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I have been very difficult to deal with lately, more so than usual. I went through a nasty depression from November through February but came out of it in March. I started to feel pretty optimistic that I was going to even out and get back to my normal self. I think I got about 3 days. Since then, I got jet packed into crippling anxiety.

I feel like I’m constantly explaining my behavior in relation to one of my mental illnesses. I’m not making excuses. I’m just providing explanations. That said, my emotions are literally on the tip of a bullet of a constantly cocked trigger.

While anyone would break under the stress I am under right now, I did have the realization yesterday as to what time of year it is. I’m coming up on that anniversary. 9 years ago 4/15. While the memories don’t pervade my every day, the anxiety has never abated. I carry it with me like a 6th tattoo. When the dog barks unexpectedly it trips a wire. By business partner witnessed it yesterday. When I am listening to a work conversation laced with the stripping of layer by layer of control until we get to a machine, the wire gets tripped. I had a panic attack so bad while in a meeting last week, I didn’t speak in a meeting which was noticeable to several people. Turns out, I’m a bit of a beacon for more than just myself.

Yesterday, I was in a meeting where a business partner messaged me to say I looked troubled and that he couldn’t see a spark in my eyes anymore. At first, I thought it was because I forgot to line my eyebrows. That distracts me all day on Zoom when I forget. But seriously, how can people actually see it? My mom taught me to be meticulous with outward appearance so that no one would ever be able to know what’s on the inside. For 2 years working remote, I still get dressed for work every and do my makeup. I don’t have to and many people gave that stuff up long ago. Not me. Everybody needs me to look unruffled. I need me to look unruffled.

Today was just another in a bad string of bad days but it dropped me deeper than anything else at work ever has. Twice this week, my integrity has been questioned. That’s something I can’t process or tolerate. For all my flaws and shortcomings, my integrity is who I am and everyone gives me that. No one ever questions that. It’s just kind of a known thing that goes without saying. Other stuff yes and fair. Integrity, no one crosses that boundary with me because I have proven that if nothing else, I have all of it when it comes to integrity. I have never slacked at work, ever. Not even when in the depths of depression. I don’t even take a day off because of depression. I fight through it and I carry 12 hour work days while I do. I would never leave a “soldier” on the field. Never. I’m the person who would die trying to save someone else. That is not an exaggeration.

Only recently have I begun to find a way to explain how I operate….especially in crisis when all your faculties shut down and you’ve got nothing but adrenaline keeping you alive. You can’t think, you run in autopilot. Let me illustrate my autopilot for you.4/15/2013, standing in a bar window, location tattooed around my ankle so I never forget, I was watching the marathon runners go by, crowds of family and friends on the sidewalk cheering them on. I was waiting by the finish line for my sister in law because I ran out of time to meet my sister 5 blocks down. I was going to celebrate Niki at the finish line of her first Marathon and then go with her to meet up with my sister.

I was drinking a Blue Moon when I heard a loud sound to my left. My brain absolutely registered it to be a bomb but my body didn’t catch up right away because there is a bit of disbelief your mind runs through to gaslight yourself out of convincing yourself you heard what you heard. After all, when in your life have you heard a bomb go off and why would you? Standing there frozen, I heard a second one to my right. Next thing I remember is the hand of a stranger reaching out and pulling at my arm, leading me out the back of the bar.

From there, we all started piling out into a back alley and spilling onto Newbury Street, melding into layers and layers of added crowds spilling out of other side streets and alleyways. At first, we walked somewhat briskly, I think all a little stunned and frozen in our lives 5 minutes before they changed forever. Then the pace picked up into a trot, hundreds of people trotting and jogging away, not towards anything just away.

I had just survived 2 bombs going off on either side of me. Literally on either side of me. People in front of me on the sidewalk were bleeding out, losing limbs and even dying. I could smell burning hair, burning flesh, blood. Those scents permeated my clothes for days after that.

I wasn’t running for my life. I wasn’t even thinking about myself at all. My brain and body weren’t even a part of me at that moment. I was trying to find my 5 months, pregnant sister. I called my parents to tell them I was trying to find her and then the phone cut off. A stranger reached out and put her arm around me. I stood still amidst a crowd of people running around me and just looked around. I didn’t know where to begin to find my sister. Finding her and keeping her safe was my one and only thought. It was a moment which defined my life and my attachment to her. I have never been able to explain to anyone how it broke me to not know where she was. It’s a bond and a terror I have never felt before or since then.

Even after we reunited and then found Niki, we walked like 10 miles outside the city with Niki’s parents. None of us could get our cars out of the parking garages as they were all blocked off. Pretty sure I spent that whole walk running down the list of the other people I cared about. I had a friend and her mother working the finish line. Were they still alive? My friend Kim was running and was only about a block away from where Niki got stopped. Did Kim get stopped in time? Was she still alive? Another friend worked at Brigham and Women’s. Was she helping with the trauma victims? What was she seeing? Was she seeing what I had? What about my friend who worked counter terrorism? Was she on the street on the case right away? Were there other bombs? Oh yeah, and what about my company’s branch that was on the corner near where one bomb went off? Wasn’t my friend’s husband working there that day? I’d need to call them as soon as I got my cell service back up.

What about my dad? He’s a war Vet with PTSD? I had literally only been able to connect with him long enough to tell him I couldn’t find Melissa and that I loved him (which I have never said to him, by the way) and then the phone cut out before he could respond. What was he going through in that moment? He had 2 out of 3 of his kids, plus his daughter in law in this mess. Did he think we were going to die? How did he tell my mother about that phone call? What horrible memories was he reliving in those moments? What did this do to him? What did my phone call do to him? If it was anything like the internal death I was feeling about being separated from my sister….well, it’s hard to breathe even just thinking about it now. It’s a feeling I hope no one ever has to experience. Don’t even get me started on the bomb she dropped this past Thanksgiving about moving her family out of the country. It took me a couple months to even say that out loud to myself because it has devastated me. In fact, my meltdown in a meeting at work a few weeks ago was because due to someone not listening, we were about to revisit an entirely resolved issue and make me miss dinner with my sister….when I don’t know how many of those I have left.

When we got back to my sister’s house that day, I had to wait several hours for the T and the garages to open back up before I could get my car. Once the cell service came back up in Boston, I just made a bunch of phone calls to check in on everyone else I knew had been there. I needed to make sure everyone else was safe. I could smell death in my hair but I just needed to check on everyone else.

Here’s where it gets really twisted. I hadn’t even planned to be at the Marathon that day. At work, we had just come through a grueling first quarter working 12-14 hours every day. Our boss told us all to pick a day in April and take a vacation day, a comp day. So I picked that day. Because he knew where I was, I made sure to call him and assure him I’d be at work the next day. Want to know the irony of it? I wouldn’t even consider taking the next day off because I was scheduled to conduct interviews. Yep. Same as what’s happening right now. If I didn’t go to work, my peers would have to scramble to cover for those interviews and I wouldn’t ever put that on them. I had a responsibility and I would follow through on that. Never mind how late I got home or that I didn’t sleep or eat. I just made sure to shower so I wouldn’t bring the smell of death in my hair to work.

The rest of that week was all about the manhunt to find the bombers. It was on tv and the news and social media nonstop. I had to sit in meetings at work listening to co-workers talk about where they were when they heard about the bombs….and I promise you none of them were anywhere near where I was. They hadn’t even been in the city. I had to,listen to nonstop stories of “my sister’s hairdresser’s boyfriend was at the Capital Grille when it happened.” “My daughter’s roommate was at Fenway watching the Red Sox.” All the way up to, “ I once went to a restaurant on that street in my 20s.” Seriously, you are all talking about this in front of me at every meeting for 4 days straight when I was fucking there….right there.

Even the day when the manhunt was zeroing in on the remaining terrorist, they were going door to door in my aunt’s neighborhood and had them all doing shelter in place. As I was walking into work that Friday morning, my always frantic aunt called me. I was waking into the building as I was trying to calm down my frantic aunt who was sitting on the floor afraid to move.

After work that night, I went to a bar by myself. The tv was on the manhunt and they found him on live tv as I was watching from my barstool surrounded by strangers. That’s when I started to cry. 4 days of thinking about my family, my friends, my co-workers, not wanting to inconvenience anyone and certainly not wanting to miss a day of work before I actually thought about myself. 4 days. And I certainly didn’t skip out on doing those interviews less than 24 hours after I survived a fucking bombing. Nope, I was likely still in shock and a shell of my former self. I should have been home, knocked out on sedatives or at my therapist’s office or in a hospital but nope, wouldn’t leave anyone in a lurch. Even when I did book an “emergency” therapy appointment, it wasn’t for another week and I made sure it was after 5 so I wouldn’t have to leave work early. How fucked up is that?

Also, in that 4 days of making sure I worked and didn’t inconvenience anyone, all I could think about were the 3 people who died, one of whom was a little boy. A little boy whose family owned a vacation home down the street from my parent’s vacation home at the time. Survivor’s guilt is another thing I don’t know how to explain to anyone. Sometimes I wish I knew more war vets so I could have something in common with people and not feel perpetually alone and misunderstood. That little boy was all I could think about in between interviews and endless meetings about other people’s “non” experiences.

When I finally started to “feel” and think about what I had just been through, I was crying in a bar, surrounded by strangers, all of whom came up and consoled me and talked to me about what I had been through. Do you know how many people at work consoled me? Zero. And they all knew I was there. I received more comfort from strangers that Friday night than I have ever received from anyone I know in what has now been 9 years. I’ve always been angry about that. I don’t ask anyone for anything, despite how much is asked of me. I shouldn’t have to ask for anything when it comes to an event like that. I’m still angry about it.

