Monday, August 31, 2009


I wrote this poem 3 years ago,  from a very small place within me.   The little girl who was never enough for her daddy.  I could not formerly read this aloud without quivering or welling up.  This is one of the first Augusts in which the anniversary of my father's death was just another day -- not one in which I felt guilty for not visiting his gravesite as my mother and sister do dutifully and not one in which I had to shut out feeling period in order to save myself.  I post this today from a much fuller place -- the adult woman who does not require her deceased father to have been anything other than what he was capable of and who does not require herself to be anything other than who she is.  

it is still dark out
when mommy jostles my toes
to wake me from slumber
i can feel the knot
in my belly
beginning to tighten
in anticipation
my little brain is swirling
“will i cast far enough?”
“i hope daddy’s in a good mood ”
“is he going to make me wait a long time to pee?”
i can smell the Lebanon bologna and mustard
being packed for the day’s lunches,
the odor of which brings me both
an odd comfort and acute nausea
to this day

we ride in silence
as the sun finds its way out
remnants of stale beer and cigarettes
escape from daddy’s breath,
the fumes
permeate the car
i just want to crawl out,
but instead get lost in my head,
staring out the window,
doing amazing cartwheels
to wow Susan Baltz
or what I am going to say
when i meet Marlo Thomas someday

we arrive at the lake
and daddy barks out
instructions for unloading
the gear
inevitably there’d be some
back-handed comment
about my ineptness to
not tangle fishing lines
and this is when
i would ponder
why daddy chose to adopt a girl
when he clearly wanted a boy
and wouldn’t he be
less mad if he picked a boy?

daddy puts
the orange life vest
on me
with as much tenderness
as one would tie a
bundle of old newspapers
and yet
it is the one act
that makes me
feel even remotely
cared for
“at least he doesn’t want
me to drown” is what I think to myself

i sit in my spot
on the boat
and feel the coolness of the water
and the breeze of our movement
as daddy dips each oar
in rhythmic grunts
i watch the mosquitoes dancing
on the surface
and pray that daddy keeps
rowing and that we never stop

but we do
and that means that it’s “show time”
and my every movement is
now under careful watch
and this is when I wish
i could go just be strapped to the anchor
and gently rest on the bottom
so that daddy can fish quietly
and not be bothered with the mess i’ll surely make
i am shaking
as i hold the reel
and bite my bottom lip
praying that i don’t cast into the weeds
or get my line snagged
and i press the button
to release the line
listening for the whir that daddy’s line has
and my heart beats faster and faster
“please don’t let daddy yell, please God please”

i want to know what other girls are doing
with their daddies on summer days
i want to be riding my bike
i want my daddy to hold me
i want to be anywhere but here

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Last call

In the AA mtg I attended last evening,  the speaker poignantly and honestly spoke about the despair and hopelessness she was drowning in when she had her last drink -- 33 years ago.   Many people shared what her story touched in them about the place they were in when they had their last drink.   Many people were in a blackout and awoke having had some kind of spiritual awakening that moved them to stop,  go to a rehab or get to an AA meeting.   I am continually in awe of the Higher Power that each of us alcoholics have in common and the miraculousness of how each of us arrived at putting down the bottle.
My last drink was in the late night hours of Labor Day evening,  1990.   I was with my 1st girlfriend and her good friend,  staying in a filthy, dinky bungalow on the Schulkyll river.  I was on a bender that took me to an all-time low.   When I wasn't drinking,  I was passed out.  I'd come to,  then begin drinking again.   Coors Light.   Piss-water.  Had to drink a lot of 'em to get any kind of buzz.   I vaguely recall that shots of Jack Daniels may have been interspersed between beers. At one point,  I was floating on an inflated tire in the river -- muddy,  mosquito-ridden and disgustingly dirty. I had not a clue.  I may have even dunked my face and took a gulp of the toxic water.  No more toxic than what I'd been putting in my body for 3 days straight.    I have little recall of that final drink,  other than to see the evidence the next morning:   soiled jeans wreaking of urine,  stale beer and doritos and a hangover to beat the band.   I don't know how I had arrived to my apartment,  but my girlfriend was absent.   I went to the freezer,  as I'd routinely do after drinking binges,  to seek solace and tremor relief from the bottle of Stoley's vodka that resided there permanently.  I opened the freezer door,  shaking and repulsed by my own odor,  and crouched down on my kitchen floor,  sobbing uncontrollably.   "I can't do this.  I can't do this any more."    I called a friend who was newly sober and asked her to come get me and take me to a meeting.

