shortly after moving to Denver, Colorado. It was only by being sober a number of years, that the diagnosis of bipolar 1 was made.

For me, the 2000’s were a decade of concentrated tragedy. I was a mortician in Denver, Colorado when I found myself embroiled in a national funeral parlor scandal that brought news trucks waiting outside my house. I had a friend with H.I.V. related dementia froze to death on his way over to see me one night. I had no clue he had planned on coming over. My dear friend Mary bled out from alcoholism in my apartment. I found my brother dead on the toilet from a heroine overdose. My father succumbed to  Alzheimers, and my Mom died in my arms.

Of course, bipolar disorder has it’s other half of the story called mania. Being manic, quite frankly, although it can be just as dangerous as depression, is fun. Well, until it turns to rage it’s fun. Super creative moments come from it. The oughts were not totally terrible. Me and my little brother Gordon opened up a coffee shop and pub in Portland, Oregon. The Brews Brothers, our shoppe’s name, was a huge success. Gordon, and I did a 700 mile bike ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles. I landed a wonderful job as national field organizer for Rachel Maddow’s favorite activist group from the decade satirically named “Billionaires for Bush.” I had begun a strange hobby of appearing in television and film as a background actor, most often, and notably in Grimm, Portlandia, and The Librarians. I manically wrote and recorded a music C.D. playing everything except guitar. My photographs were published in a coffee table book. And, last but not least, I grew some amazing pot for fun and profit.

A relapse with alcoholism in 2015 didn’t stop until February of 2017, ending with me being jobless, homeless, and facing charges for driving under the influence. My recovery over the last year is another story; a wonderful story.

Through most of those years, I had experienced depressive episodes of various depths. Medication, counseling, education, support, and the beacon of hope that the notion of “it gets better” imparts, I got though most of my depressive episodes relatively unscathed, although, sometimes it took a long while to fully recover. I had learned to stay on top of my mental illness.

But today, at 51, I am picking up the pieces yet again. A few weeks back, I quietly entered my bedroom for the evening, and downed a whole bottle of prescription Lunesta, a sleep aid. It was all smiles that evening, I left people believing I was doing just great. But weeks had gone buy without me experiencing any real joy at all. My synthesizers were dusty, I had not written anything in months, it was absolute torture to socialize with even my closest of friends. The thing I looked forward to most, was when I could go home, close my bedroom door, shut the world out, not answer my phone, and be in the company of my cat, and sleep. I slept a ridiculous amount of time. Whenever I could. That night I decided to sleep permanently. I didn’t warn anyone. I didn’t ask for help. I just downed a bottle of sleeping pills, held Isabella, my cat, close, and closed my eyes for hopefully the last time. It was eerily spontaneous. It took seconds to get the idea, and to down the pills.

It was still dark when I woke up with a great pain in my throat. Barf was all over my chest, and the side of my pillow. I was experiencing a headache like no other I had ever had. Isabella was fully awake and sitting next to me wanting food. I momentarily felt guilty because I had made no provisions for her care after I died. “It gets better”. I knew this. I decided that I would get help when I felt good enough to move my body.

It wouldn’t be until about 48 hours later that I felt good enough to take action. I called my behavioral health case manager Fred. I told him that I needed to see my therapist and that I would also need to see my general practitioner. He picked me up and delivered me to both. At my physical doctors office, she directed staff to take me up to a wing of our local hospital called the Crisis Stabilization Unit. I have been no stranger to the C.S.U. over the years. It was usually comforting, but that day, I was just numb. A nurse there, Casey, is someone I always feel comforted by, but that day I didn’t care to even chat with him. In fact, when it was quiet, I just decided to bolt and just finish the job. Perhaps if I downed pills with alcohol, that would be the trick. I was on my way to do just that, when a police officer pulled onto the sidewalk behind me while I was walking down the street towards a grocery store to get the ingredients for a comfortable suicide. He kept me from going to the store, and gave me a ride back to the hospital. I no longer had my rights, I had been put on what is called a 5150. I wasn’t going anywhere, and I really didn’t want to be chased around. I just surrendered to the whole idea that I was going to be committed to a psychiatric facility for a few days. I was relieved. I was just tired of my own ideas and plans. I felt safe.

Monday rolled around, and an ambulance came to transport me to Telecare Eldorado County Psychiatric Health Facility, some two counties south of my own. It is some strange California State law that dictates an ambulance must transport behavioral health patients to a psychiatric hospital. It feels demeaning, and unnecessary, but I didn’t care. I didn’t care about anything anymore. Chad, the friendly EMT was a baby, probably barely in his twenties. During the course of taking my vitals, somewhere he had stated that he had always wanted to be an EMT. Another nerve was struck.

