THE BEGINNING

THE BEGINNING

By Liz Kovarsky

For the past 7 years I’ve been feeling incredibly confused and helpless when I think about the epidemic that has plagued my community and my friends. I have had to watch as my loved ones suffer from addiction. And all I’ve wanted for them was to snap out of it, but obviously, that doesn’t work. It finally got to a point that I couldn’t bear to witness their destruction anymore. So I did my best to ignore and suppress it by moving 3,000 miles away.[spacer height=”20px”]
This was really effective…for a short time. But, every time I came home to visit South Kingstown, I was torn apart by another friend who was slowly destroying their life because of their opiate addiction. And then my worst fears came true. My friends actually started dying. As horrible as it felt, I still stayed far away.

I remember the day Bess said, “I can’t stand it anymore, I’m putting my pain into action.” Watching her walk towards the pain, instead of running away from it was incredibly inspiring. Over time and through her journey in drama therapy she developed ideas about how to cope with the epidemic. Since then I had been hoping to help her in some way. Finally in June, our timing harmonized and I offered to host a fundraiser for her upcoming Story Project.

From the minute I decided to host the Yoga Fundraiser I was on fire. It felt as though I finally had a way to channel all the years of ignored emotions into a finite, manageable project. I could actually do something! Even though I only had about thirteen days to organize, everything seemed to fall into place seamlessly. I contacted artists, crafters, local businesses, people I knew well, people I had never met, people who have never even stepped foot in Rhode Island, and local community members to see who was interested in donating time or goods for the silent auction. I felt a little nervous about people being apprehensive about the subject matter.

I received responses from almost everyone I contacted. There were no negative reactions, all of their replies were incredibly generous, and positive. My feelings of empowerment began to grow as I explained more about the project. People were so eager for the opportunity to contribute. And many of these people began to gush to me about their own heartbreaking stories of addiction and loss. Though I felt honored people wanted to entrust me with their personal stories, they were difficult to hear, they stung a deep place inside of me.[spacer height=”20px”]
During this time I was feeling scared for some of my loved ones who were still struggling with addiction, sad about those lost, and a little uncomfortable holding all of these stories. But it was too late to turn back. I decided to let go and let all the feelings in. I thought to myself “after all, that is a big part of what the work for the Story Project is all about.” Becoming comfortable with being uncomfortable. Sitting in the mess of it all so we can begin to understand and move through what has happened. And as I learned prior, running away from the discomfort didn’t help.

As soon as I accepted this idea, hearing these stories began to help me realize that I was connected to the storytellers through our shared experiences. In that way, all of the people I had reached out to were also connected to each other. And we all had the common feeling of not knowing what to do. I found we were all hungry for a way to heal our pain and make it better.

The day of the fundraiser, I got up extra early to squeeze in my yoga practice. That small act of self-love made it easier to give more of myself later on in the day. The Well in Wakefield was our generously donated event venue for the evening. Setup was easy, our silent auction looked great, and the food was plentiful! It was humbling to see how difficult it was for some people to be there, and I felt a deep sense of gratitude for their presence.[spacer height=”20px”]
I am incredibly grateful to Bess for facilitating this. I am humbled by all of the people who came out and showed support. I would feel deceptive if I didn’t say that my motivation to get involved was for personal catharsis as much as it was to help Bess to heal our community. Now, I am prepared and looking forward to being able to share some of my stories.

A DIFFERENT KIND OF LOVE LETTER

A DIFFERENT KIND OF LOVE LETTER

by Erin Gorman

 

Loving her has never been hard. I knew almost immediately that I loved her and would tell her this only a few weeks into the relationship.

 

Our first kiss, our first long embrace, in the thundering rain under an awning of her grandmother’s apartment building. I had snuck away from work just to feel her arms around me. How could I resist her? She’s beautiful and sexy in all of the right ways. She’s smart, funny, and a bit wild. A visual artist and incredible musician, she takes care of everyone around her. She is a loyal and loving friend, cousin, daughter and granddaughter. She’s everything I could have hoped for in a partner, and then some.

 

Holly and I began seeing each other in May 2014 and it wasn’t long into our relationship that she told me she was in recovery for a heroin addiction. It was a similar story to others I had heard. Her habit formed from the use of prescription drugs. The pills were too expensive to aid in her addiction, so heroin became a more “economically manageable” alternative. After only a few months of use she entered detox. She relapsed a few times but nothing consistent and promised she would not use again.

