There is a fresh feeling in starting over. Shucking the dead weight of the past can invigorate and inspire.
Despite moving many times into new places, or new neighborhoods and towns, it took me a while to understand that relocating didn’t change anything for me. Sometimes, it made things worse.
I finally realized that no matter where I went, there I was. Sure, things were good for a while. However, no matter how many times I paint over the bloodstain on the wall – it may be covered – it is still there. Just like my past. I didn’t learn until doing step work that holding onto all that shit was killing me and causing me to self-sabotage.
Dealing with those ugly parts properly so I didn’t have to keep moving when things got icky and uncomfortable was the key. Since I have unlocked that door, I have dealt with almost all of it that could be dealt with accordingly. Some things cannot be closed or handled. Maybe people die and so we’re left with the wreckage of our past. Sometimes, trying to amend a situation would make things worse for that person. So there are other ways to handle it. Maybe mail a letter to a bogus address with no return address. Maybe write it out and burn it, rip it up and throw it in the stream after you’ve read your letter aloud to the universe.
However it can be done, sometimes it is a necessary evil that when complete, feels like twelve pounds of dead weight had been lifted off your mind.
The last two times I have moved was not to run away from the past but to continue to build my life and my future with my husband and cat. My kids are grown now and have started lives for themselves.
It’s always okay to visit the past, just be sure not to move back there.
My life was surreal until about five years ago when I finally met someone on the same frequency as me in any aspect of my thinking. Is there anything more refreshing than meeting someone who ‘gets us’ in any way? I don’t think so.
Back to my story.
2007 was coming to a close and I had recently started my new job. Money was tight and like an elf without toy making tools, I was worried about Christmas. To be blunt, I needed money. And I had an idea on how to get it: win it in a radio contest.
All I had to do was submit my name and a time and the radio station would do the rest. I just had to listen for my name to float across the airwaves in the DJ’s voice, call up, say I was me and voila… a guaranteed $100 with the potential for $500.
I walked in the park a lot on my lunch and this one day was no different, except that, I had a feeling. Sometimes when I get feelings, I talk to animals. And sometimes they talk back. I never told people this because people tend to not accept anything further than their own reality.
In essence, people would call me batshit crazy. But I do get feelings and for some reason, even to this day, ignore them. Nothing ever goes well when I ignore my feelings – intuition I guess it is.
I was walking in the park and thinking about that money and how much it would help me. As I walked I saw something pretty fascinating.
I saw a red tail hawk in a tree. Not ON a tree where they often are. But in a tree on a midlevel branch. Winter approached and most of the leaves were dead on the ground much like I felt my life was at that moment.
I looked at that hawk. He looked at me. I thought, ‘They’re going to call my name, aren’t they?” A voice said, “Yes.” I thought, “I’m not going to hear it am I?” A voice said, “No.”
If you’re still reading, this is an insane exchange to the average person. Who the hell talks to hawks, and more importantly when the hell would a hawk ever talk to a human? That is another story for another time. I am deeply connected with nature, and particularly hawks. I walked for another ten minutes or so, and when I came back by the tree where the hawk was, it was empty. No hawk.
After my gathering with nature, I went back to work and as I did my tasks, listened to the great classic rock tunes pouring out of my internet radio. And then, the DJ said,
“Time to announce another name for the radio station payroll of one hundred dollars an hour! And that name is________________”
Wait. What? I freaked. The station decided to buffer and cut out just as they said the name! They couldn’t have called me right? I mean that would be nuts. I even called the radio station and was going to ask if they called my name but when the DJ picked up, I chickened out and hung up the phone.
I kept listening (now that the radio station didn’t cut out magically) and the DJ said:
“Well, looks like Joe Smith is still on the payroll because Darlene Steelman didn’t report for work.”
WHAT?!?!?! The hawk was right?!
Oh. My. Freaking. Gawd.
I was devastated. Partly because I didn’t win money that could have helped me but more so because that was not the first time (nor would it be the last) in my life I didn’t listen to that voice. That voice has spoken to me over the years in various ways taking on various forms and that has only happened to me since I had my accident in 1996 when I lost oxygen and was dead for a good half hour. That’s a whole other story.