It’s not just about my work ethic or the fact I am the last person I ever think about in any situation, even the biggest crisis. It’s about the promises I made to myself and to those who died or were physically injured. I made some “deals” about my life and purpose. I made some commitments to my values and set some expectations about what would have meaning in my life and what shouldn’t. Among those things was around making sure I only did work with purpose…the purpose of serving and advocating for others while always “doing the right thing” for them, regardless of what I stood to gain or lose. I also went to Grad school and got my Masters because of that. I started traveling because of that. I also battled some very tough years using alcohol and risk to manage the survivor’s guilt. Then I overcame that.

I am sitting here today, one week out from this anniversary, quibbling about whether or not I’m doing enough interviews to be “fair.” I literally haven’t had a day off all year. I pushed all my doctor’s appointments out the last 3 months. I am putting off a hip replacement surgery and, while conducting interviews, am in incredible pain, especially the longer I have to sit. I don’t even have a few minutes in the day to find a pet sitter for my vacation, finish my visa for Rwanda or make an appointment for my yellow fever vaccine, get my license renewed, or follow up to find out when my new car will arrive. But let’s be sure I’m not doing 1 less interview than someone else. And heaven forbid I wanted to take next Friday off. Nope, already have 3 interviews booked and my compromise was that I’d take the afternoon off. Nope, staying so I can add more interviews so I can be fair.

I guess you could say I have been triggered. I am fucking mad as fuck to have my integrity and work ethic questioned. Who do these people think they are? I’m thinking about a little dead boy who should be alive and looking at colleges right now. But you’re right, being available to interview someone who doesn’t want to work somewhere without 100% remote work flexibility is the equivalent to the graves I never stop counting….but only think about when it doesn’t inconvenience someone else’s needs.

So that’s who I am. That’s the shit I’m thinking when I’m getting aggravated at work, being more direct than usual, starting my day off as a pleasant person who has turned into a grumpy, asshole by noon. That’s who I am when I see I’m getting pulled into a bad, bad plan that is 100% reactive, 0% strategic or thinking more than a week out. I have value. I have a lot of value. I made promises and I am not holding them up right now when letting myself get consumed by this madness outside of everyone’s control. A Starbucks gift card was a nice touch but I can’t leave the house long enough to use it because I have to be fair.

And don’t pull me into the “suck up” of waiting until I say what a healthy limit is and then letting everyone know how flexible you are to work outside a healthy limit….that it doesn’t bother you. Well then don’t complain about how everyone you hire keeps quitting. Keep it to yourself while I am looking at actual, real data that suggests there are about 18 different ways to proceed without killing our selves and sucking the life out of ourselves. And know that I went to work and did interviews after washing death out of my hair. Don’t question what I’m doing now if my numbers don’t add up to everyone else’s every day. What I’m doing and how I do it is the only integrity I see happening at the moment. Call me a bitch, call me an asshole, call me impatient, get annoyed with my unpredictable triggers and anxiety attacks. Just don’t ever, ever, ever question my work ethic or integrity. I have earned my stripes on those. My integrity and standards are far beyond the levels of even the best people I know.

During an emergency, when the body shuts down virtually all functions and literally directs you away from danger without you even having to think about it, my body overrides that to prioritize others above myself. You’ll have to forgive the misfiring synapses of anxiety which occur at what may appear to be unusual times to others. When those attacks happen, it’s because I have spent at least 4 days serving everyone but myself and my fight or flight is finally catching up. I don’t know a more honorable person to be in the fight with than me.

I already broke my writing habit in the first week by not writing yesterday. In the last 10 minutes of my day, just before my therapy appointment, things went haywire. I took a break for therapy and then I went back to work for another couple of hours. It was a long day, followed by a very severe anxiety attack while I was trying to watch tv and do crossword puzzles. I had to relent and take an anxiety pill.

I lost my confidence a little bit yesterday. I’m extremely experienced at what I do. In fact, I have the most experience and strongest track record of anyone in my group. But don’t be fooled. I am not one of those “experienced” people who believes I know it all and have nothing new to learn. When something I “touched” goes wrong, all my history, all my positive results are out the window and the first place I look at is myself. Based on my Facebook posts, I am sure you don’t wholly pick up on that. But it’s the truth. I blame myself first. I go over every step, review all my notes and data, compare my results to others and when I still can’t find it, I ask my peers for help. I am a lifelong learner and I am not one of those experienced people who falls into the trap of never re-assessing my skills. In fact, I’m one of the most change oriented and adaptable people I know. I thrive on chaos and the unknown. It’s actually when I do my best work.

That said, when I am wounded, I acknowledge it like I did last night. I made sure I alluded to my bleeder and the panic which ensued. I always do that. Most people say nothing for fear that by acknowledging, I might dare to talk to them about it further, which they don’t really want. I’m guessing there is an assumption i will have endless pity and by allowing me to have an open door to one conversation, I will move into your house and it won’t stop. What I find sad about that is how little people really understand of me all these years.

Yes, something unexpected happens and because I have PTSD, I have actual changes in my amygdala which shut off all “unnecessary” need for thought and general motor function outside of either running or hiding to save my life. It gives me the reptilian brain which is what keeps me alive. Unfortunately, my broken amygdala doesn’t differentiate the minor threat of a splinter from that of a bomb going off. I am going to have the same response regardless of the proportion of the situation and whether you feel it’s an overreaction or not. You are not a scientist. I have learned to come to terms with that and that, perhaps, you have something different which gives you reptilian brain by cutting off your empathy receptors. Just saying. I can concede your reptilian brain might be activated differently from mine.

24 hours later. I’m fine. That happens all the time. Even if you would have had to listen to me prattle on about something for 10 minutes longer than you would prefer to acknowledge my existence, it still would have ended with a good night of sleep. That’s because I’m a warrior. As much as you are uncomfortable with my problems, I’m 10 times more uncomfortable than you. I’m the one with the elevated heart rate and chest pain which doesn’t stop. I’m the one with the racing thoughts which replay every detail over and over and over again in my mind. I’m the one who won’t be able to sleep which means having these horrible sensations for at least another 8 hours. When you are a woman over 40 whose grandfather died of a heart attack at age 48, long before you were born, wondering if you are just having your usual panic attack or if you are having a heart attack, while home alone….not fun, people, not fun. I don’t choose that. How insane do you think I am? Have you seen my medicine cabinet? It’s no longer chemically possible for me to be chemically insane.

Fuck that shit! No. I make a plan because I’m not doing 2 days in a row like that. And, if I am doing something wrong, you can bet I’m going to stop that immediately so I can ensure I don’t have one of these bombs looming around for the future. By the time I started my day today, I had a strategy in place and by noon, I had my confidence back again. Not doing anything wrong. But it’s an excellent exercise to look at yourself through someone else’s lenses once in awhile just to be sure you stay on your toes and ready for the next challenge. I’d much rather be this person with the momentary freak out, open to feedback and change and committed to any new plans within 12 hours than the person someone else had to come to and tell why I’m failing at a job I thought I was doing well. Those people completely collapse and never get back up.

Thing is, when you are on a battlefield, so is everyone else around you. You’re all getting shot at. A whole bunch of you are on the ground bleeding just like me. Not unique. The difference is, I do let myself panic and probably pray to a God I’m not sure I believe in to forgive me all my sins in case I die and then I snap out of it. I rip my shirt off and tie off the wound and then figure out how to get to a medic. Everyone else is still laying there, bleeding out, waiting for someone else to arrive. Those are the people who move into your house with their problems. Those are the people who are a time suck to you. I feel the same way about them you do. I’m not them. I rip the bullet out of my stomach myself. By the time you are waiting for me to drop another shoe, I’m stitched up and wondering when I can get back out there. Believe it or not, a few minutes of compassion on your end….you might actually learn something. Imagine that.

A few weeks ago I had gotten the news that the hip pain I have been experiencing for years is actually due to quite terrible conditions and require a total hip replacement despite my younger age. I had tried to get my PCP to help me a few years ago but she told me it was probably Arthritis, which everyone gets with aging, and she could send me to Physical Therapy.

I am quite against Physical Therapy as a first line of defense of you don’t have an MRI to provide a full diagnosis. I have heard lots of stories, my father’s included, where people were sent for years of PT with the problem only getting worse. Only after years of no progress could they get an MRI and then would find out they have a surgical condition which cannot be helped by PT. Unfortunately, all that time inbetween was wasted while their conditions worsened and became emergencies which may have been avoidable.

I decided to get a new doctor this year to re- address the issue. When I first went in, she took and XRay, said she didn’t really see much and diagnosed it as bursitis. She gave me a cortisone shot and scheduled a follow up appointment 6 weeks out. She felt pretty confident the cortisone shot would work but she at least was open to the possibility it might not.

No surprise. It didn’t work at all. She then recommended PT. I put my foot down and said I wasn’t comfortable doing that unless I had a definitive diagnosis indicating PT was the correct course of action. She listened to me and ordered an MRI. I was prepared to be wrong. I was prepared to have something which might require minor surgery. What came back was shocking. Not only was I right, I needed a total hip replacement. I have FAI which is a congenital bone disease making hips grow wrong which eventually wears away at cartilage. It had also digressed to the point of causing a labral tear and some cysts.

If you discover a labral tear alone and early enough, at a young enough age, there is a surgery which can be done to repair the tear which will slow down cartilage erosion. Unfortunately, I am well beyond the point of preventative surgeries, because my original doctor wasn’t listening and likely caving in to insurance company demands without even trying to challenge it.