In my kabbalistic program,  we learn about our "future self".  It begins with a call and an answer.  It is the seed of our spiritual lives.   I believe it is the future self in partnership with a Higher Power that brings us alcoholics to a place of sanity,  to have a willingness and a desire to stop drinking.  To know that a better life is attainable when we are sober.    I'm very well aware today that my future self had been the nagging tiny voice in my head for about 2 years prior to me actually putting down the bottle.   I would get messages like:  "You know this is a problem"  or  "This has to stop".     And I would answer back in my head sometimes:   "What will life be like without drinking?"   "Who will I be?" 

I have no real recollection of that 1st AA meeting,  knowing only that I couldn't live in this fermented state any longer.  I have not picked up a drink,  EVER,  again.   And I don't miss it.  I pray I never do.    

Friday, August 28, 2009

Pink tanks & cowboy boots AND my former life in drag

As a very young child,   I was being groomed to be a little "lady",  under the watch of my military father who had rigid ideas of how girls are supposed to look and be, the picture completed with long hair adorned with yarn ribbons,  which I totally despised.   In rebellion,  I spent my summers without shirts running around with the boys in the neighborhood,  wanting to emulate their every move, which included standing to pee in the woods.  I was very uncomfortable in the dresses my mother put me in for elementary school,  not to mention the painful knots that had to be brushed out of my long locks;  by the time I hit 3rd grade,  I was about to change all that.   This was the year of the Partridge Family and its star teen throb -- David Cassidy.  I didn't have a crush on him like the other girls;  oh no,  I wanted to BE him.  
Something that I've now come to appreciate about my mother back then is that despite the time period being the early 70's and her own generation's notions of what it means to be a girl,   she did actually "get me"  on some level.   My plea as a 10 year old to have a short shag hairdo,  just like ole Davie,  was honored by my mother.  She took me to my first hair stylist and I held out my Partridge family collector card with his picture and told the stylist I wanted to look like him.   Arriving home feeling very free and proud of my new look,   I was shunned by my father who mumbled loud enough to be audible  "You look like a damn boy."    And then there was the silent treatment that felt like an eternity.    And this is where the confusion begins about the truth of my gender expression and what is "safe"  versus what is "real".
I was a chameleon from this point forward until literally a few weeks ago,  at the ripe age of 47. I spent my adolescent days desperately trying to fit in and to please my parents and dressed the part of a young woman, whose heterosexual duty was to attract a young man.   This felt about as natural as donning a burlap bag.    This "costuming" continued through the majority of my twenties and went hand-in-hand with my drunken one-night stands  in an effort to bury my lesbian tendencies 6 feet under.  
Putting the bottle down and "coming out"  at 28 years old  found me with my eyes more open yet not awake enough to let myself feel the fullness of who I really was.   I returned to tomboyish clothes for awhile, though shaky with taking off the disguise I'd been wearing; shortly after this,  I met the woman who would become my long-term partner and who I'd find myself wanting to please as I did my father -- out of fear of being abandoned thereby forgoing the truth of me and losing myself in her.   She wanted a "feminine"  woman,  not some "bull-dyke".   I couldn't tolerate her looks of disapproval when my appearance was not up to par with her standards of feminine.    So I dressed for the part over the next 11 years.   Until the relationship began to unravel and became abusive and the rage I had carried inside was being acted out on the outside -- passive-aggressively -- in the form of rebelling and hiding.   Haircuts became increasingly shorter and more masculine.   I frequented the boys department rather than the women's department in clothing stores.  This was my  "fuck you".   To her.  To my dead father.  To me for allowing myself to give away my power.  
After ending that relationship,   I continued to hide beneath my boy costume.  It was a suit of armour.  It was my protection from being scrutinized and from being taken in.   I dated femmy, narcissistic women who wanted me to swoon,  grovel over, and care-take them.  They were too consumed in themselves to notice me.  This was safe because I could remain hidden. 
Almost 2 years ago, two men in my kabbalistic program made comments to me about not being afraid of my femininity.   I rejected those statements because I wasn't ready to hear them.  
Not until I was ready to be noticed.  To be met.   To be fully seen.  This has been the longing in my heart.   This is the place I've landed today.
I am not under the spell or threat of anyone wanting me to be something other than exactly who I am.  I am more centered and I have more of me.   I'm interested in who I am and how I want to express that.   I am just beginning to understand what is real  for me.  This is the product of kabbalistic healing and a commitment to staying with myself in the process.  
I have given myself the freedom to explore what it means to be a woman and a dyke and a tomboy and how to make room for all of them to live in the same body.    So far,  it's been pink tank tops & cowboy boots.   A few pastel tailored shirts.   And a black bra with skinny straps.  I actually feel sexy.     
My healer calls this  "The shining of K".   
Here.  I.  Am.

