Tag Archives: addiction

Everyone Deserves It

I wasted time at the train station after disembarking, slowly drinking coffee and eating a donut, while waiting for the demand for Ubers to subside.  When the price of the ride returned to the reasonable rate of a minute per mile, I got in one and let it take me to the hospital that once felt like it had a room with my name on it.  As a child, I had repeated bouts of severe bronchitis and thus spent a lot of time in a building now called the old wing.  But this 21st century plaza of glass and steel was not the healing place I remembered.  Very little in the town where I spent the first 14 years of my life looked familiar, for that matter.  That fact was a bittersweet distraction.

Once at the hospital, I still delayed.  Far too much time in the gift shop to come away with a mere card – and one that said something trite that felt insincere on my part: “May an angel always be beside you.”  Not a single bone in my body believed this man had lived his life in a way that should keep him in the company of angels – certainly not the part of it that pertained to me.  He’d inflicted physical and psychological abuse on my mother and me.  He told me numerous times that he hadn’t wanted to be a father and that my existence had made his more difficult.  My mother and I were made to pay.  And so I meandered around the spanking brand new wing of the hometown hospital, the one that used to have a room with my name on it, praying for the courage to face this man who forced me to play postman at his building just to get him to come into the lobby so I could see him.  Even then, I couldn’t get him to let his grandchildren in or to come out to the car to meet them.

“…Because everyone deserves it – no matter what,” I wrote inside the blank card with the trite spiritual wish on the outside.  That I believed.  Every child of God deserves the accompaniment of an angel, no matter how damaged or damaging he may be.  “I love you!”  I added.  Through every horrible memory, that too had always been true, sometimes in spite of myself.

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When I found the room with the beautiful view of Long Island Sound, the one with his name on it, he wasn’t in it.  He was back in the old wing of the hospital undergoing stress tests on his heart.  I would have missed him even if I’d gone straight to his room without buying the card, but not if I’d bypassed the coffee and donut.  It was now going to be at least two hours before I could see him, and I had only designated six for him.  The need to be the mother and the teacher that I love being called me harder than the obligation to be the daughter it hurt to be.  That, and the fact that my business as a baker still doesn’t run without me after two years, required I return home, as long as he was stable and could make his own medical decisions.

“What time did you leave?  I could hear you in my bedroom.  Did you kiss me goodbye?  What time are you coming home?”  Such were the text message questions from my teenaged daughter, who’s on the spectrum.  The last question was, in part, to know how long she’d have to play on the computer before I was home to turn her attentions back to Chemistry and Algebra II.  But I also know that my girl must feel the love from me each day for any day to be complete. She hated my business trips when I used to have them, which always made me hate them a bit, too.

God has an interesting sense of humor.  How else can one explain such an affinity for children in the child of a man who considers children a nuisance?

“Don’t cry when you say goodbye to him, Mom; it’ll probably freak him out,” my daughter said about a student whose family was moving to the other side of the country. She was right, I knew.  So I shed my tears at home, out of sight, before giving my parting blue sash a medallion I won years ago as a goodbye present.

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Somewhere in the haze of cold, selfish, liquor-wading isolationism, I know that my father feels a measure of fondness for me that’s at least commensurate with my affection for my students.  I’ve occasionally been able to hear it in his voice, after accomplishing something he could brag about to the neighbors he didn’t want to see or the golf buddies he’s now outlived.  But I’ve spent years wishing he’d feel a little more… and now, I’m told he does.  A stroke will do that.

“He gets emotional when I mention you,” his attending physician told me.  It’s guilt.  What else could it be?  I thought, as I slowly walked from his apartment to his bank, in no hurry to return to the man who had me out running errands without so much as a “good to see you” or “thanks for coming.”

“One of these days we’re going to have to have it out,” he’d said eons ago, back when his intentional verbal cruelty could still make me livid.  But I saw no need for that. It wouldn’t have taken the fear out of a childhood long gone or made him a man who wanted a family.  It would just have been more wasted time.

I thought again about the card from the gift shop as I climbed into the Uber back to the hospital.  “May an angel always be beside you.”  Indeed… for you never wanted anyone else to be.