 

I strongly believe that people deserve trust until they prove otherwise, I believed her. She shared so many intimate pieces of herself with me; her childhood growing up in a dysfunctional family with an abusive stepfather, her history of substance abuse beginning at a very young age, her sexual escapades, and a long-time pattern of reckless behavior. All of this I accepted and embraced as experiences that helped mold her into the person I loved. I didn’t think she would have a reason to lie to me.

 

Three months into our relationship Holly overdosed on heroin right in front of me. It all happened so fast; the memory is kind of a blur, although I will never forget how it all felt.

 

Earlier that evening we picked up her best friend to spend the night at our apartment. He had recently been released from jail, where he had spent a few months for drug charges. Holly was beaming with excitement for the reunion. On the ride back to our apartment everything was perfect; best friends catching up. I got to know a bit about this stranger who held such an important place in her life. I could feel how happy she was to have him with us; her joy was infectious.

 

It felt as though in an instant her laughter went silent, the sparkle in her eye disappeared, her body went limp, and her skin began to turn blue. I screamed as I helped carry her to the shower. I was paralyzed with terror. I stood there looking at her, aiming the cold water on her face, watching her friend slap her repeatedly, yelling her name. I thought it was over. I thought she may never come back to me.

 

As she regained consciousness my fear slowly dissipated, first it was replaced by relief, and then by anger. As I stood there staring at her, stumbling out of the tub, oblivious to what had just transpired, I began to shake. For a brief moment I hated her. I still didn’t know exactly what she took but I wasn’t stupid. I remember my whole body convulsing as I stumbled from the bathroom to the bedroom. I sat on the bed, in the dark, and began to cry. The crying turned to sobbing, which lasted hours.

 

It took months to finally work through all of the emotions that had surfaced that night and genuinely forgive her. I was trying to cope with the reality of what I experienced and how close I had come to losing the woman I loved. I felt betrayed. And for the first time in our relationship I felt alone. She finally admitted to having relapsed many times while we were dating. She said she didn’t tell me because she was ashamed. I can’t say that I blame her. I can see the stigma that accompanies heroin use. It’s one thing to use recreational drugs, or even to be an alcoholic, but heroin is a different story. And she’s the first person to admit that.

 

One of the worst parts about heroin addiction is being dope sick. Most addicts understand that every time they get high it could be the last time they do anything, but from what Holly has told me withdrawal is like living through the pain of dying, so they keep using.

 

Holly says she has not used since her overdose, and I believe her. She takes Suboxone to help her feel normal and to ward off the excruciating sickness. She is determined to wean herself off over time but when the sickness hits, it’s hard to resist anything that will make it disappear. Some weeks she’ll go two or three days without taking it, but she’s lethargic, irritable, and sometimes spends a good portion of the day in the bathroom. Whether or not it is a physical response or psychologically induced, who knows. To her, all she feels is the immense pain.

 

I am often torn about disclosing the fact that she is in recovery because heroin addiction is in a category of stigma all on its own. Also, the truth is it’s not really my story to tell. I’m not the one who has experienced the gripping hold of addiction and lived to tell about it. But I happen to be in love with someone who has. This is my story.

 

There are some people in my life I have absolutely no interest in sharing this with. I have told some friends, colleagues, and others who I believe have a deeper understanding of what it means to struggle with addiction. Knowing that there are others out there who get it is comforting.

 

Since the beginning of 2015, three people in Holly’s life have passed away from an overdose. I’ve watched her stare into space with tears in her eyes, her body weak from emotional exhaustion. “There’s going to be nobody left!” she said. I feel helpless and furious all at the same time. Something inside me screams “THERE WOULD BE IF THEY WOULD JUST GET HELP!!”

 

The sad truth is heroin addiction is full of stigma, shame, and judgment. I’ve come to understand that addiction often exists to compensate for something else, something broken, missing, or not at peace. Getting help for the addiction itself is one thing, but without attempting to address the underlying cause(s), successful recovery is often impossible. The most important thing I can do is continuing to maintain an open dialogue with her about it, our life, and our future.

 

As we sit on the couch tonight, like we do most nights, I look over at her, she’s smiling back at me with such sweetness. She is so beautiful it takes my breath away… Her eyes express the strength of our love. It makes me melt.