I was devastated. My new doctor told me that it’s 100% certain I need a total hip replacement which is the only way to remove the damaged cartilage, the labral tear and cysts. She said we could work on pain management for the next 10 to 20 years, anticipating how insurance would never approve surgery if I didn’t waste an appropriate amount of time on PT and more invasive cortisone injections requiring trips to the radiology department of the hospital.

I immediately started to cry. I explained to her that I am a fighter who discovers a problem and then solves that problem so I can move on. I, also an avid traveler whose trips have been sidelined by the pandemic so I was actually hoping I’d get whatever surgeries done now, recovery over the winter and be on an African Safari by next summer. I am not someone who “manages pain” and adapts to life as an invalid, especially during the best years of my life when I have both the time and money to do all my bucket list trips. I made it clear this was not an acceptable plan.

I asked her. If it is certain I need a hip replacement, why would we wait until I’m totally immobilized, having year over year downgrade of my quality of life. It’s about the insurance company, even though any reasonable surgeon would choose to operate right now. I asked her what I needed to do to work within the system. She scheduled me for a very invasive cortisone shot and PT. I wasn’t quite sure the point of PT where I don’t have a fixable issue but she explained I basically have to do it to prove it doesn’t work first. At least with the cortisone shot, there is a possibility I could get some pain relief but I am sure I can make a case for why I don’t want to depend on routine cortisone shots over a course of years. First and foremost most, they I,pact the immune system which I already have problems with. My fight to get a rheumatologist has also been going on, parallel to this one, for years.

Tonight was my first PT appointment. The first thing she said was to politely, but somewhat skeptically ask why I was there and what I thought I could get out of PT. Ahhhhh, I see she had looked at the results and also was unsure the point of PT. I could tell I got one who speaks my language. I was honest with her and said that, if I’m reading between the lines correctly, I don’t think PT can help this problem. In fact, I’m worried it might make the labral tear worse. I told her my only really hope and strategy would be to use PT to gain strength in preparing potential surgery and rehab. She asked when my surgery is scheduled.

I explained I haven’t seen a specialist yet as I wanted to show that I was doing PT, but that I planned to hook up with one from New England Baptist soon. When I told her 10-20 years had been suggested, her eyes went really wide and she stated very clearly that sounded insane – get the surgery as soon as you can.

She did a bunch of tests for my range and gait to see how bad my mobility is in order to assign the right strength building exercises. Then she asked if I felt I would even need to come back, was I good with doing the exercises at home? Meaning, “there really is nothing we can do here.” I told her I would like to come in once a week for the next 4 weeks both for accountability on my part bit to also demonstrate to the HMO “man” I was playing along. She agreed and told me she’d then make a new assessment after that 4 weeks.

I then ended the appointment by asking her if I’m reading this correctly. Am I understanding that you think PT can’t do anything and that surgery is inevitable? I then clarified that I didn’t mean to question her abilities or lack trust – that I totally trust her, just wanted to be clear I wasn’t misreading signals. She confirmed I understood everything correctly and her goal is to prepare me for surgery, that that’s all which can be done.

While this may all sound rather dire, no one really wants to have surgery, myself included, it’s the first day of hope I have experienced since getting my results. This is all stuff I can work with. These are problem solving techniques with actual steps to follow in order to obtain the correct outcome in less than a year, not 20. My inner warrior is back. My optimism is back. The fighter knows she can fix this and get back her life while it still matters. This is a situation my brain understand and can process. I’m actually excited to make an appointment with a surgeon. I’m aiming for my dad’s last surgeon who is the best in the country. He got half his medical training as a medic in Afghanistan rebuilding joints blown apartment by bombs. He will recognize the war inside my hip. He was literally the only surgeon in this country capable of fixing my father’s. I’m excited to match my warrior with his warrior. I think we probably also speak the same language.

I’m back. “It’s Brittany, Bitch!”

The idea of trying to write anything poignant after a 12 hour workday is a Herculean task. This is why I have never had the energy in the past to get serious or establish a routine. That said, I am ok with the idea of everything I write being bad or vapid for awhile simply so I can establish a habit and eventually get better at it.

I love my work. I am very much digging into it with my sleeves rolled up every day. I’m extremely passionate about what I do and what I advocate for. I just can’t talk about it in a public forum. That and the fact I don’t think many other people would find it as fascinating as I do.

My day became a 12 hour day because I am always eager to accommodate other people’s needs above my own. I have never been one to watch the clock and end my day at the specific time my “shift” ends. It’s very hard for me to keep commitments to myself or have much left in the tank. This is the time of day I settle into brainless activities like watching Bravo reality tv shows, surfing social media and doing crossword puzzles, followed by endless tik tok video perusing while in bed.

One commitment I have made to myself is that any time it’s a rainy day, I will do a bubble bath instead of a shower. I had my bathroom renovated pretty much around the desire to install a fabulous soaking tub. It’s my favorite thing in my house. All day today I knew that was ahead of me but by the time I finally finished working I thought it was just too much hassle and I didn’t have much “down” time ahead of me for the evening. I would still need to make dinner and respond to emails. But, I made a promise for a reason. I need that relaxation time to reset my nervous system and force my body to relax. Therefore, I did end up taking my bubble path. Plus, I can save time on dinner tonight because I have leftover homemade pesto from last night that is absolutely decadent.

This week is going to be extremely busy and very acutely focused on work, more so than usual so I may not have much to say in this forum. Bear with me. Again, this is about establishing a habit first. Then I will hold myself accountable to being more meaningful. A lot of my writing intent is to go deep into my life as a single woman, age 47, owning my own home and battling life’s catastrophes and moments of whim mostly alone. There really is a lot of meaty content there. A lot of it is around battling and managing mental illness. The fact I can dedicate myself so wholly and unapologetically to my job right now is a result of those illnesses “healing” and opening doors to productivity which is a really good thing.

Today I was listening to a Podcast from a couple years ago featuring Peter Krause. He’s one of my favorite actors ever since first seeing him in Six Feet Under. I was then reminded that one of my favorite scenes of anything I have ever watched was his performance of burying his first wife, Lisa. No matter how many times I see it, it completely guts me. I think it also has a lot to do with the context of the story line around her vs. Brenda and the choices he makes but often regrets. At the time that show was on, I related quite a bit to his character.

Here’s the scene. It’s worth watching. I just think it’s one of the best acting performance I have ever seen.

This then got me thinking about what other acting moments have always stayed with me; the kind you always know are going to happen because you’ve seen the scene multiple times but you still get moved by the performance.

There was another more recent one that stood out to me. It was Laura Linney’s Ozark performance relating to her mentally ill brother and the choice she had to make to “give him up” to the cartel. Again, one of the best acting performances I have ever seen. There’s actually more than one.

Then there is Helen Hunt in Castaway, the scene in the rain with Chuck and how you watch her realization happening as she watches him walk in front of the car to get in the driver’s side. Gets me every time.

These are the 3 which immediately came to mind. I would also say that Leonardo DiCaprios’s entire performance in Basketball Diaries and Robert Downey Jr. in Less Than Zero are pretty mesmerizing and gut wrenching as well.

In remembering and re-watching these scenes, I do pick up on a theme that makes me realize why these appeal to me as much as they do. They all deal with very complicated love situations where you know your heart but it’s not so simple to act on it. Having to make the hard choice or do the hard thing are things I recognize in myself. No matter how horrible the scenario is, there is an utter grief and breakdown in making that choice or doing that thing. Strong people aren’t unfeeling when they have to make hard choices. They don’t “feel” less pain than people who don’t end up being the ones to make the decisions. They don’t experience less loss. They don’t love less, I think they might actually love more. Sometimes, I think it’s also more painful for the “doers.”

I’m a “doer.” I am someone that knows how to do the hard things and when to turn the emotion switch off in myself in order to proceed. It doesn’t mean I don’t have feelings about what I have to do. It just means that I am acutely aware that in every “battle” a choice must be made, a step must be taken. Someone has to do it and most of the time, no one else Will and the problem continues to linger and take on added dimensions which make it even worse when the decision point has to come. So I am one of those people everyone knows will do the dirty work, even at expense to my own heart. I have my own emotional meltdowns that no one ever sees. I’m no less compassionate or feeling just because I can also pull a trigger. Honestly, it sucks being that person and I often go through my own pain alone.

While each scene and scenario are different from any I have faced, the angst that each one demonstrates absolutely taps into my soul and I feel the performances as if they were me in those very moments. The word “execute” comes to mind and could be used to define the actions of each character in some way. It’s also a word used frequently to describe me.

Interesting revelation today. All from the first half of a podcast.

I was doing errands today and on the way home, there was a women’s rights group at the rotary. It was very lively, people honking their horns in support, giving thumbs up, waving as they went by. It was such a positive vibe. I was impressed by just how many men were also there holding their own signs in support of a woman’s right to choose what do with her body. Seeing the men was the coolest part.

Every once in awhile, I go through these phases of beating myself up for being single, for never holding down long term relationships or being married. I think back to all the shortcomings I had in my 20s and all the mistakes I may have made. What could I have done differently in some of those relationships to have been “chosen” as wife? Do any of those men ever think back to me and wonder, what if? What if they had made it work with me instead of the wife they did choose?

Most of the time being single doesn’t bother me as I have a very full life. But as I look into my future years and how I want to end those years, marriage comes back up for me as something I wonder may actually not happen…maybe the chance has passed and was supposed to be one of those old boyfriends. I kind of assumed it might eventually happen for me but now I am starting to think it won’t and am trying to figure out what an alternative future will look like from here on out.