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The Thing That’s Calling

I’ve heard that doing something daily for three straight weeks (or not doing it, as the case may be) can make that behavior a permanent part of one’s life.  Practicing kung fu at least four times a week has been a permanent behavior of mine since autumn of 2011, when I began training for black sash.  That was bumped up to five times weekly once I was invited to Friday night class, and it quickly became clear that it wasn’t an invitation I was free to decline if I wanted to be promoted.

Then, I began teaching.  That was a Monday, Wednesday, Saturday schedule of classes, while my family was taking class on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Throw in Friday class, and suddenly, I was doing kung fu at least six days a week.  The teaching days and Fridays in the guan have been replaced by training at the gym, since the big fallout with Sifu; so my kung fu week has remained six days long.  There have even been a few weeks where there was no day off, and I trained eight or nine days straight.

Now, you would think my body would be thrilled with a day’s rest – and it probably is.  My brain, on the other hand, doesn’t know what to make of it.  My night off always feels a little weird.  Tonight, the weirdness itself is weird!

I have grocery shopping to do, packing to finish and a little quality time to spend with my spouse before I’m gone for a week.  And still, I’ve spent far too much brain power today trying to figure out if there’s any way I can get it all done and still make an appearance at the Friday class that I’m permitted to return to, now that the calendar reads June.

The art really is the thing that’s calling – particularly in a week where I learned new ways of doing old techniques.  It’s not some grand re-entrance to the fold or some masochistic need to overdo it (Friday class is always an abuse of the body that’s supposed to make us stronger).  It takes three weeks to make a habit, but I’m fairly certain it would take closer to three months to break my habit of wanting to practice daily.

I’m guessing on this timeframe, of course.  And I’m guessing without any intention of testing it! 🙂


The Inventory on the Shelf

Over the weekend I was subjected to folks offering an enthusiastic assessment of what they consider to be my flaws.  It was not a pleasant experience, but truth be told, it’s an exercise I used to be painfully good at.  In one of the circles I run in, we call it taking somebody’s inventory – a fancy way of saying being openly judgmental for little reason other than that we can.  For years I was told that’s something we humans are not supposed to do.  But my experience this weekend reminded me of the importance of inventory taking and the ground rules it should carry.

When I look back twenty-five years on the know-it-all, loud mouth I was, I cringe deeply and for a good minute or so.  I was the worst kind of inventory taker: I gave opinions without being asked, and I wasn’t the least bit mindful of whether I was hurting someone.  It took a few years in the real world to figure out that people didn’t care what I thought about anything and expressing my opinion made me very easy to dislike.  Once I got that lesson, though, I made the mistake that many converts make: I went too far the other direction.  I started feeling like I needed to find a confessional every time I had a less-than-flattering thought about the words or actions of others.

Then I made the very fortunate move of mentioning my guilt over continuing to be judgmental to an older and wiser friend.  She set me straight once and for all.

“People have to take each other’s inventory,” she began.  “How else are we going to know whether a person is a healthy, positive addition to our lives or someone that we should keep our distance from?  To be completely accepting of what people do and say is just not very smart.  Taking somebody’s inventory isn’t wrong, but sharing that inventory with them is!”

I’m grateful to have that fifteen-year-old mini-lecture to remember and hold onto.  It empowered me this weekend to politely point out to the person judging me that I hadn’t asked for her opinion.  It also empowers me daily to hold my emotional distance from folks with behavior on their storeroom shelves that can be damaging to me.


The Old Man

I started my work day smiling wistfully over a father with whom I have a painful relationship.  I don’t communicate with him as often as I’d like, in part because he doesn’t own a computer and has never had an email account, but largely because he wasn’t a very good father.  He actually never wanted to be one at all – a fact he made expressly clear more than once as I was growing up.  That’s still a small bone of contention for me.

In any case, every once and a while, I’ll put a packet of pictures in the mail to him of his grandchildren and me, with a note about what’s been going on in our lives.  Today was one of those days.  (Phone calls can be a bit of a crap shoot over whether Dr. Jekyll or Mr. Hyde will answer.)  This mailing included prints of my Facebook postings about the family’s medal-winning martial arts success of late.

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Perhaps that will give the curmudgeon something to smile about.  It made me smile this morning just to think it might….


On the Way Out

I hope today is the last day that I will see this place and sit in this room!  It will at least be the last time this year.