 

“No matter how much time has passed, my feelings have not begun to diminish or even plateau. My love for you as a human being, as my best friend, and as my future wife continue to grow every day.”

 

I believe she feels that we are meant to be, whatever that means… This is the woman I intend to spend the rest of my life with, or until the end of hers, whichever comes first.

CREATING FROM THE MESS

CREATING FROM THE MESS

By Ana Bess

Yesterday I arrived in Santa Cruz, the sun shone in my squinted eyes, and a salty breeze patted my face. Some day’s life looks like this. Picturesque, illuminated, with a warm breeze. Thoughts ran through my head on the drive down from San Francisco. While the smell of eucalyptus wafted in my window they bounced around inside of me. A conversation earlier in the day reminded me of that helpless feeling. I thought, “Who am I to write this? Will it even help? What if someone else dies? This is too big. What if I can’t do it? What if they hate it? What if I hurt someone?”

 

As Jess and I sat on the bed last night a breeze blew in the sliding glass door, the dogs barked outside, and the sun set over the Pacific Ocean. We talked of characters, real and imagined. We talked of family and friends. Those lost to addiction and those saved by rehab, spirituality, passion, and art. The hair on our arms stood on edge while we named each character of the play and how accurately pieces of them mirrored those from our lives. While I reflected on my life, I realized so much of it has been soaked with addiction, illness, and death.

 

Life can be so unbearably sad and desperate sometimes.

 

Jess has a knack for comedy. While writing one of the scenes last night on stools in the kitchen, she blurted out a line that brought us into a fit of laughter. As we riffed on this theme we doubled over. It was so silly. And yet I think more than anything our bodies needed a release. I laughed and laughed until my cheeks hurt.

 

Today we worked on the beach and giggled as the water rose to touch our toes. Jess’ five-month-old daughter is here with us on this journey, she is a memento of life. Her laughter is a constant reminder of innocence. An expression of that piece inside of us that just needs to be held. To be told that everything will be ok. Nourished. Kissed. And glanced at with love.

 

This process is harder than I imagined.

 

Today marks the one-year anniversary of another friend lost. All I can do in these moments is channel everything into the creation of this play. Into these characters, into their dialogue, their wellbeing and downfalls, into creating lightness to accompany the darkness. Otherwise it’s too much to hold. There is too much hurt here. My heart has crevices, so tender. Please don’t touch me there.

 

But that’s the work right? To sit in the muck of it and still feel the rays of sunshine upon your face. To laugh through hot tears. To find humor in the darkest cracks of discomfort. To create from the mess of life.

 

To create from the mess of life.

 

To create from the mess of life.

MAKING SENSE OF ADDICTED LOVED ONES

MAKING SENSE OF ADDICTED LOVED ONES

by Joan Peckham

 

Those suffering from addiction are sometimes hard to love. But they are loved. They are in many ways the most sensitive and wonderful people to be with. They need to be loved because it is essential to their recovery and survival. We all have a responsibility to help them reconnect so they can find freedom from their pain. It does not help to further marginalize people who are already in pain. They need to be loved.

 

Below I have written a few stories from my own family. I observe that my family is not alone in this. These stories are my own but they are also universal. These stories are hard to tell, just as they are hard to hear. With this I hope to break through the isolation, yours and mine.

 

MY FATHER, A VETERAN

 

Early on, I didn’t know why my father was so disconnected from the rest of our small close-knit community. While other fathers joined the fire department and the VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars), he was always working…working in his TV repair shop, or working on our house. When family and friends visited, he would be out wandering around puttering. The men had to sit around and watch him put up the next wall or paint the next section of the house. In later years my mother helped him to stop working by plying him with a cocktail as he arrived home. That was the beginning of the “wet” drunk years.

 

He never touched us, with his hands, but the tongue can carry mighty blows to the psyche of the most sensitive children. To make sense of this, I subscribe to the theory of addiction as an attachment disorder. He was in submarines in WWII. He had to be awake during attacks from the Japanese, for this he was given amphetamines. He was asked to breathe the exhaust of the diesel engines vented inward to muffle their sound as they waited in silence to escape notice of the enemy.

 

The seeds of his lung cancer were sown then and the nightmares began. He was called back to active duty on the day of the attack on Perl Harbor for the duration of the war. When the war ended, he decided to come home and start a family. His reaction the to war was to detach from society. He decided no one could understand his horrifying experiences in the South Pacific. This heavily influenced the way he fathered.