Oh, and by the way… that weekend I went and got a radio for the office because no way in hell was my opportunity to win money going to solely rest on the flakiness of internet radio and a message from a woodland raptor!
Have you ever second guess yourself and wish that you hadn’t?
So, in 1996 I had a stroke (brought on by taking too much Ultram) and was dead for about somewhere between 20 minutes and two hours… my six-year-old daughter found me, and after the EMT’s showed up and worked on me for nearly 30 minutes, I regained a pulse. I also gained some brain damage. After a week long hospital stay and two weeks of grueling occupational therapy, I was sent to live with my mother because I couldn’t be trusted to take care of my children.
Everone was afraid I’d start dinner and burn the house down because I forgot the stove was on or even worse, have the baby in the bathtub, get distracted by the phone or my reflection and let my baby drown because, ‘what baby?’ Or maybe I’d drive to the store with the kids, forget I went there with kids, leave the kids there and then think I lived in Oklahoma on a llama farm or something.
My short term memory was shattered. People have compared me to Drew Barry’s character in Fifty First Dates which was cute until I actually saw the movie and I wasn’t as amused as most people.
“Jesus Christ, I’m not that f**king bad,” I’d snap in annoyance. I was finally able to watch the whole movie about a year ago and laugh at most of it.
My long term memory was fine. My memory about grade school, getting picked on, and my abusive cheating husband at the time were all grooved in my brain like a brand new tire tread. I still remembered I was married (miserably), that I had four kids and amazingly every word to any song I ever heard prior to 1996. But it ended there.
I couldn’t remember anything new. I couldn’t remember that I told my mom a story (from my long term memory) every twenty minutes. I couldn’t remember that I just ate or just drank coffee or just smoked a cigarette. I couldn’t remember that the bedroom I occupied at my parents’ house was mine; my old bedroom – my childhood bedroom – was the back bedroom and now my little brother had that one. How the hell did I get downgraded to the oversized closet with a bed?
Oh right… I hadn’t lived at home since 1990. I had no clout there. I was the dysfunctional eldest daughter; the oldest sibling who could never quite get her shit together… ever. And now I was back like the beer stain everyone thought was permanently scrubbed from the carpet.
I moved out of my parents and got my kids back in 1999, and while I had great intentions and did my best, it all fell apart in two years and then I was back in a new level of hell with less kids and more drama.
Fast forward to 2017, twenty-one years later, and I can honestly say while keeping weird lists, writing down directions to a place less than five miles away, writing down on my hand where I parked the car and other things that I should remember, it is a little less daunting, but still embarrassing.
“No, it isn’t a tattoo. It is directions to my car in the parking lot.”
There are even times I am talking to someone and the thoughts I have in my head are disappearing as I am trying to convey them. I’ll be mid-sentence and just wrap it up because I literally forgot what I wanted to say.
:(I have tried Ginko Biloba, changing my diet, more sleep, and lots and lots of brain puzzles. Every day I do word searches and even play my own ‘memory games’ in an effort to make my brain stronger, but honestly, all I can really ever do is memorize lyrics to songs.
That’s it. I mean, yes, I remember other things. But I have to work really hard at it. But I don’t have to work so hard to remember music. Never music.
Maybe I should sing everything I want to remember.
Take nothing for granted my friends.
Do you have any tricks to remember stuff or are you like an elephant?
It was late on a Thursday in May 2005… I was headed out to see a band in Chicago. I needed to drive over seven hundred miles to clear my head – that’s what I told myself. It was a 1,400-mile round trip so I brought about two hundred dollars worth of cocaine with me. So in retrospect, the whole “I gotta clear my head” thing was bullshit.
I was remarkably good at telling lies that even I started to believe my own untruths. Go figure.
So let me back up for a moment. There was this thing called MySpace back in the day and it was like Facebook but more personalized. So, I got to talking to this guy on there about music and he told me about this band and I had to see them because they were so good.
Where do you live? I typed as I popped some pills and washed them down with coffee.
I’m in Indiana; not too far, he typed back.
It’s not exactly local. That’s over 700 miles from here!
Come on, you’ll never get to see these guys. This is the closest they’ll ever be to you.
I thought they were from Chicago?? I questioned. Was this guy a serial killer trying to trick me?