That said, a lot has changed with relationships in 20 years. I’m not sure I would have seen men at a women’s march 20 years ago. Yet, that’s absolutely the type of man I want to be with now. I wouldn’t have known that about myself then because the topics didn’t really exist outside female conversations. Additionally, rights weren’t really a topic of conversation amongst women that much either. Women were talking about guys and relationships because that’s what we were conditioned to be thinking about then – the pursuit and landing of a husband. Now, when talking to female friends, all we talk about is rights in some format, never anything about relationships. Our Brains have been allowed to evolve.

In the car, I was also listening to a podcast featuring Dan Savage as a guest. He’s an openly gay columnist, has been writing for years. He’s done various advice columns geared towards sexual content. He talked about how he didn’t just answer “gay” sex questions; he would answer any sex questions. His being gay didn’t mean he needed to cordon himself off to only one population. Straight people have given advice to gay people. What’s the difference? Why do we need to think about sex through the filter of biological design? I’d never really thought of it that way but it makes a lot of sense. Relationships are relationships regardless of who they are with. Sure, some of the specific sex acts and environments might be slightly nuanced towards orientation but the tenets are all the same. We would never be thinking about something like this or talking about it 20 years ago.

He continued to talk about the phrase he coined of “monogamish” in response to the beliefs everyone was expected to marry one person and remain faithful to that one person for the rest of their lives despite it going against our actual “animal” nature. We believe if someone has sex outside the marriage, they can’t possible really love their spouse. We believe if they have sex outside the marriage it’s because they are a bad person, never that the other spouse may have contributed to the problem. People who have been married decades are considered marriage failures for one indiscretion along the way. People get divorced over the one slip up. We are supposed to believe we fall short of something if he sleeps with another woman or that everything in our relationships is a lie. We shame spouses who stay with cheating spouses.

I don’t really know where I fall on the spectrum but even that is an evolution of my thinking from 20 years ago. When I got cheated on then, I was devastated. Physical touch, sex….those are my love languages. As long as I know I’m the only one he is doing those things with, I know I am desired and loved and enough. When he did it with someone else, I had to grapple with the idea everything I believed was wrong, that he was a bad person, a devious person, that he never had real feelings for me. The self esteem issues it caused then have actually followed me across the decades and impact me still. But if I look back at that time with the way I process information now, I have some different perspectives.

For example, one guy married a woman he was dating back then even while he was still sleeping with me while dating her. Does that mean their entire marriage is a lie and he can’t truly love her? I actually don’t believe that. I think there is real love there and a marriage built on many solid traits. Was he just using me? Did he not have real feelings for me? That’s what I thought then but it’s not what I think now. I believe he actually cared about me quite a bit. I don’t think his feelings for me were ever in doubt. She and I just represented different things to him at one moment in time. And, if having children was a really important goal for him, he chose the woman who wanted to also have children. That wasn’t my thing.

We were drunk at a friend’s party one night and went off to talk by ourselves on a field behind their house. We hadn’t talked in awhile because of some fight but he kept “lurking” all night trying to find a way into a conversation with me….managed to finally corner me at a keg and ask about my dog to get me to make eye contact with him and speak. Someone who doesn’t love you doesn’t do that. On the field, he told me he actually could see himself ending up with me in the future; just not right now, the timing was off. He was right about the timing. I moved a few thousand miles away just a couple months later to start a new life. He did the same and got married. Was he lying by what he said to me? No, I don’t think he was. I actually think it was the purest, most honest thing he had ever said to me. Should his wife have been worried about that? Not at all. He still married her. It’s just not simple. Yet, 20 years ago, we wanted to make everything simple so we didn’t have to hurt our hearts or brains to really think. Thinking about the “grey” areas could mean admitting we had no control or that marriage wasn’t really a guarantee against any of the monstrosities we were told it would save us from. A ring and a piece of paper doesn’t mean he won’t fuck someone else or love someone else or sometimes wonder if getting married was a mistake. In our old way of thinking, she was just never supposed to find out about that stuff…it didn’t mean it wouldn’t happen.

Having a ring and a piece of paper shouldn’t be things we wave over his head to remind him of his commitment for all he gave up or as a threat over hormones neither he nor she should be able to minimize and control. We are the only animal that insists on monogamy and any dent in the veneer is supposed to mean something huge. Is that true, though? Does it have to be?

If I had a relationship right now, I can’t say I’d be ok with him fucking around and I hope he wouldn’t be ok with me doing it either. Under current assumptions, I think that would be devastating. But does it have to be? I was thinking about this the other night and how I think I could plan for it in a way that didn’t need to be relationship altering. I’d say that I didn’t want it to be with any one person more than once, no emotional connection. That it had to be something I would never find out about or become suspicious of and he couldn’t get any STDs or anyone pregnant. Also, that if he were doing it because of a problem in our relationship, then he wasn’t allowed to do it and it couldn’t be something that would make him want to end our relationship. My expectation would be to confront me directly about what problem he was having and allow me to be part of that conversation and potential solution. But if it were just a hormonal urge for fun and my above conditions were met, would it be so bad? Maybe not. Not to mention, to be able to do something I wouldn’t find out about or become suspicious of is nearly a Herculean task because I have incredibly strong intuition and the ability to see patterns no one else sees. That alone would probably prevent it from ever happening. It’s just that I don’t like to enter anything in a naive way and I prefer to have a plan for things so that when life’s complications do happen, they don’t rip the foundations out of my life.

I was in a relationship a number of years ago which was highly unconventional and widely criticized. He was married but had been separated. We had also had a relationship once long before that marriage. I wasn’t thrilled with myself for getting into this but it wasn’t a black and white situation. Others certainly tried to make it black and white in order to assign right from wrong but I think that had more to do with their own marital insecurities than anything else. We weren’t talking about a future. We were just following our feelings in that moment, allowing it to play out to either them eventually getting divorced or eventually reconciling. I was ok being there in-between and not knowing that answer. People could not get their heads around it. But they weren’t me or him. They didn’t know what conversations took place between us and what expectations we set with each other. Also, the wife wasn’t exactly home making pies every night. She had her own thing going too as she was aware of me.

What was weird about the situation is that I actually slept with someone else while seeing him. Technically, I was allowed to do it. He was in no position to demand any commitment or piety from me. It did feel a little weird to me when it happened, though. Weird in that I understood I wasn’t in the wrong and there were no rules but weird in that he was the one I cared about, not the random from a bar. Thing is, the random from the bar wasn’t someone I had any feelings for. It was a moment in time off a really fun evening I was having after meeting this guy. I literally had a physical urge to fuck him. He Literally lifted me up and threw me over his shoulder which was absolutely hilarious to me. There was no emotion attached to it. It was just a natural progression of the night and I don’t regret it.

Initially, I thought my “relationship” guy would be upset about it. It didn’t feel like the sort of thing I could hide from him. We were all about brutal honesty and knew we could end at any moment. The one rule we did have was no secrets from each other. We each needed to know what we were up against, especially me because there was a wife who could have come back into the picture at any time. I was always clear that I would exit if she came back committed. Until then, we did our thing. When I met him for dinner the next night I told him about it. He knew immediately something was up. He wasn’t at all upset with me. He said it made him a little jealous and that it hurt to imagine me with someone else but that he had no claims to me and I was free to do whatever made me happy. Then, he told me he loved me.

According to the “rules” that wasn’t supposed to happen. I was either not supposed to tell him or he was supposed to have some angry outburst, even if it made him a hypocrite. Or, if I truly loved him, I wouldn’t have had an urge to fuck someone else. We were supposed to have a screaming match at the table and one of us walk out in disgust; never to speak again. Nope. He doubled down on loving me and we ordered dinner. Had a great night. That wouldn’t have happened 20 years ago. This relationship wouldn’t have happened 20 years ago. Love certainly wouldn’t have been involved 20 years ago.

Evolve.

EI’m really glad that conversations have changed and people are willing to dive into the deep and dark corners. I am someone with anxiety. To expect that a ring and a piece of paper would somehow protect me would probably drive me crazy and require sedatives for most of my marriage. I’m too smart to think “rules” and signatures and swollen fingers keep a dick in a guy’s pants or keep him from lusting over his kid’s teacher or that I’m not lusting after his kid’s teacher. If I am lucky enough to find the right relationship at this stage in my life, I want the signatures and swollen finger and vows in front of our people because I would believe in the truth and sanctity of our relationship above all else. Sex is just one part of it. For me, it’s actually a very important part of my relationships and it’s critical that what it means with me in our relationship can not be challenged by anything outside of our relationship. I think I would prefer to minimize the threat by creating a safe way for “accidents to happen” that actually don’t need to mean anything at all.

Around my Junior year of High School, I became close friends with three guys, Mike M., Mike S. and Matt. They were a year behind me. I don’t recall what started it. I think we may all have been in one of the same classes. In Honors classes in our school, it wasn’t uncommon to have 2 grades of kids mixed together and we were all smart kids.

I’m guessing sarcasm had to be involved because we all have it in spades. I must have reacted to something one of them said and then we were friends. What we all had in common were family dysfunction. Not that any family comes without dysfunction but we were in a private, Catholic High School so we came from backgrounds where impressions were important and families in that school tended to be heavy on facades. We were part of a larger group of students whose families were all trying to show a similar narrative and what made us different from most students is that we didn’t play along with our parents. We all questioned authority and we all understood the hypocrisy of our situations. Definitely a powerful thread which held us together.