 

He and my mother did not drink while raising us; he did (almost hilariously) fall off the wagon a few times. As soon as we were grown, my mother developed her plan to help him to stop overworking with the evening cocktails, and unintentionally placed him on the path toward nightly drunkenness. Cancer is usually a perfect storm of factors. He died of lung cancer at the age of 61…much too young for his children who were still young adults.

 

MY FIRST HUSBAND, A STORY OF HOPE

 

He ran away from home when he was seventeen. He was a very bright and headstrong kid with strict parents. He needed more freedom and found it in New York City. However the man who took him in and helped him find a job was a heroin addict. He began to use heroin too. One day he returned home to find his friend and mentor dead from an overdose. He immediately realized he was in danger. He left New York to find the closest Daytop (drug and alcohol treatment) center. He recovered, applied to college, and that is when I met him. We married and for various reasons divorced two and a half years later. He then married a sensible healthy, and sober woman and they had two lovely children, now grown. He left addiction, and moved to steady employment and a satisfying career and partner.

 

Many of my friends have told me that once a heroin addict, always a heroin addict. This, I have learned, is not true.

 

MY BROTHER, THE SENSITIVE ONE

 

When my brother was two and a half he crawled into the liquor cabinet and drank a shot of whisky. My parents always had one bottle that they rarely touched. We lived in upper Appalachia, in a very small town where most folks were either teetotalers or heavy drinkers. There was no in-between.

 

My parents were horrified, but my brother knew that this was the substance for him. When he was young, as young as six, he started acting strange. No one knew what was wrong with him. I now know it as depression, deepened by a bullying father trying to toughen up his son for a world that is brutal to sensitive souls.

 

Where I grew up, folks would rarely go to a medical doctor, and never a psychologist or psychiatrist. That would be an admission of a flawed body and soul.

 

Upon taking his first job after college, he turned his car around and came back home asking my father if he could work with him in the TV repair shop. My father turned him away. He worked in that job for a while, hated it, took another, hated it, and then he took another on the boats in the Gulf of Mexico. He used to tell us of all of the alcoholics on the ship. We listened to his salty stories, but did not know that he was one of those troubled souls too.

 

The pattern persisted; he would get a great job, whine about how horrible everyone was, quit it and take another. He was respected and successful at each job, but always unhappy and felt that he was not respected and valued.

 

His wife realized he was alcohol troubled and reported that to the family. We tried to intervene, but it did not work. In the end, his wife told him that she was leaving with their adopted daughter. He admitted to me that he had been addicted to alcohol since he was fourteen and later to prescription drugs.

His doctor told him that his liver was on life support.

 

He died by his own hand.

 

MY SON, THE NEW KID

 

My son completes this lineage of sensitive men. For him, surviving a change of schools after my divorce at a young age proved to be a challenge he was not ready for. He suffered dismissal at the hands of peers because he is bi-racial and was the new kid. The school system practiced the “weed ‘em out” and “focus on who remains” mode, instead of the more modern “let’s try to bring everyone along” mode.

 

He left a blue ribbon school system that understood the balance between challenge and support and worked alongside parents to provide the very best education. He moved to one that promoted competition, lacked an understanding of diversity, and held parents at arm’s length.

 

We found quickly that in this new community of parents preferred their children to smoke pot to avoid alcohol. The stress of being the outsider led to a choice of friends who were also sensitive, disconnected, and marginalized. He self medicated with the drug of choice… pot.

 

Off to college he arrived at a Midwestern school where parents bought their children fridges and filled them with beer and wine (the allotted drug). When a few very wealthy friends asked him to join them in using cocaine and heroin, he tried it. Heroin took all of his emotional and physical pain away. It made him feel whole and alive for the first time.

 

His new wealthy college friends were able to afford drugs, share with him, and then go off on their merry way to work for family businesses. He was left behind.

 

After my brother’s suicide I finally recognized that certain familial behaviors were not harmless personality quirks, but rather symptoms of addiction. So I reached out to my son, and he is now in recovery.

 

He gets better every day.

 

There is hope.

 

We have the support of talented professionals working hard to help him to reconnect and better manage the pain and enabling culture that drove him to self medicate in the first place. But our educational, workforce, cultural and societal practices around the addicted makes it challenging to truly achieve that attachment. Sometimes it feels like the weed ‘em out mentality again. That along with the incorrect belief that there is no recovery from addiction, so we should just move on without the addicted.