“I have never known what I was supposed to be doing.” I interrupted.

He asked me to clarify, and I basically said I was envious of people who were in step; those who to follow the classic 1950’s blueprint for living—get awesome grades in high school, marry your sweetheart, go to college, get a job that you are going to stay in for the rest of your working days, have kids, buy a two story house by the time you’re thirty, bank enough doe for retirement, and have grown kids that will hopefully take care of you when you can’t take care of yourself, drive a car, have money, and then leave some to your loved ones.

“I have been an abject failure in life. I change my direction every other year. I’m 51, only been sober for one year. I still don’t know what I am supposed to be doing.”

This would be a common theme during my ten day stay at the psychiatric hospital. I had, and still do have, to a degree,  a plethora of self-deprecating thoughts that include the words like “should have”,” should be”, “supposed to be”, “could be”, “have to be”, and “must”.

The psychiatrist asked, “Do you know why you are in our hospital Mr. Barry?”

“Because I downed a bottle of Lunesta in a failed attempt to end my life.  I am broken, and don’t know if I can be fixed this time. I don’t know if I want to be fixed.” I answer Dr. Singh. Then I add “I don’t know why you folks want to fix people that don’t want to be fixed. When I am out of here, the first thing I want to do is go buy some nighty-night pills, and maybe a bottle of Fireball to down it with. So, yeah, I can go through this time I have to be here— I can go through the motions, I can say all the right things,  I can be very patient. And when I am released, I will follow through.”

“So you still want to hurt yourself?”, Dr. Singh Asks.

“I don’t want it to hurt, I want to die painlessly. I suppose real men jump off bridges, or shoot themselves, but I fear becoming paralyzed, or end up in some vegetive state should those methods fail.”

“Darin, that is why you are here. We don’t want you to die. You live with bipolar disorder. You are deeply depressed, and you have been before, and you have emerged from it to see a new day once your depression has passed. Were you not grateful that you didn’t hurt yourself  when you cycled through depression in the past? You have to know by now that this is your mental illness talking. What is different this time?”

He has me on this one.  Briefly.  Dr. Singh continues; “Who are you closest to in your world?”

“Isabella Rossellini. And my brother, Gordon. Not necessarily in that order if there is one.”

“Isabella Rossellini, the actress?” he asks.

“No, Isabella Rossellini my cat. She’s a Snowshoe Siamese.”

Doc Singh half smiles, and his expressive eyes communicate a message of relief. Perhaps he is relieved I’m not completely delusional. I don’t know.

“So Doc, next you are going to ask me; Wouldn’t your Brother and your cat miss you? To which I would answer; They are both good looking, charismatic beings. Their type will always be ok. No, I am here because I was 5150ed. A cop drove me to the hospital back in Grass Valley, and then I was transferred here, to this psychiatric hospital. I was driven up by an EMT I envied, and admired. He was a twenty-something, new-on-the-job cop. He probably knew what he wanted to do since he was in eighth grade, maybe younger. He probably never got into too much trouble in high school. He got good grades because he could focus. He did everything his parents expected him to do because he knew they knew best. He never missed any starting guns like I had and could finish everything he started.” I said, with resolve. 

I saw the good Dr. Singh daily during my stay, even on weekends; the guy never seemed to take a day off.  Every day I opened up a little more.

I revisited the subjects of feeling like a failure, of having missed the starting guns, of having missed whole races for that matter, of not being like my friends who I view as successful.

He started talking of famous bipolar people who didn’t live in expected norms, of people like author Jack Kerouac.

“What if he were normal?” asked Dr. Singh.

“Well, we wouldn’t have On the Road?” I answered.

“What if Ernest Hemingway, Jack London, Charles Dickens and Edgar Allen Poe were not manic depressive as you are?”

“Ok, I have looked up famous bipolar people in searches, I get it.”

“Do you? Because you give license to all these people who have lived with your illness to be eccentric, and weird, but you won’t give yourself permission to be different.” Dr. Singh looked almost angry.

“Well, normal people don’t find themselves homeless, or rehabs. They enjoy stability. I want that.” I was defiant.

“Darin, most people would rather be certain they’re miserable that to risk being happy. At least you have made the effort to explore being happy, and you know what? If you keep trying, you are going to live a happy man, even if you do think out of the box.”

So those were some underlying demons I had, and still to a degree have now as I recover from a seemingly hopeless state of mind.

My medication of three years, Lamictal, had simply stopped working for me. Dr. Singh said that the slow slip into my depressive episode was the gradual tolerance that my body was beginning to have with the medication. I was switched to Geodon, and in days, I could feel myself climbing back up into some peace and clarity.