Mike M. Would be the least dysfunctional but had a terrible family situation. His parents were quite lovely, especially his mother who would often sit at the kitchen table and chat with his friends. She used to advise me “ this too shall pass” which is a phrase I have kept with me all these years as a coping mechanism for difficult times. I remember, in the deepest ruts of pain, I just need to be patient and ride it out because it will lessen with time. She was not wrong. Unfortunately, she died of cancer very young. It was incredibly tragic. He had the down to earth mom and was the one who had to lose significantly. He also had a deeply troubled younger brother. He seemed to want to be part of a gang and was often violent. He would frequently instigate fights in the house, both verbally and physically. I was so uncomfortable around him because there was no telling how he was going to behave. We spent most of our time hanging out in Mike’s room to avoid him. Mike was unique, liked very different music from the mainstream and was a writer. He didn’t give a shit what anyone else thought of him. He owned his eccentricities and embraced what he liked, even when I would pick on some of his musical choices and call it “butter churning” music. No idea where I came up with that. Anyway, he was so authentically himself and rich in knowledge. Very cool person to be around.

Mike S., I never totally understood his issue with his parents other than he hated them. Although, I believe they were Jewish, or 1 parent was Jewish so going to a Catholic High School probably seemed a bit “off” to him. He used his father’s first name when addressing him and it wasn’t a method of endearment or a cultural thing. I had a different friend in Junior High whose family was Scottish and they referred to their parents as John and Doreen as though everyone did that. Mike referring to “Beryl” was not so benign. It was also such an unfortunate name that I think Mike liked to focus on it for a reason. He was just always angry at his parents, there was no respect in how they communicated with each other. It was super uncomfortable going into their house as I was raised to be very respectful to my friends’ parents and I did it there but they seemed confused by a polite child and I felt like I was pissing Mike off by being polite. We just never hung out at that house. His motivation each day was finding a reason to get out of the house, even if it just meant driving around with friends and not really going anywhere.

Then there was Matt. I was in love with him, quite unrequited, but he still went all in on being a best friend regardless. He knew but he didn’t rub my nose in it or think I had ulterior motives anytime I was nice to him. In fact, he’s the only man I have ever known who could just have this knowledge and move on, simply separate it and treat me like the friend I chose to be. He was amazing in that way. We had a very deep, soulful connection I haven’t really had with a male friend since then. His whole house was filled with apathy and anger. His father had a lot of issues – Vietnam vet just like my dad. Matt was the middle of 3 kids and seemed to be the one bearing the brunt of his father’s problems. Another one not referred to as “dad” but RK instead. Although, at home on his own, pretty sure he addressed him as dad, just not when talking about him to us. His parents went through a divorce during this time as well. Another one who wanted to be out of his house at all times.

We all hung out a lot, whether it was all 4 of us, just me and Mike M., or Mike S., me and Matt. There were different dynamics in different combos but the 4 of us could still blend as a group. For instance, Mike S. Was more likely to be the one to use drugs and Mike M., while Matt didn’t care either way. I thought drugs were bad and a cry for help so sometimes drugs were the topic and sometimes they weren’t at all. Yet, I could tell Mike M. All about what was going on with the other Mike and Matt even if he didn’t see that stuff so I consider him just as much a player. These really were very elevated, unique friendships that all completed each other.

We hung out together a lot. I saw U2, Rush and a few other concerts with Matt and Mike S – we had music very much in common. I remember trips to Callahan State Park where we’d just hang out. I think we would just drive around a lot and stop to smoke butts. Camel Lights were the big “to do” with us, collecting camel points to actually buy Joe Camel merchandise. We thought we were funny. Looking back, clearly duped by big tobacco just as they wanted to entice teens into smoking.

Weekend nights, there was occasionally some drinking. It was just me, Matt and Mike S. Mike M. Was actually the responsible one and also had a girlfriend so he didn’t get dragged into our debauchery. God, to be that confident and self assured so young, what a gift he had. I really envy that. Anyway, there was some drinking but not a ton. My parents behaved as though I was out drinking all the time. I wasn’t allowed to go to any Senior year graduation parties because they assumed I was far worse than I really was. I just wasn’t into drinking. Somebody gave me a beer once at a party with my 3 years older ex boyfriend and it was gross. I “passed” at those parties by pretending to be drunk when I wasn’t. I just didn’t drink in High School. I’d watch other people do it but then I’d be the driver. I was often so worried Mike S or Matt would OD on something I needed to be the “straight” one in order to look after them. That was my role.

In fact, when you hear someone say someone spilled beer on them to explain why they smell of booze, that actually was true with me. There was one Saturday night we were at Mike S’ house, no idea where his family was. We were in the backyard and I distinctly recall there being a fish pond being built. The guys were definitely getting drunk and one of them literally dumped a whole beer on my shirt. I had borrowed my mom’s car and was terrified of what would happen when I got home. No surprise, my parents were in bed when I got home but I heard my mother’s voice calling me up to their room. She assumed I had been drinking and made me go up to her side of the bed so she could smell me. I told her the honest truth, the guys had been drinking but I hadn’t. One of them spilled on me and that was all that happened. She didn’t believe me and I got in trouble. Do you know how many kids are actually out there doing asshole things behind their parent’s backs? A lot. I was not one of them but I certainly got treated like one.

I didn’t start drinking until college where I apparently felt the need to make up for lost time and get to behave the way my parents had already proscribed me. I was drinking, smoking and doing pot ….and hooking up with guys. Total 180 from High School. I slept with one guy in High School and made it clear that there wasn’t going to be anyone else. I loved him. When we broke up, it wasn’t like I gave myself a sex license. Sex was for someone I loved. I didn’t love any of the boys I dated after that and I resented some of them because I think they felt I was a sure thing having had an older, steady boyfriend . Funny, my parents thought the same thing….that I was just going to have sex with everyone. People really underestimate me a lot. It’s annoying.

Despite all the college partying, I hated being there. During the first semester, I made my parents come get me every other weekend so I could hang out at home with the guys. on the weekends I stayed at school, they often came up and visited. We always drank then. It actually came on really hard and fast for me. I started out drinking them. Matt started getting concerned. There was one time I went home for Homecoming Weekend and spent the day with them. I got so wasted I knew I couldn’t let my parents be the ones to drive me back to school that night. So I went home real quick, grabbed my bag and told them the guys were driving me back up instead. They knew I had been drinking and were right that time.

It had escalated so quickly that Matt had a real talking to with me that night he drove me back to school. He said something about me “having no resolve” which is a phrase that has stuck with me over the years. I promised him that night I would quit drinking and believe it or not, I actually started going to AA meetings for a bit. Matt even come to some with me. I remember then saying I was an alcoholic and even telling my parents. I took it pretty seriously for awhile. And then I didn’t. I somehow decided I wasn’t an alcoholic. I had just been an over protected teenager over indulging in a behavior I hadn’t been partaking of in high school like so many others. I decided I was a typical cliche college kid getting a taste of freedom for the first time and I never looked back.

My friendships with the guys eventually faded as they all went to college. There was no internet then, no cell phones. We used to talk on the phone a ton but once we were all in different places for school, we pretty went our separate ways. I’ve always been pretty sad about that. These friendships truly were some of the most important relationships I have ever had – men I could truly be myself around, men who respected me, protected me. I would never again encounter anything so pure, trustworthy and uncomplicated with male friendships.

I caught up with Matt a number of years later when he was being hospitalized in Boston. He had moved to NY and then CA post college and gotten heavily into the drug and alcohol scene; nearly died. So he came home to rehab and recover and we chatted periodically through that time. Then he disappeared back to CA again for awhile and we lost touch for a bit until he got married. We were on the Instagram together with his wife for awhile where I got to see him have 3 daughters while experiencing a healthy, happy life. They dropped from Instagram again and now we aren’t in touch anymore.

‘Mike S. I have never reconnected with. Although, I do believe he followed Matt to CA for a time, which is something they had always been talking about. They wanted to be in the film industry and they actually moved out there just like they had planned. Matt did get into the industry but no idea whatever happened to Mike S. I was able to reconnect with Mike M. Via social media within the past couple of years and am really happy about that. He has pursued writing full time and is living the life he had always planned. He’s a wonderful friend I am grateful to have back in the circle. It’s actually pretty impressive that all 3 of them pursued exactly the dreams they had in High School. I’m the only one who seemed to be dangling without purpose and didn’t land anywhere remotely near anything I had been aiming for. Maybe that’s what Matt meant he said I had no resolve. I guess he could clearly see the future and he wasn’t wrong.

Fascinating the wisdom and resolve of 3 boys in High School. All of them, my best and dearest friends. Yet none of that rubbed off on me. I continued floundering and struggling, not able to catch up to my own identity until in my 40s, after careers, adventure and love have passed quite far over me. The drinking wasn’t the issue. That died down as soon as college was over and I got a job. I drank socially and had my moments of being tipsy but never wasted. I considered my short trips to AA a very dramatic overreaction and something I am actually embarrassed about now. I took myself way to seriously. It never ended up being a problem until a couple years after gastric bypass surgery. Even then, I was still just a social drinker. The difference was I got drunk really fast off of very little and it was easy to not have a stopping point when I didn’t have a chance to reason with myself.

It was August 29th, 2014. 1 year and about 4 months after I had survived the Boston Marathon Bombing. It was also my nephew, Charlie’s first birthday which our family had just celebrated the Sunday before as a dual birthday/christening celebration. I had just been named his Godmother, alongside my brother who was named his Godfather. My parents had just passed papers selling their custom built, Bristol, New Hampshire house to buy a house on Cape Cod in Brewster, MA. They would be moving in a few weeks.

I was about a year and a half into my Masters Degree with Boston University and trying to figure out how to transition from my current career in financial services into a career in Health Communication. Every job I had seen so far was entry level, which didn’t bother me from a learning and starting standpoint, but there was about a $50,000 pay cut involved which was out of the question on a single woman’s income while having a mortgage. Part of the BU program involved free academic and career counseling so I had scheduled an appointment to meet with an advisor for that Friday afternoon 8/30.