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This morning I received the third of three shots into my back, intended to eliminate my need for sciatica medication and maybe even reduce the need for arthritis meds as well.  I’ve taken half the doses of the former that I probably would have taken before seeing the back specialist three months ago.  So there’s good reason to be hopeful.

The prescription for sciatica is a muscle relaxant, which, let’s face it, doesn’t go well with high-impact martial arts training, to say nothing of consciousness (I’m a lightweight these days; I can get sleepy off an Aleve!)  So, I’ve spent years putting up with the sciatica and treating it rarely.  The back pain has to interfere with walking, as the knee pain does, before I bother with the muscle relaxant.  But if the last six weeks are any indication, the old way of caring for my body is already on the way out – replaced not just by the shots regimen, but by more ice, greater use of the muscle roller and, of course, more mindfulness.

Pain reduction can be as simple as ending the day’s training when the body begins to whine, instead of at the end of a scream.


Missing Mindfulness

There are several things I’ve known for years that I periodically have to be reminded of…painfully.  They are:

  1. If it’s urgent, it’s probably not spiritual – whatever the “it” may be.
  2. If it’s urgent and therefore not spiritual, run whatever I want to say or do by a person I trust to tell me the truth before I act.
  3. If such a person isn’t available, do nothing until one is.

The weather will close the guan today, even if it doesn’t keep me out of work.  That gives me extra time to consider this and other forgotten blueprints for mindfulness, a component of my martial arts life that I’ve apparently been missing….


Lunch time at the office….

I just want to practice kicking combinations.  Is that so wrong?


The Pain of Cessation

Addiction is in the news and so very much on my mind in both a past and present sense.  As a young child, I watched my mother and grandmother fall apart at the news that my uncle was dead.  Near as I could understand from what I overheard, he was attacked when drunk and didn’t survive the altercation.

Fifteen years later, right after undergrad, I slung drinks at a bar by night to supplement the day job.  A co-worker from that job drank himself to death in a hotel room after his partner of twenty years left him.

But the addiction-related death that cut the deepest was that of a former boss, a recovering-addict, white-collar entrepreneur who apparently hopped off the wagon undetected by the dozen or so people he employed. He was a vivacious, warm, kind and abundantly generous person.  He hired me three different times: during my years as a freelance journalist; after being laid off by a network in a buyout restructuring; and as a divorced, single mother of a kindergartener and a newborn. The third time, he couldn’t really afford to hire me back in the post-9/11 recession, but he did anyway.

We got word in the office that his robbed body had been found in a hotel, with bottles and baggies decorating the room, just days after learning from his new, pregnant wife that he hadn’t been sober for months. He tossed a decade of drug-free years out the window, and within months of picking up where he left off, he left us all.

I could go on about others.  People I worked and played with in the bar world during my college years and shortly thereafter.  I know more than I need to about addiction, including that even ones that don’t take your life are no joke.

Addiction, by definition, is a negative thing.  Wikipedia defines it as “the continued repetition of a behavior despite adverse consequences;” Webster’s dictionary says it’s “the state of being enslaved to a habit or practice…to such an extent that its cessation causes severe trauma.”  Neither of these sound like a state anyone should want to be in over anything.  And yet I am currently, unapologetically.

Kung fu is a behavior I continue despite adverse physical consequences, about which even entertaining its cessation causes me mental trauma. It’s not going to kill me, of course, but I acknowledge in the tag line of my blog that it can cripple me.  I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve been told I should quit before I end up with limbs not working.  Each time I hear these concerns and warnings, I respond with what I know sounds to some like I’m wading blind in a pool of denial.  I’ve heard drug addicts sound the same way.  At least exercise addictions aren’t known to rob one of the mental faculties needed not to escalate the behavior in the middle of negative consequences.  Drug addicts just keep taking more.

At the end of the day, continuing in my addiction is as simple as knowing that the pain of activity isn’t yet greater than the pain of loss that stopping would bring.  That’s simply how fulfilled it makes me, for lack of a less dramatic word at this late hour, any and every time a training night goes well – hurt knees, hurt back, hurt arm and all.

If only all addicts of all kinds could clearly weigh the pain of continuation against the pain of cessation.  If only they lived long enough to get the chance.