I got a new roommate towards the end of my stay. He was a very young guy distraught over the loss of a girlfriend. We became friends, and are chatting on Facebook as I write this. When he told me how he felt for the first time, I said, “It gets better.”

Back in my hometown of Nevada City, California, I was greeted by several people who care deeply for me. I am homeless, but I am fortunate enough to have a couple of friends who are hosting me of a few days, and then it’s on to couch suffering for a while. I just landed a new job as a peer support specialist. I am very grateful.

My brother called last night from New Orleans. I told him I would be starting a new job, and then I when I’ve received a few paychecks, I would put money down on a used van from a local car dealership, and me and Isabella will live in that until as I am through with school. I told him I was going to have flexible solar panels on the top to power a heater, and an air conditioner in summer, and my musical instruments.  He got excited for me, and said there’s a movement of young people doing just that. Then he said, “Thinking out of the box: That’s my big brother, and that’s why I love you so much. I wouldn’t want you to be anyone else.”

I am grateful to be living. It did get better.

“When I grow up, I want to be a monster.” Part I

By Darin Barry

At age five, I wanted to grow up to be a monster, like Dracula, or Frankenstein. So I grew up to be a monster.  I then aspired to be a CIA agent. I was eight. That never happened. At twelve, I wanted to grow up to be in the movies. That happened. At seventeen, I wanted to be a veterinarian. That sorta happened; I became a certified veterinary assistant. When I was eighteen, I remember telling my Mom that by the time I was thirty, I would be a millionaire and drive a Jaguar. But when I actually did turn thirty, I had moved back in with Mom, and all I really accomplished in the span of my twenties was several failed attempts at various careers, and all I was truly professional at was drinking. I also had started to show signs of bipolar disorder in my early twenties, but my behavior, and failures were always chalked up to my alcoholism.

I put the plug in the jug for the first time at 32. That’s when life began to get interesting. I became a bartender, and server at a restaurant in Mariposa, California. I lived with, and worked for the Stayner family, who were known nationally for a couple of tragic reasons; their youngest son was kidnapped, and the eldest was a serial killer. During that time, Cary Stayner’s murder trial was going on a couple of miles from where I lived. As Lloyd Bridges famously said in the movie Airplane, “It looks like I picked a terrible time to quit drinking.” One day, drunk and disheartened, I ran away from it all, and rode my motorcycle up Highway 49 towards home, Nevada City, California. Yet again.

Then I moved to Colorado after I had, once again,  stopped drinking, and became a mortician. I didn’t see that in my future when I was a kid. Colorado was the only state in the nation that had no licensure in the funeral industry. It was a bizarre set of circumstances that pulled me into becoming a funeral director, and mortician. That is a novella in itself, and too lengthy, and irrelevant to the story I tell now. But I will tell you this; I was a Walgreens manager at the time I got hired as a funeral director, and I got the job in a Yahoo chatroom basically because I looked good in a suit. I had no desire at the time, nor the experience to become a mortician. But the starting salary of $60,000 a year, clothing allowance, and expense account, took me away from creating Chia Pet displays to embalming, and cremating people overnight. I even had my name on the door of the Boulder Mortuary: Darin Barry – Funeral Director – Manager.

It didn’t end well. I ended up being a whistle blower, going to the district attorney with serious complaints about egregious practices, and criminal negligence committed by my employers. I ended up on national news. Stunningly, the victims had no recourse as there were no consumer protections in Colorado to protect them from the funeral industry. Years later I would help to write new legislation with a Colorado legislator to regulate the state’s funeral industry. An accomplishment for which I was proud. And I got through it all still sober. I was proud of that too.

I had a brief stint as a counselor for at-risk kids in New Hampshire. I never saw that career for myself either when I was young.

Then, in Portland, Oregon, me and my little brother opened up a coffee shop, The Brews Brothers. I do remember fantasizing about being a business owner when I was a kid. I had arrived. I loved that new career. I loved the culture in Portland. We were hugely successful. Sadly, we had decided to sell when our parents began to fail. We moved back in with them, this time for unselfish reasons: to take care of them until they passed.

Shortly after my Mom died in my arms, my bipolar disorder threw me into the lowest of the lows, and I ended up hospitalized for depression. Manic highs would also send me off to mental wards. I had been struggling for five years to overcome my mental illness, trying different cocktails of medications with the goal of stability.

I had alienated, and distanced myself from all my siblings. My mania always ended in periods of rage – I was an insufferable monster during those times. My childhood dream came true. I was a monster wreaking havoc in other people’s lives.