Life is in me

I wrote this poem right before I returned to AA in mid-January of this year.  I was exploring my abandonment issues by re-visiting the time period before I was adopted.  It was this experience that reminded me that I was never alone,  even when I felt utterly and completely by myself.  

Tonight, I walked to the edge of the canyon
And knowingly plummeted head first to a terrifying place
– without a guide, without a chute
Spiraling around a memory, a sensation
Of being completely, utterly alone
After leaving the womb AND before I was placed in the
Arms of strangers
A floating in darkness
The vortex of the unknown
No roots underneath me

I prepare a meal
And light a candle
And envision what it feels like
To have absolutely no connection
To anyone I’ve ever loved
Any longer
I feel the deep belly-filled grief
Rising up and getting lodged
In my chest
Suffocating my heart
As if an alien-force
Was strangling me from the inside
The gale-force fury of tears
Splits apart my skull
From the pressure

I stare at the plate of food
And at the objects in the room
Everything is dull
And murky
Devoid of luster or shine
There is no beauty anywhere
I am a mere shell
Bones under skin
I am hollow
Without love pulsing through my veins
I feel as remarkable as a speck of dust
Awaiting to be swept out of sight

I toss the food out into the garbage
And begin to do the dishes
I stare blankly at the paring knife in the sink
That I used to cut some onion for salad
And suddenly there is something that has an appeal
I see it for its potential
To slice away this maddening pain
For the first time in my life
I allow thoughts to visit
About what brings a human to the point
Of seeing no reason for remaining here
Yet something within
Has me step away

I take myself into the bathroom
And there is another eruption building
I brace myself on the toilet seat, lid closed
I grab a wad of toilet paper
And the shaking begins
Then the heaving
The wailing
Snot plugs my nostrils
Salt stings my eyelids
Yet is the one thing that has a flavor tonight
That doesn’t make me nauseous
I bury my face in a towel
And sit with the deafening stillness

It is in this seemingly empty space
That I feel where G-d resides in me
I am no longer quivering
My breath is even, steady
A calm washes over me as welcoming
As a summer evening breeze
While I feel the dull ache in my head
And the knot in my throat
I sense the weeping has ceased for now
The grief has found a nesting place
I feel the faint beating of my heart
I am resigned to being here
I am the love I seek
I am enough as I am
Life is in me

Wait 5 minutes

In AA,  as in IKH (Integrated Kabbalistic Healing),   there are slogans or phrases which become part of the toolbox for living.    In the literal toolbox that many of us have,  there are "go-to"  tools,  the staples we minimally need and can use for many things:  a Phillips head screwdriver,  an Allen's wrench,   a good hammer.    There are parallels between the tools I have in my AA toolbox and my IKH one.   
AA:  One day at a time  =  IKH:  Be with what is.
AA:  More will be revealed = IKH:  Allow for the unfolding.
AA:  Keep it simple  =  IKH:   Look at what's here.

In my regular Tue night meeting,  there are a cast of characters,  literally from Yale to jail  (we have 1 member who went to Yale and several who spent time in jail !).   There's this gigantic dude,  a sage in disguise,  who sports wife-beater T's,  baggy gym shorts and slide sandals EVERY mtg and he offers up these incredible gems from time to time.   One such pearl is his shortened version of an AA slogan:   "Wait 5 minutes for the miracle."    The "miracle" part is the glitch,  so he suggested that we just try   "Wait 5 minutes".    Its benefits are like the Ginzu knife that touted it "slices, dices, julienne fries" !    When I practice this,   my obsessions are lifted,  my impulses dissipate,  my urgency slows its speed,  my ruffled feathers soften.   In IKH,  we learn about the "branches" (Sefirot)  of the tree of life that are in everything,  in all of us.  The "territory" of the tree that we're in when we need to practice "Wait 5 minutes"  is Yesod-Tiferet.   Yesod is about connection and when it's unhealed,  we want to connect to anything and everything.   Active alcoholics have extremely unhealed Yesod.  We don't know how to make connection -- to people, to ourselves, to our feelings and we want to escape and avoid anything that remotely has a whiff of intimacy or pain.   In our alcoholism,  we connect with the bottle.  It is our only love.   Our best friend.   Our sole companion.   It doesn't engage us or talk back or judge.  When we do connect outwardly,  we are promiscuous,  socially inappropriate and obnoxious.   When we put down the drink,  we may still be all of these things and we have to learn how to connect out in the world.   We may not be able to tolerate aloneness,  we may fear abandonment,  we may feel overhwhelmed by intense feelings.   "Wait 5 minutes"  is about the branch on the tree that informs Yesod -- Tiferet.   Tiferet is our wise sage within.   Tiferet guides us about how to stay with ourselves and when to connect in healthy ways so that we're not trying to be rescued or saved.   "Wait 5 minutes"  does that.   It's so simple & so powerful.   There is no problem so great or so overpowering that can't be minimized a bit by just waiting 5 minutes.   And that,  is the miracle.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

How it was ...