 

I am not ready to give up. Until my last breath, I will reach out with a helping hand. He is strong, honest and hard working. I am optimistic.

 

A MESSAGE FROM ME, DAUGHTER, SISTER, MOTHER

 

A professional once told me that the characteristic most common among those suffering from addiction is that they are the most exquisitely sensitive folks. Many wrongly believe that men are not supposed to be sensitive. These men, like my brother are subjected to bullying.

 

Compounding the problem, people from rural parts of the country are frequently disrespected in white-collar circles. We are like the dogs that try to kill off the psychological runt of the litter, but in fact it is exactly these “runts”, our sensitive and different ones, who contribute so much.

 

Our sensitive and different ones contribute so much.

 

I hope that as a community we can begin to think together about possible solutions. Let us help everyone reconnect and seek evidence-based and robust treatment programs to relieve their physical and emotional pain and overcome addiction.

 

Those suffering from addiction need to be loved. They are in many ways the most sensitive and wonderful people to be with. They need to be loved because it is essential to their recovery and survival.

 

They need to be loved.

ON FORGIVENESS AND WHY I’LL ALWAYS ANSWER THE PHONE

ON FORGIVENESS AND WHY I’LL ALWAYS ANSWER THE PHONE

By Carissa Marie

My father stopped calling me on the important days many, many years ago. Thanksgiving, Christmas, my birthdays. But that has never stopped me, now a twenty-five year-old woman, from feeling disappointed every year I don’t hear from him.

My mother was sixteen when she gave birth to me. Within a year of my entrance into the world she kicked my father out with the prayer that he would sober up. Eventually he did, but by that time she had moved on so he started another family.

For a while I used to visit him every weekend. He’d take my sister and I fishing. He taught us how to hook the worm, unhook the fish, make a fire, and cook the freshly caught fish over the embers. He also taught us that if you put a beer can in the fire and poke it with a stick it will collapse into itself. I’ll never forget the look on my mother’s face when I told her how Daddy had me pour his beer into an empty dunkin’ donuts cup while he drove. I reminisce on this time with longing and fear. Those were the good years.

Those glory days ended when my dad fell back into abusing drugs on top of his alcoholism. I’ve never had any of my questions answered about his relapse. Once, when I was fourteen and he was staying with my grandmother he pulled me into the guest bedroom and showed me all the certificates he had earned in jail. He told me how proud of me he was and how I should be proud of him because he was finally sober. Soon after he passed out drunk on the couch. I cleaned the beer bottles from his room while he slept and made him French toast when he woke up. We never talked about it.

The last time I saw him was on my grandmother’s deathbed. I was so overwhelmed with emotion I hardly processed his experience. My family was blaming her death on pills and I couldn’t hear them. I wanted him to explain it to me. Instead he disappeared again. In the last 5 years there have been rumors of more jail, a stabbing, another baby, and recently he’s been spotted in my small hometown.

You might be thinking, okay so what’s the point? Why write about a man who has seemed to come up short when I need him the most? The point is I still love and miss him every single day. Beyond that I admire him. He’s my dad. It is incredibly painful to not have him in my life because of this disease. His addiction has affected me every step of the way. When I go out with my friends and have a couple drinks more than I should I wake up with a pit in my stomach. I think, “Am I an alcoholic?” “Do I need help?” Every single decision I make that any other twenty-five year-old might brush off as experimenting or growing pains weighs on me. All of this is the part of me that is part of him.

Addiction feels like the monster under my bed. I know it’s there, it’s always been there, and it will forever live there. I know this monster could come for me. It’s in my blood. When I see comments posted on newspaper articles about the heroin epidemic like: Stupid is as stupid does or Darwinism at it’s best! I think to myself “Hey! That’s my father those people are talking about!” He’s a part of me. He’s half of me.

I carry my phone with me everywhere; to class, to the elementary schools I work in, to the theater I perform in, always with the same thought: “Will today be the day I get that call? The call that he’s dead.” Or maybe it’ll be the call from him, apologizing for all these years. I wake every morning in a grey space. Part of me wishes he would die so I can finally let go and move on. But the other part, the other part of me hopes I’ll hear that he’s sober and wants to take me fishing. In this blurred moment, first thing in the morning, in bed, I know all I can do is meet the monster head on with forgiveness and love.