  

I moved back to Portland where I got into the television industry. I started from the bottom again, getting principal background actor gigs in Grimm, Portlandia, The Librarians, and a Jeep commercial. One happy afternoon, I walked into a hipster bar in the Alberta Arts District and ordered a scotch. And then another. Grandiosity set in, and I had convinced a production company over the phone that I had the skills, and experience to become an assistant director; a profession that isn’t nearly as glamorous as it sounds. It was a huge opportunity. I slept in the next day missing my chance completely, and I had a terrific hangover. A month later,  I got kicked out of my apartment too.

I moved back to Nevada City, broke. I lived with a friend for few years growing pot for medical marijuana dispensaries.

Then, something happened that I never possibly could have imagined as a kid. I became a hopeless alcoholic. My mental illness was also off the hook. I don’t know how I got a job at a local natural foods Co-Op, but I did. Then of course, I lost that.

Then, yet another career of sorts I never saw coming as a kid developed quite naturally. I became a homeless.

After several nights staying in my car, I answered a friends message on Facebook inviting me to come stay at her restaurant in nearby Camptonville, California. I lived above a bar; a fantastic place for a practicing alkie. Soon after, I moved out to their fifth-wheel trailer on the property, where I could drink with impunity. Nobody would bother me with seemingly self-righteous warnings, and concern. I drank the winter away in that cold-as-ice trailer. The bar had become lowered; it was ok for me to be homeless, drinking away in a trailer in the boonies. Once a week, I would drive drunk into nearby Grass Valley to attend class. I had hopes to become a peer support specialist; something my psychiatrist, and my therapist had set up.

One icy night in November of 2016, I fell off a porch while drunk off my ass, and broke both my wrists, and damaged my shoulder so badly that months later, surgery would be required to correct it. Another lowering of the bar occurred that night. It was ok to be a homeless drunk, and to severely injure myself while drunk. I was ok with that.

I was a shaky, sweaty, anxiety ridden mess without my booze at this point in my life. I had graduated to 1.75 liters a day of cheap vodka that I would run to the store to purchase, every morning, as soon as it opened. I never let myself become a shaky, sweaty, anxiety ridden mess. I needed to drink to keep that at bay. When you are an alcoholic of my variety, you know, or have known, what it like to NEED a drink. And at that point, it becomes vital: to withdraw without professional help is deadly. This was another lowering of the bar. I was ok drinking the party size bottle of vodka every day, over a twenty-four hour period.

Then yet another lowering of the bar occurred. On another icy night, this time in February of 2017, I slid my car into a ditch on my way to get vodka. I got a D.U.I, and was arrested. I spent the night in jail in Yuba County. When I was released early the next morning, I promptly found myself ordering long island ice teas at the closest bar I could find, a dive called The Silver Dollar Saloon. So I totaled my car, I got arrested and charged, and I was ok with that.

I moved into town, leaving my belongings behind to pick up on another day. I couched surfed at friend’s homes until I was asked to leave, one by one. I still managed to attend class once a week, although I was stinking drunk. My instructor took pity on me, and even thought it was charming when I broke into song during class singing Depeche Mode songs.

I was taken in by my friend Jen, who was the crisis worker answering phone calls for those who were suicidal, days after my arrest. During the last few days in February, I walked into a convenience store near Jens’ home, and collapsed. I was taken to the hospital by ambulance. I stayed for seven days, being treated for alcohol poisoning, alcohol withdrawal, heart monitoring, and severe chemical imbalances.

On day four, while connected to and I.V, and machines that go “ping,” my first moments of clarity began to shine through. Everything changed. A stranger who had been following my journaling on Facebook came to visit me in my hospital room, telling his own tale of drug and alcohol use, his own experiences with mental illness, and his eventual recovery. He offered something I didn’t have, and something I desperately wanted: hope.

I had lowered the bar, digging to the lowest depths of the earth, almost to the molten core of the Earth, before my rock bottom was reached. I was in a seemingly hopeless state of mind and body, and hope come from a total stranger. I was an atheist. I had long tossed off what I viewed as the constraints, and judgements of organized religion. But in retrospect, I believe this was divine intervention. It was a spiritual experience, not from any deity of a religion I knew, but of something undefinable. And I’m not holding the man who brought me hope up to the pedestal of divinity, but I did dub him my guardian angel.

Months went by. I had been through a 28 day drug and alcohol program, where I discovered a promise of recovery from a seemingly hopeless state of mind and body through the beginnings of work in a twelve step program. I had been given a place to live. I was given employment. I was given continued support. All from my “guardian angel.”