I left work early that day to give myself time to drive into Boston. I was also looking forward to being in the city where I might find a new place to stop for a drink, outside my usual Southern, NH haunts. Unfortunately, the traffic was horrendous and far worse than I had planned for and the longer I sat on 128 without moving, the more evident it became I wasn’t going to make the appointment on time so I called from the road and canceled. I then proceeded to get off at the Burlington exit and turn around to head back home.

My new plan was to stop at the house, take the dog out and change before heading to my usual bar, where I would meet up with the new guy I had just started seeing. I remember feeling pretty half assed about him. He was on the shorter, skinnier side which is not my type at all. I don’t like being with a guy I perceive to be smaller than me. I had just been talking to a friend about this hang up and that being the reason I wasn’t taking him seriously. Plus, I met him at a bar which I also knew never to take seriously. But she told me to give it a chance and keep an open mind. Honestly, going to meet up with him that night was more about me having someone to hang out with at the bar than it was about developing a romantic interest.

That said, we got our signals crossed on timing. I was earlier than expected because I had skipped my appointment and he was working later than expected and kind of decided we probably weren’t meeting up so he didn’t have any real urgency to showing up which annoyed me. I may not have a deep, vested interest in a person or subject but when I have decided I want to do something or I have it in my head how I expect things to play out, I accept nothing less and get peeved….which I let him know with some very stern texts. Even still, for a guy I didn’t care too much about, I was having an overblown reaction, even for me. I think somewhere in the texts was something ridiculous like “if I don’t see you here tonight, I won’t see you ever again.” I’m embarrassed just typing it out now. I am not an ultimatum kind of girl, I don’t threaten. I wouldn’t say that to someone I was deeply in love with and had built up frustration towards. Words like that just don’t come from me, no matter how impatient I may get or whatever disappointment I may be experiencing. Believe me, I had years upon years of “girlfriend” experience with late or canceled dates due to “sorry, golf took longer than expected” or “I lost my keys on the beach and had to dig around for hours.” Whether or not those things were ever true, I will never know and I don’t care. I responded calmly to those things every time and just left it with “have a good time with your friends we can catch up tomorrow.

I was definitely in a “mood” that night. While I was receiving therapy for PTSD and trying various methods for managing my anxiety, I was still knee deep in survivor’s guilt and drinking was how I managed that sector of feelings. I had one bar I especially liked because the bartender knew me and she never left me with an empty glass. I was a binge drinker so there was no time in between and I often went about 5-6 beers deep in one sitting. If I were with people I knew, add a shot or 2 to that mix. So that’s the bar I was at that night.

Just the day before, I had tried acupuncture for the first time. A friend of mine, who was also experiencing PTSD from the marathon, had been doing acupuncture to manage a back problem but found it benefitted her PTSD. Plus, we knew the practitioner from High School and she had her own business. So I trusted the practice immediately because we knew how smart our friend is, that she even studied in China for awhile. People sometimes think practitioners of holistic health are crackpots and I am never entirely sure if there is truth in the stuff either. But I am guided by 2 thoughts on it. The first being, if it can’t hurt you, it’s absolutely worth trying. The second being that is it’s someone I know and went to school with, I am very certain of their level of intelligence and know they don’t have a “crackpot” bone in their bodies. I give you the same assessment on chiropractors as one of my best friends is one and she is fascinating. I can spend hours listening to her talk about how the body and nerve system work. She’s legit.

The effects of acupuncture aren’t always felt the first time. You kind of have to go a few times for a cumulative effect. That said, she did warn me that I might experience a “healing crisis” after this first appointment, it didn’t describe too much what that might look like. I guess a little over emotional. At the time, I hadn’t made the connection but looking back now, I am certain that’s what was going on that Friday and was driving my behavior at the bar that night. 100%.

I was drinking my beers alone and having a great time checking my social media, chatting with my bartender, talking to the people next to me. I had lobbed my threat off to the boy and expected never to see him again because I knew the threat was outrageous and unreasonable. What guy would actually respond to something that arrogant? Don’t they all say they hate “crazy” women who pull shit like that? I was drunk but I still knew I was way out of line.

He showed up. So, ladies, if you have been second guessing yourself all these years as to why they call you crazy, they hate you but they stick around and then say they hate crazy….it’s a real thing. You aren’t crazy. They really do it and they just hoist the “crazy” label onto you because they know they are the ones with the waffling behavior and they can’t explain themselves to their peer group when they really do want you but their friends think they are nuts.

I digress. He had shown up and we did a grape crush shot. It was a nostalgic choice of mine linked to the last guy I had been involved with. He was a big fan of them so every time we met up at a bar, there was always one waiting for me. He was peripherally linked to my marathon bombing experience and kind of the reason I was in the place where I was at the time the bombs went off. Had I been in any of the other 5 locations I had considered minutes before, I’d be dead or severely wounded. Where I was had not been a coincidence so my memories of him were still following me. We had the nastiest break up but I also felt this weird gratitude towards him which was something else I thought about when I was drinking.

The boy told me he had picked up an early shift the next morning so he couldn’t stay long but wanted to see me, even if it was for just one drink. After the shot, he left and I stuck around to drink a few glasses of water to sober myself up before driving home. Yes, I drove drunk frequently during this period of time. I am not at all proud of it. I had this weird single girl reasoning in my head about needing to be cautious about money which is why I didn’t want to call a cab, as well as the safety concerns of being a drunk girl alone in a can with a stranger. For some reason, I felt it was more fiscally responsible and physically safer to “take care of myself.” That’s the kind of idiotic reasoning which occurs in a drunk brain left alone to make its own decisions.

There was a McDonalds just a few buildings up from the bar so I figured I’d drive the super short distance there, get a hamburger and then park the car for awhile to eat and stay off the road. I was attempting to do the “right thing” even though it was still wrong. I measured “wrong” by degrees. I was t out of the parking lot for 10 seconds before realizing I was being pulled over by a cop so I pulled right into the McDonalds parking lot to deal with that. I knew I was in deep shit.

I got handcuffed and arrested after failing the sobriety test. I literally got put in the back of a police car and driven to the police department where I proceeded to get booked and have a mug shot taken. I was absolutely mortified, terrified I’d lose my job, unsure of what I’d tell my parents, no idea who I was going to call for help or how I’d get my car back. Once I got put into the jail cell, I melted down into a massive panic attack, combined with an asthma attack. I didn’t have my inhaler with me and was gasping for air, begging for medical help and to be taken to a hospital. I remember the officer on duty saying “if you can ask for help, you aren’t really having an asthma attack.” Asshole. I certainly was having trouble breathing and it didn’t get better until I finally did get home and use my inhaler. I’m a privileged white girl who was just thrown in the drunk tank for a few hours. If you think those stories of people dying because of lack of medical attention are exaggerations, you are grossly mistaken. Imagine how much worse I would have been treated had I been Black. Trust me, police are abusive and overly hopped up on their masculinity and power.

Additionally, when I eventually read the officer report of the arrest, I saw that she had lied about the circumstances in which she said she had cause to pull me over. She had said something about yellow lines and swerving that she observed from a certain direction she was coming from, but had she really been coming from that direction, she wouldn’t have seen me at all. To this day, while I was guilty, I promise you, I didn’t cross the yellow lines. It was physically impossible for that to have happened in this scenario. She had just been sitting in the bar parking lot and decided to follow out the “red car.” There was a rumor that had been happening recently all over Nashua, specifically towards the end of the month when quotas were more important. They were just following people out of bar parking lots banking on the odds they’d bag someone. It had actually happened to a friend of mine months before after we had met for dinner. He was sober but they followed him out of the lot and put him through all the sobriety tests before letting him go. I am not sharing this to absolve or excuse myself in any way. She made a “lucky” choice and I am fortunate in that so that I did not harm anyone else on the road, something I would never have been able to live with. I just want you to know, they do lie, they can be shady and they do cheat the system. Black people aren’t lying to us.

Back to cell. I don’t know how long I was I there, probably 4-5 hours. I had suffered a complete nervous breakdown. This was the worst possible thing I could have done and it wasn’t something I was going to be able to keep solely to myself. I knew I was getting my license revoked for at least 8 months, regardless of any other outcomes which might occur after hiring a lawyer. I had no idea how I was going to get to and from work, that’s all I cared about….paying my bills and staying employed. I’d never be able to get hired anywhere else with a “record” so I had to hang onto what I had, no matter what. I was totally out of my element as a criminal and taking advice from the boy on the phone as my 1 phonecall. He told me not to allow a breathalyzer test because the outcome could be worse than just taking it on the chin with an 8 month license suspension. I literally needed advice on how to be a criminal.

The boy came to bail me out. By the way, he was also a little younger than me. The asshole police officer asked if this was my son. He was a few years younger but not that much. This officer was literally trying to be a dick on purpose because the boy was nervous about my breathing and asked if they had done anything to help me which they knew they had not. On the drive home, all I could do was apologize profusely for making him bail me out and driving me home. I also had to pump him for info on what was next. He had to explain to me how to get my car back from the impound lot, that I’d need to pay in cash and I’d need a lawyer.

I went into my normal task oriented “execute” mode and called a cab, had the cab drive me to the bank and wait for me so I could withdraw cash from the atm, then drop me off in the worst part of town at an impound lot while I waited for it to open to get my car back. I’d have 30 days where I could still drive before having to stay off the road so I also went through a mental list of all the appointments and errands I’d need to get done in a short period of time. I made sure to schedule my flu and pneumonia shot. Yes, this is the kind of stuff popping into my mind during this crisis. I was trying to put off the inevitable phone call I would need to make to my parents later that day.