Frozen,  Combusting

the little girl
with big brown eyes
as shards
of pejorative names
cut her
slicing the
neat bows
and locks
of childhood innocence

years are spent
the psychological
fired aimlessly
by the
Korean war vet
and stewing
in his beer glass
a permanent fixture
on the living room sofa

bigger girl
loses sleep
as she smothers
her ears
with the pillow
trying to drown out
the slurred raging
in the other room
lulling herself
with streaming tears
while plotting
all the ways
she could do away
with this
demonic man
who dares to
call himself … father

young woman
now finds
in the same bottle –
a magic potion
to give her strength
so she can spew
back at him
the venom
over the years
in the pit
of her soul

she aims
and often
drowning deeper
in the liquor
flying higher,
getting sicker

out of control
she is deaf
to the pleas
of loved ones
trying to help
her get well.

by night
she lies
simmering in
her stupor
then awoken by terror
in the grip of panic
and impending doom
unable to think
or move

after falling
she scrapes
herself off the bottom
from the wreckage
from the plunge

though a mature woman now,
when face to face
another’s pain
another’s rage,
she can be
transported back --
the time machine
from hell--
and there stands
that same
little girl

Steppin off ...

I've been encouraged by two of the most important people in my life to write about my journey. I can't decide whether or not I really want to start at the beginning or if I will just begin where I am today and change directions as I go along.

I am almost 19 years abstinent from abusing alcohol. I have been living truly sober for a little over 7 months. My return to the AA community was a product of divine intervention and one of the most pivotal conversations of my life. I separated from the community a little over 16 yrs ago, when I believed that I had "graduated" from the program, given that I participated in group therapy for addiction issues for 2 and a 1/2 yrs, and the fact that my desire to pick up a drink was no longer a temptation. I also didn't relate to the people in meetings, viewing AA as a "cult", a place where people stayed stuck and told war stories. My eyes were closed. I didn't want to belong; mostly I realize now it's because I never had a sense of fitting in anywhere for the better part of my life.

My entry into this world was a place of complete unknown. I never met my biological mother or father. I was given up for adoption. I was chosen by a husband and wife that had tried to conceive children and were unsuccessful. Perhaps I served as a distraction. Or to save them from themselves. My adopted father was a Korean war vet and I would only come to learn after he died about the horrific things he witnessed there. For as long as I can remember, my father drank alcoholically. Except for a brief period of time when he was in rehab and attempted to get sober -- about 2 years before he died. My mother was a housewife and co-dependent. A product of her generation's conditioning that brainwashed women into staying in bad marriages no matter what. It's what you do. It's what she did.

I can remember what beer smelled like on the breath of my father. I was repulsed by it as a child and seduced by it as a teenager. It was the magic elixir to numb all pain. I was transformed when I was under the spell of alcohol. I was invincible and the life of the party and carefree. By the time I was 20 yrs old, I couldn't live without it. I couldn't function for even a few hours without some booze to fuel my insides. It was at this very time I had my first panic attack while I walked from my apartment a mile from my college campus and thought that I was about to die. A good buzz took away the panic ... temporarily. A 3-day binge really wiped out any panic and afterwards, the anxiety was ten-fold.

And the pattern continued ... 3 day binges escalated to daily ones and the dates on the calendar blurred into one another. Waking up in piss-soiled jeans or with 1 shoe on or vomit lingering on my shirt was a normal occurrence. I had bloated up to 190 lbs at my worst (keep in mind, I'm only 5' 2"). Regular trips to the E.R. and hospital specialists also became routine, as the symptoms from the panic attacks became more severe and I believed that I was having cardiac arrest or that my lungs stopped working or that I had a brain aneurism.

It took me 5 years, but I actually graduated from college. With a 2.9 grade pt average. Supposed to be a special education teacher but changed my major in my junior year to psychology so I could hide away with the lab rats rather than be front and center with the retarded children. My mortarboard had masking tape letters that could be read from an aeriel view: "The party's over". I was a disgrace to my parents, completely shit-faced when they arrived to my apartment on graduation morning. I stayed on for 3 more days after graduation, terrified to begin life on the "outside".

I am keenly aware in this moment that my palms have become sweaty and my heart is pumping at full kilter. I am going to take heed and listen to my body's signal that it's time to stop here, for now.

Thanks for listening.