I had shoulder surgery in Spring of 2017. The recovery time allowed me to focus on doing my work in completing the twelve steps that I had dove head first into working. More clarity came to me as the time passed. I began to develop renewed interest in talents I had laid down for years: music, art, photography, and writing. I had begun to volunteer for homeless organizations, and spoke about my experience, strength and hope at institutions. I had graduated from my peer support specialist class, earning my certification. I earned my 90 day sobriety chip in June. I became the secretary (host) of the Young People’s Meeting within the twelve step program that kept me sober.  I had regained the trust of friends I thought I had lost, and made a host of new friends.

July came with the sunflowers I helped plant reaching 15 feet tall. It was then suggested that I was a good fit to become manager of clean and sober house in downtown Nevada City. I felt it was time to move on from beneath the wings of my guardian angel.

I hung my peer support specialist diploma on the wall of the house I began managing. Yet, another position that I never could have seen coming. Just a half a year earlier,  there could be not be a way I could see myself in the future as being a peer support specialist, and manager of a home supporting those who were formerly homeless, with co-occurring disorders. I would have been extremely focused on getting my next bottle of vodka, and that is all there was to my life back then. Now I am service to others in one of the most unselfish ways I have ever had to pleasure to know. Who would have thought?

I have recovered from a seemingly hopeless state of mind and body. Although, I will never be cured, I get to remain recovered from that state, so long as I seek to stay spiritually fit. This is something I have gained from the Big Book of the twelve step program that saved my life. I haven’t found God. I seek him. Daily. I do not believe for a second I could have got sober, and remained sober without the intervention of the God of my own understanding.

When the sun rises in the mornings, and if  I am awake to see it, I see something new. I see the sunlight of the Spirit. But with or without seeing the sunrise, I am constantly bathed in the sunlight of the Spirit. I feel eternally grateful to be able to pass what I have been given, to those who still suffer. I feel grateful to be able to bare hope to those who feel they have none; to those lost, and alone, and afraid.

When I think back to what I wanted to be when I grew up, none of it seems silly in retrospect. I thought those silly career choices would make me happy, and after all, that was the ultimate goal. It took exploration, and fruition of many of those fantasies I had as a kid to discover that, ultimately, those particular paths wouldn’t bring me happiness. Self-seeking has wrought for me grief like only other alcoholics know. This may seem crazy to those who are non-alcoholics, but I am grateful to every drop of alcohol that got me to this point where I am today. To work with others who suffer, to see the light come back in their eyes, is like having a front row seat to watch God work – it’s a joy I’ve never known until now.

The Happiest I’ve Ever Been and the Joys to Come

darin and gordon

“I am the son

And the heir

Of a shyness that is criminally vulgar

I am the son and heir

Of nothing in particular

You shut your mouth

How can you say

I go about things the wrong way?

I am human and I need to be loved

Just like everybody else does” – The Smiths

Nothing in this world could change the misery that I knew, when I woke up this morning. A small joy in my life wasn’t having it as she purred on my chest, rubbing her head against my face during her daily prelude to being fed. Her large innocent eyes know only peace. If only my cat, Isabella knew how I was feeling. Maybe she did. I knew and know this day has to be all about taking steps towards healing; my psychiatrists doors can’t open soon enough. I keep telling myself all those things I hate hearing from other people when I am in deep depression; be happy, you’ll snap out of it, and just get over it. I didn’t turn on the radio because some d.j. might say it’s going to be a nice day reminding me on how it’s not. I sat in my big comfy chair in my room at 3:00 A.M. staring at nothing in particular thinking about what steps I can take today to help lift me out of profound sadness. The warrior in me is still kicking through the walls of depression.

I began thinking about what in my past has brought about happiness.  I  had a breakthrough moment about a mistake I had been making – that is I was comparing moments and elements that made up that happiness to what’s going on now. I realized those were futile thoughts bringing me down further.

You can’t bring people back from the dead, those who were the bright spot in my life. Nor can I ask others who are on their chosen paths to stop what they’re doing and come back to me. I can’t recreate the circumstances that brought about euphoric times, not with any authenticity. But I can look back at those moments and smile. I can think about when my mom, my brother, my dad, close friends Mary and Saint when they were still alive. I can think about times in the sun with my living brother never being an arms length apart from each other. I can reflect on them and the times in life we shared, but I can’t bring them back.