Honestly, if I could have thought of a way to get through this without telling them anything, I would have. I was so ashamed of myself. I knew my family had been worrying about me for a while but just standing by the side and not saying anything because they wanted to respect my space and my process. I also don’t think they knew it had gotten this bad. They were very understanding about the PTSD. My father has it, they get it. They are very tolerant and non judgmental about the various behaviors which can come with it. But my dad never used alcohol as a treatment so they hadn’t seen that aspect before. The only reason I did tell them was because of the 8 months I wouldn’t be able to drive. I visited them frequently so there would be no way to dodge them for 8 months. I also needed to be able to pick up groceries, prescriptions and get my hair done every 6 weeks. Yes, that was part of the “list” I’d need rides for.

When I called them, I expected so much criticism. It’s how they had dealt with me my entire life. They were quite comfortable rubbing my nose in the shit of my mistakes and reminding me of all my personal shortcomings so I braced myself for it and told myself, “this time you deserve it so just take it and don’t talk back. Keep your mouth shut, do whatever they tell you to do and hunker down for 8 months of free reign criticism.” But that’s not at all how they responded. My father actually told me this could happen to anyone, even him. It doesn’t even take that much alcohol to be over the legal limit and “normal” people drive like that far more often than they admit – that I just got caught, I hadn’t done anything a lot of other people weren’t doing. They also showed great empathy towards me for how much I must have been internally suffering from the bombing and they were so incredibly sorry for my pain. They offered to call my siblings to tell them for me so I didn’t have to keep re-experiencing this trauma.

True to form, Dad went into problem solving mode. He said something about how if he could get me out of this, he would but that this was something he didn’t have any experience with and he didn’t know any criminals so he just didn’t have any advice at the moment. He knew this was the kind of thing you can’t get your kid out of and that I’d have to walk the walk through the whole thing but he would help me any way he could. A few minutes after I got off the phone with my parents, the phone rang again and it was my dad. He realized he did know someone who knew criminals “Rick, the builder. I called him. He spends a lot of time down your way and he gave me the name of the best lawyer for this. He’s got lots of friends who have been through this.” Rick the builder was a really colorful guy who had built my parents’ house and also shared a boat slip with my dad so we saw him often and really enjoyed him. But you could also tell he’d been around the block and knew some elements our family hadn’t been experienced with.

This call from my dad actually made us both laugh. He was so proud of himself for finding a resource and dipping his toes into the criminal world to help. He was also a little excited I was going to get a good lawyer who had a history of dealing with the Nashua police. Again, no one was absolving me here. But a little “stick it to the police” was warranted. I also think there was an underlying theme around not passing judgment on people. You hear stories about people getting arrested for DUI and you just assume they are all scumbags, which the police also assume. It’s more likely that they are real human beings battling a deep trauma and using a substance their genes predestined them to, just like the alcoholic genes in my family. Deep down, I was a harmless, caring, wonderful person who wouldn’t hurt a fly, doing something to soothe my pain which could have killed other people. Never my intent, I think I was really playing Russian roulette with myself. Other people didn’t enter my thought process because all I could think about was guilt over surviving that bombing. It’s just so much more complicated than people like us can really explain. I actually considered myself lucky to have been arrested for this. It could have been a lot worse.

That weekend my mom came and got me because she insisted I shouldn’t be alone so I went back to their house and stayed in bed for 3 days straight as I headed into a major depressive episode. I skipped work that Monday. I called my boss and told him what happened because I knew I had to report it at work for compliance reasons and he’d see the report. I called our compliance office to find out if I was going to get fired and what the next steps were. They were actually pretty great. They assured me this wasn’t going to get me fired at all. I needed to report it for compliance reasons and it would be on file related to my financial licenses but that no one other than my immediate boss would know and it wasn’t a fireable offense. In fact, they said “ you wouldn’t believe how many of your co-workers have been through this. We just had a call from a mom who got pulled over after a work outing on her way to pick her kid up from daycare. It happens all the time at all levels in this company.” I felt relieved by that.

Next was getting back to work and figuring out a plan for commuting when my 30 days was up. I looked into bus lines. I calculated how much it would cost to take cabs every day. I web searched everything I could think of and was coming up with nothing. In the meantime, my boss finally pulled me into his office at the end of that first week. “So we need to talk about the message you left me and stop avoiding it. This isn’t a big deal, Christine. I’m not upset with you. I’ve done it, my friends have done, your co-workers and friends have done it. You just got caught. That’s all. You’re not a bad person and this doesn’t impact your job.” I normally wasn’t a big fan of that boss but he was pretty amazing on this. We’d later find out he had a substance abuse problem himself so it makes sense looking back on it. When his issue blew up and did cost him his job, I was able to show him a level of grave no one else did. I texted him to let him know that I was sorry about what happened, that I didn’t judge him and that if he ever needed anything, he could talk to me.” He never responded which is fine. I just know myself and that had this not happened to me, I would have been incredibly damning of him as I had always been the “ right and wrong” police until I learned from personal experience, just how grey the in between lines can truly be.

A co-worker and friend picked up on my stress and pulled me into a conference room one day to find out what was going on with me. I made her swear on her first born child to never tell anyone what I was about to tell her, that it could never get out at work because I would be judged and they’d have a real reason to never promote me. She promised. When I told her how I was trying to figure out how to get to and from work the next 8 months, she offered to drive me. I was on her way so it was easy for her. I took her up on it. I had no other choice. I felt terrible every day for putting her through this inconvenience but she never once complained and she went out of her way to keep my secret. If people saw us getting in or out of her car together or walking into the office together, she was always prepared to say she was helping me out while my car was in the shop. She saved my life and my job. By solving this problem, I was able to obtain some type of “normalcy” in order to get through those 8 months without feeling like a total loser.

During that time, I also met with my lawyer and prepared for court. He watched the video of me in the police department. He said he was actually impressed with how clear headed I was and that my speech was incredibly coherent. He said they were even bringing in some guy in shackles behind me while I was standing at the front desk and I was completely unphased by it. While he knew I was guilty because I admitted it to him, he felt there were some overreactions and flaws in the police department’s process. He felt we might be able to fight the charges altogether but there was a chance we could lose. Despite my confidence in him, the consequences of losing, even if chances were slim, were consequences which would have had me not driving for probably another 2 years and I couldn’t put that onus on anyone else. I needed to be back on the road in 8 months, no matter what. Plus, I’m an Irish Catholic. We have incredible guilt and repentance issues. I knew I was guilty. I didn’t feel right about trying to fight the charges. I wanted to accept responsibility in a way which would have the fewest and least painful consequences. 8 months off the road and $6000 to the state were easy to live with. Plus, he got the charges downgraded quite a bit and it’s just something I’d have to have on my record until it eventually ages off….a timeline I believe has now passed.

It’s a humbling process to be a privileged, good, white girl sitting in a courtroom with a bunch of other criminals pleading their own cases. I went to court but it’s a process of sitting and waiting to be called while a bunch of other cases are handled. I was sitting near people brought in from jail, in their jail wardrobe and shackled. While I was scared of them, I also had the presence of mind to consider myself no better than them. That was the first time I started understanding white privilege. I didn’t have that phrase in my vocabulary at the time but I understood I had done something just as bad as they did. However, I had family support, I had my job, I could afford the top lawyer and I would go back to my normal life, just little more embarrassed by myself than usual. I knew that my circumstances were the only thing which separated me from those people and they also could have come through their crimes successfully if they had my upbringing and my means. Their lack of those things pretty much dammed them into the system as well as increases their risk of recidivism because even when they do get out of jail, they don’t have finances, family and finances to fall back on. Not only that, I’m sure they don’t have a no choice of privileged white friends and co-workers giving them the “approving” wink of “could have just as easily been me, Doles.” If nothing else, I did start learning a different level of compassion and a new way of looking at people which continues to only become stronger and more beneficial.

I have never really told this whole story before. I have gone through moments in time, bits and pieces where I had to for court, therapy, a carpool and a compliance report. Beyond that, it’s a horrible story to tell. I’m sure it would anger many people because it was drunk driving which does kill people. That anger is valid. It’s just hard for me to take from someone else because of how much I internally punish myself. I feel like other people being angry is kind of overstating the obvious. Trust me, I get that part and am equally upset with myself. It’s just I have to go beyond just that anger and consider a whole slew of other emotions and reactions no one else would consider. I was still me. I was still pretty broken. I was still depressed. I still had survivor’s guilt. I still had PTSD. I still had nightmares. Getting arrested and going through that process doesn’t cure those things. It illuminates their severity. It may even offer a few revelations but it doesn’t treat any of it. The drinking didn’t stop.

.

I was diagnosed with major recurrent depression around 20 years ago but didn’t start taking medication for it until my late 20s, maybe early 30s. I started with Zoloft and didn’t like that because Of weight gain and I was already super fat back then. I switched to Paxil but that stopped working after awhile. I went in for a new Psychiatrist evaluation before trying a 3rd medication. I had a Psychologist I met with every other week but he couldn’t prescribe medication so he set up a meeting with a Psychiatrist in his practice.

The doctor asks a bunch of questions to better understand the mechanics of the depression to determine the best medication fit. We arrived at Effexor because it treated 2 brain chemicals instead of just serotonin like the first 2 had been limited to. Nothing is ever simple with me. I can’t just have one misfiring brain chemical, it had to be the combination of 2 which is why it took so long to regulate it. I have been on Effexor ever since. Every few years we have to adjust the dosage but, overall, it works.