Yeah, but they’re playing Detroit.
After considerable investigation, I justified that Detroit was closer than Chicago or Indiana (where my new friend lived) and well, hey, I could sure use a vacation from my self-inflicted drama. Right? Plus, if the guy was a serial killer, I factored in my height and the fact that I can go “crazy bitch” face in two seconds. He won’t want to mess with me after that.
So, off I went on a dreamy car ride at the end of May, missing my eldest daughter’s fifteenth birthday while I drove west on the highway – stopping at every single rest stop on the way, which would cost me two hours total.
In hindsight, what I should have done was woman the fuck up and stay local for my kids. But no, I was too busy feeling sorry for myself because I relapsed in February, lost my home two weeks later and then to ice the bitter cupcake of self-pity, my boyfriend committed suicide in late March which devastated me.
Instead of staying and dealing, I guess I figured bailing on everyone that mattered to me was the thoughtful thing to do. Right? Self-righteousness and insolence were the train cars of the year back then.
2005 was the year before I got sober and after going through the index cards and flashbacks in my mind, I can say it was certainly one of the worst years of my life. Instead of sticking around the homestead, I bailed and traveled halfway across the country to hang with people I never met and find out how their local lives went from day to day.
Ironically, the guy who I befriended was in recovery (which I guess was some sort of sign from above – but I didn’t give two shits) and while I couldn’t grasp his whole clean living phase, I was still mindful to keep my drugs in the car and away from him.
Gosh, I was so thoughtful.
Everywhere I went people pointed out to me that I was not a local… and I wasn’t sure how they knew but it started making me uncomfortable. Like, so what I wasn’t a local? How do you know this? I found out later it was because A) I talked different than the Midwesterners did and oh yeah, B) I had a Pennsylvania license plate on a green ’98 Dodge Intrepid with heavy metal band stickers all over the ass end.
I try to stay pretty local these days… the furthest I have been from home since I got sober is Pittsburgh for a tattoo convention my husband worked. I’m sure at some point I will venture further out, but staying local has its perks.
Chaos was my sidekick since I was about four years old. I was always pushing the envelope in disturbing ways from shoving an eraser up my nose when I was seven to putting toothpaste on my eyelids when I was nine… I was one of those “What would happen if…” kids.
Later, it was me coasting down my grandmother’s driveway and into the garage on roller skates. There was a half-inch lip where the concrete floor of the garage raised above the driveway. I coasted down; watching the lip draw closer I thought, “I’m not lifting my feet. I want to see what happens when my skates hit that lip.” (Even as I write this over thirty years later, I am shaking my head – what the hell is wrong with you, girl) Needless to say, I hit the lip, went airborne and landed on my knees and face – and I had boo-boo’s to prove it.
I cried and wailed… my grandmother came running. “What happened?” I told her my story of pain and even at ten years old, I embellished it, peppering in imaginary details to make it sound more dramatic.
My grandmother was not buying any of it. “Well, what did you think was going to happen, you stupid ass? Get up. Brush yourself off and go get a Popsicle.” I did just that and when I saw my friends later, I told them my embellished Daredevil story of self-inflicted boo-boo’s and how I must have been cruising down the driveway doing at least twenty miles an hour!
It was the last time I cried over physical pain, but it was not the last time I intentionally created chaos to get attention. Later in life, I found emotional ways to create chaos and keep the drama flowing in my life. “Hey, over here! I am a human trainwreck but I’m cute so come and love me!”
I created chaos because I had to compartmentalize all the weird, icky and dangerous feelings I had inside that didn’t sit well with me. Being an ACOA besides an alcoholic/addict, I had a double whammy of stunted emotional growth. So when things got chaotic in a way I didn’t understand, I would make them more chaotic by inserting my own melodrama, thereby making sure that all that weird inner shit really did have something to do with me instead of me just being a victim of circumstance.
It took me a long time to realize that most of my chaos was self-created, even after I got sober in 2006. I had a real case of the ‘woe is me’ sniffles until I finally stopped self-sabotaging and realized I truly can be my own worst enemy.
So if you are anything like the old me (who still tries to poke her train wrecked head into my life from time to time) and you are surrounded by chaos more than peace, maybe take a long hard look at the center of it all.