My brother Gordon in his teens and early twenties was and is the bright spot in my life. I do miss the times  we spent coloring with crayons as adults, stoned, out in the middle of the woods. I miss the epic bicycle trips we took together in the warm months of summer. I miss being in business with him, owning a coffee shop in Portland, Oregon. I miss the moments in the sunshine, skinny-dipping at our favorite swimming hole at the South Fork of the Yuba River in California. Most of all, I miss having him go with me everywhere, even grocery shopping. He’d automatically jump in the car no matter where I was going. I loved that. We did most everything together. Then, after my Dad died, Gordon went off to college, and to pursue a career as a musician aboard a cruise ship – a profession that takes him away from me for long periods of time.

Mary was always laughing. We got along so well that we moved in together as close friends. She was always up for adventure, especially off-the-wall crazy ones. Concerts, morning coffee rituals at our favorite haunts, midnight movies, underground plays and performances; she was up for it all. I lost her to alcoholism. She bleed out in our apartment in 2006.

I thought of them all this morning; those who brought me great happiness. I tried not to let the overshadow of them passing tragically or going away.

The breakthrough I had this morning is that I need not replace those I’ve lost with exact duplicates. That’s what keeps me pushing quality newcomers in my life away. I need to be open to new experiences and pastimes that might unfold a great new triumph of happiness. I need to think of the joys that will come if I let them.

In the big book of a twelve step program I am in, there is a passage, a promise that reads, “ We are going to know a new freedom, and a new happiness.” It is the newness of things I feel I need to embrace. For too long I’ve looked to re-create history and to replace others. I need to stop looking for qualities that those in my past have possessed and realize and explore the inward beauty of newcomers to my life. I need to embrace new experiences and not shun them.

I am sad and know a great tiredness that is enveloping me today, but I know this is a temporary predicament. There is great joy ahead if I let it be, if I let it unfold.

Sober for 60 Days

2469593444_d77602c6a5_b

 

I had feared that sober meant somber; that no more fun was to be had. I had a lot of fears, in all actuality, about getting sober and staying sober. I feared that I would have to be religious and follow some hair-shirt wearing order of those who literally feared a horrid, and vengeful God. I feared anxiety would once again become an overwhelming, and ruling factor in my life as I would no longer be able to medicate with alcohol. I feared living life on life’s terms. I feared that being alcohol free would dampen my creativity. I feared how people might treat me without the social lubricant of alcohol. I feared fear.

But I was already living in fear. Booze kept me living in fear. I didn’t realize alcohol was keeping me from being happy, joyous, and free. I didn’t realize that it was holding me down, exacerbating all my problems instead of helping. My notion that booze was easing me through life was pure deception on my part.

I thought I was having great fun, mixing with bar regulars, and newly found single-serving friends. In all honesty, there were great laughs, great times, and epic moments I had during my drinking career. I remember riding on the back of a friends Harley in downtown Nevada City, California, a gold rush era town that is now a tourist town, swatting tourists on the butt with a broom as we road along. It was tremendously funny, even to those being swatted. Sure there were good times. But alcohol is a progressive disease, and when drinking becomes a disease, all the fun is underscored with great depression and fear. There came a point that the only people I wanted to do was be around were other people that drank, and then, even they became just an annoying presence; all I wanted to do was drink alone.

Life had spun out of control. How fun was it for me to sit in a cold travel trailer in the dead of winter drinking vodka before anyone was even awake in the morning? How fun was it for me to not want a drink, but to need a drink to keep me from shaking, dry-heaving, and to cure ravaging headaches? Where was the fun in loosing my job, alienating good friends and family, being homeless, totaling my car and scoring a D.U.I? I was lost, alone, and afraid.

I had time to reflect on just how fun liquor had become when I was in the hospital for five days suffering from alcohol poisoning and withdrawal over 60 days ago. It was then, that a total stranger, whom only knew me from my posts in a Facebook group, came to my hospital room with hope, and was I ever ready for hope. I was so out of it, that even today I don’t remember the ambulance ride to the hospital, nor collapsing in a Chevron beforehand. But I do remember the kind actions of a total stranger, and the one who would become known to me as my guardian angel that would eventually lead me to sobriety and a joy that I had long misplaced; a new joy and freedom that I would soon discover.

I found myself in Pathways, a residential drug and alcohol treatment facility in California, as well as a twelve step program in which I live my life by today. From day one I felt my debilitating fears begin to slip away. My life wasn’t just beginning to be restored, but a new life was being founded, one that was much better than the one I had long ago enjoyed before getting sober. I had even feared being in a live-in drug and alcohol center, but had more fun there than I thought was even likely. I also met true friends who will be with me for a lifetime. They are friends without conditions. Friends whom I would ordinarily not mix with had I not been seeking a life of sobriety. I am truly lucky.

Once I graduated Pathways, a bittersweet graduation, my guardian angel, William, once again reared his helpful head and offered me a safe place to live in a sober environment, and a job as well. I no longer feared God, that word I felt was a dirty word – God. I had found my own conception of God, the Great Spirit. There would be no hair-shirt wearing, or sour-faced, judgmental church ladies trying to direct my spiritual path. I had turned my life, my will, and my fears over to the Great Spirit of my own understanding. I even found a religious organization, the Unitarian Universalists, who embraced and allowed me to be guided by my own conception of God. It’s a church that allows me to be spiritual, not religious.

And of friends, and the fun that comes along with friends; who knew I would have so much fun? My old friends are still with me, those who accept my sobriety and embrace it. And my new friends who share the path of sobriety with me are golden as well. We support each other and share a great deal of humor, sometimes greatly irreverent and inappropriate humor; my favorite kind!

Fear is one of the greatest enemies of an alcoholic. Today I walk in the sunlight of the Great Spirit, and the company of great friends. I can also love the person I look at in the mirror each morning. My fears are processed with the tools of the twelve step program I am living, and given over to the one that can better handle them than me, my higher power.

Each day, with a clear head, I can face life, and handle life on life’s terms. Everything is infinitely easier to handle. Things seem to fall in place as they should. I have come to know life as I had never known it before. It is a joy-filled life of happiness and freedom.

I have 60 days of sobriety today. I have a lot of people to thank for it. I have the Great Spirit to thank for it. I am grateful that I have found the bright spot in my life. I am grateful to be truly living the life I was meant to have.

(About the photo. Canon EOS Rebel X 35mm,  with fine grain film, Kodak CN400)

Me and the Ex-Con are Sober

4685438101_152585e460_b (2)Today, I have 30 days of sobriety. I just returned from alcohol rehab at Pathways in Marysville, California. I have a shiny new coin with Pathways logo on it, and the serenity prayer on the reverse. Pathways give these coins to clients on successful completion of the program. It’s a little thing, but it means a lot to me. I met some of the finest people I have ever met in my life down there – people who ordinarily would not mix but share one thing in common; we are all alcoholics. I lived with my peers in alcoholism for 24 hours a day over 21 days. All of them, ten in all, have become some of the finest friends I’ve ever had. It was hard to fight back tears for everyone involved in my exit ceremony. It was a hug fest.

One of my peers who was of the greatest inspiration for me was an ex-con, who, for purposes of anonymity, I will call James. Under the three strikes law years ago, James was sentenced to life for stealing two cartons of cigarettes. Then California passed a proposition overturning three strikes and James was set free. Meanwhile 22 years went by. Yeah, this guy spent 22 years in upper levels prisons for stealing two cartons of cigarettes. James had racked up over ten years of sobriety being in Jail where one can still get homemade liquor and drugs from the outside. When he was released, he went immediately to rehab to reinforce his abstinence so he would never be sent back to prison for parole violation for drinking or drugging. Today he is 56.

I was afraid of him at first, he’s full of muscles, and covered with prison tattoos. But he quickly showed his vulnerable side and was always smiling and joking with me. He is not an angry person, but a grateful person. We would go outside under the sun and lift weights in our spare time. He was determined to make a muscle man out of me. He was determined to stay sober. He didn’t read all that well, so I helped him study the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous. We picked each other up often.

But it wasn’t just the love of my peers at Pathways that kept me going. It takes a village sometimes, and man do we have a village. I was informed that throngs of support came my way via Facebook while I was in Rehab. When I opened my account up, it was filled with hundreds of kind hearted messages from the Nevada County Peeps page serving Nevada County, California residents, most I didn’t know. Some amazing strangers showed up to support and encourage while I was in the hospital detoxing at Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital. They knew me only from my posts on Facebook. This speaks volumes for our spirit in the Gold Country.

Desperately Seeking God

3039798100_ffa907ede0_b (1)

 

I had trouble with the God thing. You see, in my twelve-step program of alcohol recovery, seeking a power greater than myself is vital. This is the second step; “Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.” This was a stumbling block. I am a logical pragmatic person and I just don’t buy into, nor can stomach organized religion. I take my recovery very seriously, so this God question took many days of pondering and soul searching. Then, in my Big Book of my twelve-step program, I stumbled on the words that read something like: we only have to believe in the God of our own understanding, that is, our own conception of God to begin our recovery. And we don’t have to “find God”, we only have to seek him. This is the only thing we need to do to form a foundation for spiritual growth necessary for recovery. That I could stomach.