Life was ironing out when I met him. I was fourteen, a sophomore in high school (I was one of those lucky kids born in January) and excited about this new chapter in my life. Adjusting to high school was awkward, but I made a couple friends.
Gym class though… ugh.
My parents were fighting a lot because my father was trying to get sober and not having a good go at it. Life was getting uncomfortable which is why when I got to high school, temptation got the best of me.
There were difficult roads I could have traveled to make life easier, but I chose painful roads that made life difficult.
I met a guy who was way too old for me but that’s what I thought I needed – an older boy with a car, who smoked and had a regular job.
A boy who could get me out of my home life of hell.
And he did.
He was a boy who I fell for blindly; the outside cool and handsome, the inside black and miserable.
He scraped me off one level of hell and dropped me in a deeper one.
First it started with my clothes.
Then it was my make up.
After that it was my friends.
Who is he?
Why is he standing so close to you? I saw you touching him.
Why do you smell like sex?
Then it got worse.
I wished for a pair of horse blinders to wear.
We were at a red light in his pick up truck one afternoon and there was a guy on the corner. Waiting for the bus I guess?
I made the mistake of looking to my right and as fast as I saw him, I turned away.
Suddenly, the right side of my face was kissing the passenger side glass.
There was a sharp pain in the left side of my head.
“What are you looking at? Do you wanna fuck that guy? Huh? You think he’s cute?”
I was only looking out the window.
I didn’t mean it.
He got out of the truck and approached the man. “You like my girl, huh?”
The man seemed confused.
Suddenly, the man was on the ground being pummeled.
These idiots on the street, walking around minding their own business. Didn’t they know what would happen if I looked at them? If they looked at me?
After that, I scanned the roads as far as I could see, looking for people so I could look away when we got close.
They didn’t know, but I knew. I knew the danger we would be in if I looked at you and you looked at me.
It was a Tuesday.
I never listened to the radio in work – I was more of a compact disc person since I just figured out how to make my own CDs with music I ignorantly downloaded from the Internet.
I met a guy the previous year – also ignorantly on the Internet – which is a story in and of itself. He walked out on me after a disagreement about money and drove his car down to Virginia to see his sister whom he had not seen or spoken to for three years. After two days he had called me to beg for forgiveness; for a home.
Anyway, my co-worker, who was in the business of talking customers into an extra bundle of pizza boxes, yelled from the back office, “An airplane crashed into one of the twin towers!”
My first thought: What are the twin towers? My second thought: That’s what happens when you drink on the job.
I continued to print reports while working on a short story for my creative writing class. It was nice to have a job where I could get things done for me.
It made up for the shitty pay due to my lack of office skills.
My coworker shouted from the back again: “Another plane hit the other tower!”
Okay, so I guess it’s not drunk flying. I turned on the radio and listened to WMMR as Pierre Robert told me what he heard so far.
The phone rang.
It was my boyfriend.
“Airplanes flew into the twin towers,” he breathed.
“I know,”I said. “I just turned on the radio.”
“Oh Jesus, something just flew into the Pentagon.” He screamed.
“Doesn’t your sister work there?”
“Yes. This is unbelievable.” I could hear the panic in his voice as he sipped his 56-ounce refill cup of Pepsi and dragged on his cigarette.
I looked out the door again at the vehicles whizzing by. Did they know what was happening? One of the owners appeared outside, framed in the aluminum door – it was the one with the cane and the pimp daddy suits. He was a large man; Jewish; arrogant.
I didn’t like him.
My boyfriend told me he spoke with his dad. Her promotion carried her to the side of the building that was hit.
I was crying. The arrogant Jew asked me what was wrong. I told him. He asked me to come in his office. He held me and said it was going to be okay; everything was going to be fine and he would take care of me.
Suddenly, I was on my knees, under his desk, between his legs. When he finished, he helped me to my feet, handed me a hundred dollars and a Percocet. He gave me a long, molesting hug and said, “I’m sorry.”
I stared at him right in his eyes – silent and searching like a wounded doe searching the eyes of her hunter.
“Sorry for what?” I finally managed.
“Sorry for your loss,” he said.
*This story is a personal essay based on factual events.