I am Native American. I lived on Tulle River Indian reservation near Porterville, California, the summer of 2002. I am Miwok, native to the Yosemite State Park area. They believe in an all encompassing Great Spirit, or Grandfather if you will, that is pure energy present in everyone, every animal, and every thing. This is not in collusion with my scientific mind. I believe in the pure energy that is present throughout the universe down to the smallest atomic sub-particle. I had found my higher power.

This lead me to the third-step; ‘Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood him.” The third step was easy for me because I no longer wanted to carry my big load of baggage with me wherever I went, nor could I. It’s all in the hands of the Great Spirit now. Having done this, I have found inner peace. I can begin to live now, walking in the sunlight of the Great Spirit whom I only have to seek.

We’re No Longer Homeless

13698207_10154466394878083_8773117199924817283_o

 

Yesterday, Isabella and I got a home. We are no longer homeless. I started a new job yesterday too. I have so much to be grateful for receiving. I have the bottomless support of the community I live in. I have people in my life who love me; people who have given of themselves through kind actions. For this, I’m grateful.

Today is day 35 of continued sobriety. I am grateful. I grow stronger in both mind and body every day.

When I was detoxing from alcohol poisoning at Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital for five days, a man came to see me. I was a shaking, vomiting, unlovely creature. He was completely unknown to me. When I asked him who he was, he answered he found me through my Facebook posts. He said he felt that faith without works is dead, and he wanted to go beyond thoughts and prayers by helping me anyway he could. I called him my guardian angel. His name is William W.

William quickly got to work for me, making phone calls setting me up with drug and alcohol program. He tidied up loose ends that were impossible for me to accomplish in my state, things that were causing me great worry. He plugged me into county resources. He ran around town, and took the time to do things I couldn’t do myself, nor even knew I needed. He is the most giving, selfless man I’ve ever met in my life. For him, I am grateful.

When I was in rehab, William was still acting behind the scenes taking care of my needs. He called my counselors and case worker, Fred, to both see how I was doing, and to arrange aftercare for my 21 day program. When I graduated from Pathways, a drug and alcohol residential treatment facility, William came to my aid once again, coming to see me at Insight Respite home, a temporary shelter for people in crisis, with an offer of a place to live, employment, and even offered to help me replace the vehicle I had totaled, and accident that landed me a D.U.I.

I had turned my will and my life over to the Great Spirit weeks ago. It is He, who is in everyone, and everything, that brought me to the happy, joyous, freedom I am enjoying today. I had found my Higher Power during a desperate time. For this, I am grateful.

I’ve Got a Lot to be Thankful For

1644871516_b42ced2f46_b

Today, I cease fighting anyone or anything. I’ve come to know a new peace. It’s not just a rainy, cloudy, cold day here in my hometown in the Sierra Nevada Mountains – it’s a beautiful spring day as far as I am concerned. The rain is bringing renewal. The wind is spring cleaning. Both the wind and the rain feel exhilarating when it hits my face. From what my doctors have told me during my hospital stay last month, I’m lucky to be alive. This morning, during the predawn hours, I sit with my whiskered friend, Isabella, with a warm cup of coffee nearby, and gratitude in my heart.

I know there are horrific things going on in the world. I did not, however, start my day by reading the news in the Huffington Post; not today. I do not wish to have my blood boil. I don’t wish to participate in any negativity at all. Instead, I turn all that over to the Great Spirit. He’ll sort it out. Just for today, I will stop and see the beauty in what is clearly all around me. Everyday, even when its dark outside, the sunlight of the Spirit shines brightly through the clouds and I am grateful to be walking in it.

Today I am 37 days sober. This morning, I thank the Great Spirit for continued sobriety as I did yesterday. And yesterday, I stopped the day for an afternoon in my own Utopia as well. I noticed the little things I would never have noticed when I was hammered on alcohol. I let a Daddy Longlegs Spider crawl up my arms. I noticed its many black eyes and the grace and perfection of its design. I noticed the small, bright red berries on a shrub in the garden that nourish the birds, and bring new growth. And all the things I detest, I almost liked; the country music coming from the neighbors sound system even – I noticed the slide guitars playing in harmony, and the talents of a fiddle player. The crowded, noisy grocery store, a place that usually offends my senses, was a place to connect with my fellow community members and share a joke or two. I even see the positive aspects of my Bipolar Disorder which brings with it creativity, energy, and talent, allowing me to channel it for the betterment of my fellow humans in anyway I can.

I am about to begin another work day that will allow me to learn new skills, and to shelter me and Isabella in a beautiful home that is new to me – something we didn’t have in the preceding months. But, before I do, I will ask the Great Spirit with gratitude, peace in a restless world. I will hear the Great Spirit’s voice in the smallest things, and try not to drown it out with all the noise I like to make. May you find peace too, today, and every day.