I also have PTSD which I got from the Boston Marathon bombing. I am going to skip a couple “stories” here and fast forward to when I needed assistance from the Victim Compensation Fund. In order to be considered, I had to submit a whole slew of medical paperwork from multiple doctors in order to cover the full scope of what I was up against and the myriad of treatments I needed but couldn’t afford with medical insurance alone.

The documentation included notes from every therapy session as well as notes from my Psychiatric medication evaluation. In the Psychiatrist’s notes, there was a list of diagnoses I was familiar with. But there was a new one listed which I hadn’t seen before…”Alcoholism.” I remember being really confused because at no point had I referred to myself that way. I had answered questions about my drinking habits and I was very honest. I had assumed alcohol was an ingredient which needed to be considered in terms of side effects with certain medications.

Then I got really mad. My grandfather was an alcoholic. The kind that went to AA and whose children experienced different childhoods depending upon the before and after of his sobriety. My father grew up with the “before” and while I had never heard any stories about it, I knew for certain it impacted him. One of his brothers also had a significant problem with chemical dependency when I was just a baby. I did hear stories of him getting kicked out of his house and then sleeping in his car in front of our house. My parents would allow him to use the bathroom and shower there but not in my presence, which is why he had to sleep in his car. I was deeply aware of how this disease runs in families, especially Irish ones like us.

I have extremely strong feelings about the word. I don’t believe that anyone is allowed to characterize another person as an alcoholic. I think only the drinker himself/herself can ever truly know it or give words to it. Anyone else is generalizing, even a doctor. That’s my personal belief and I don’t refer to myself as an alcoholic. I think it’s way more complicated than that. I am happy to talk about my drinking with anyone who asks. You just don’t get to label something I haven’t labeled because you can never truly know me and what it’s like to feel my feelings, both physically and emotionally. You don’t have my brain chemistry. You don’t share my blood. You haven’t got my history or my memories. You don’t get to label me. Ever.

I am going to skip a lot of stories again here. Think of this writing more as a preface or introduction as you might see in a book before the chapters start. I might start writing in “chapters” following this but right now, the actual stories haven’t really separated themselves yet. I trust that will come as I embark on this potential writing project.

December 2019, I got to take my team of roughly 20 associates out for a celebratory dinner. I was their Manager and they had just come off a tumultuous period of team changes and upheaval, while delivering their best results yet which earned the team a few hundred bucks. Kind of the leadership I am also proud of known for. I also had regular budget money so I could actually afford more than just a token pizza lunch. I took them to a restaurant with great food and tons of beer choices. We had a blast. I let them order whatever they wanted and we only went about 100$ above budget which I paid from my own credit card. That said, it was a snowy night out so I watched their drinking very carefully to ensure they were all making safe decisions. They didn’t know I had ever been arrested for drunk driving but I knew it and it made me hyper aware of everyone else’s safety at all times.

They did great. They all stopped at 2 drinks which felt reasonable. I knew that was also my limit but I grabbed a third anyway. That’s what I do. When I start, it hits my bloodstream and brain so fast, I don’t have time to stop for reasoning; an unintended consequence of weight loss surgery 9 years before. They warn you post-op about the dangers of alcoholism and I think I went about 2 years after that surgery without drinking. It just wasn’t something which moved me. I overdid it in college….typical, cliched reaction to a strict upbringing. Once college was over, it wasn’t a big deal. I drank for fun in my 20s with friends but very rarely to excess. I just didn’t care that much about it. After surgery, once I tried it again, I didn’t stand a chance. The physical changes in my digestive system created quite the short cut strait to my brain and it was like someone else became in control of me.

So here I was, standing outside in my trendy, fake, white fur coat walking to my car as snowflakes landed on my hair. I knew I probably shouldn’t drive but was going to take my chances. Plus, I was going to kill time at the gas station…..buying cigarettes which I had quit 15 years before. I had been dabbling with it whenever I traveled in Europe and sometimes at concerts but never committed to it. I bummed butts from other people, didn’t buy my own. For whatever reason, I decided to do it that night. There is literally no rhyme or reason to that decision. I killed time ripping butts in the snow and eventually drove home with no issues.

That was the last time I drank.

I didn’t know then it would be my last round of Blue Moons. I had no intentions of quitting. Winters tended to be slightly less imbibing for me. I didn’t drink alone at home and went out less often in the winters. I had a couple concerts coming up in late January and late February which I figured would be drinking nights but a pretty tame season ahead. Drinking, bar hopping would start back up in the Spring.

What ended up happening is that I got really, really sick towards the end of January and most of February. When I went to the January concert, I only drank Diet Pepsi because I didn’t feel well. The next show in late February, I was still recovering from bronchitis and a sinus infection. Plus, word of Covid had just begun circulating and was all over the West Coast. Being the nerd and wannabe epidemiologist that I am, I was stressed about being in a concert venue in Boston. I just wanted to enjoy the show, keep people away from me and get the hell out of there. I almost didn’t go because I just wasn’t exactly sure the timing of when Covid would hit Boston and felt this show was cutting it close. It ended up being my last outing because Biogen started going wild with Covid just days later and next thing I knew, someone at work told me on 3/12 she might have exposed me to Covid so HR sent me home immediately to wait on symptoms. Next day, 3/13, the whole company got sent home and we were in quarantine indefinitely.

A few months into quarantine, as the weather got warmer, I was thinking about beer again. I thought it might be cool to treat myself to some good brewery beer and ended up perusing the Battery Steele website. I had been to that brewery the summer before when visiting my friend, Mark, in Portland and really liked their stuff. As I was looking for the kind I liked, I had also thought about how much weight I had lost since March…effortlessly. One of my friends thought it was the drop in stress cortisol because working from home turned out to be an unexpected blessing for me. While I am sure cortisol had a lot to do with it, secretly, I knew I also hadn’t been drinking since December and I’m pretty sure that also had a lot to do with it. Plus, I was approaching 6 months alcohol free which felt like an accomplishment I hadn’t planned on. I shut down the website and decided to wait and see.

That was over a year ago and I still haven’t had a drink. In total, it’s now been 19 months. I also haven’t had a depressive episode since working from home and my PTSD is triggered far less often. By the end of last year, I knew something significant was happening with my mental health in that I felt healthy for the first time in my life. While my job wasn’t the reason for my depression or PTSD, it was apparently a major trigger for frequent episodes of each….until I didn’t have to go into the office anymore. Absent the depressive episodes, daily anxiety attacks and alcohol, I had turned into the person I think I was always meant to be and I liked it. So did my family, my friends and co-workers. It even was the catalyst for the most productive, most successful period of my career.

When I read memoirs of former drinkers, each story is full of a range of horrific examples of negative drinking incidents for several chapters. Embarrassment, arrests, car wrecks, blackouts, lost loves, resentful children, lost jobs, bankruptcy….you name it. What they also all seem to have in common is the moment it stopped and they came out the other side. I don’t think any of them promise they won’t drink again but it’s kind of assumed in the way the write and celebrate their revelations and new lives.

I’m very uncomfortable with that. Throughout this entire period of sobriety, I have not once pretended I won’t go back to drinking. Nor do I refer to myself as an alcoholic. Binge drinker, absolutely. You won’t get any arguments from me on that aspect. But the door is still open and I think that’s not supposed to be the case for problem drinkers who have “quit.” I think you are supposed to reassure everyone that sobriety is what you always want from now on. Not to say there aren’t relapses in an alcoholic’s journey. There are and I think that’s an accepted danger everyone needs to be hyper vigilant about. I just can’t give you that, nor can I promise myself that level of optimism or shame myself for life changes and future choices I cannot predict.

I do know that I love being clear headed at all times. I’m smart and I like doing smart things. I’m an avid reader. I need to do crossword puzzles or word searches every night while watching tv. I’m a social justice warrior (title used in jest as it’s typically applied as something bad but I could give 2 shits if me caring about other people’s rights makes me a snowflake, SJW, tree hugger or whatever negative nickname selfish people have for it.) I enjoy not feeling like shit the next morning or wondering who I need to apologize to after checking my text messages and Facebook posts. I also very much enjoy dropping 2 pant sizes without any effort. I’m thinner than I have ever been, including high school. Every guy I have ever dated gave up way too soon because now I look like the girl you wish you were with and I am vain enough to gloat in that.

There’s a lot ahead. Getting back to seeing friends will be a new challenge because I don’t want to drink right now and all friends usually do is meet up for dinner and drinks. I will eventually get back to traveling. Trying new, international beers in foreign, local bars is a favorite part of my trips. It’s when I get to meet interesting people and, as an introvert, that’s not something I am terribly comfortable with. But I can do it in another country with strangers if I have a drink in my hands. My trip to Belgium was heavily focused on Belgian beer which I am most partial to. Spain, my favorite things in Spain are tapas and chiringuitos (sp.) on their beaches. My living room is literally deigned based off a beach bar we went to in Spain. And, I want to go back to Spain. Part of the tapas fun is getting a free appetizer for every round of drinks you order. What an insanely cool way to sample new foods and eat in the portion control way I am accustomed to.

Dates, assuming I ever have one again…what do I do on those? I’ve been on 1 sober date in my life and it was a daytime bike ride where I was unbelievably awkward the whole time. Ahead of it, I had to ask a friend for pointers on what to do and talk about because I had no idea. It was then the last date with that guy who married the next girl he dated. I have an ex who pops in and out throughout the years. Our last conversation didn’t go well when I insisted I didn’t want to have drinks with him. Haven’t heard from him since. I want to do concerts again eventually, when it’s safe. Who does a Lucero concert without drinking? The 2 don’t go together.

I’d like to focus on more daytime, physical activities but need a hip replacement first. That said, I am picturing myself as more of an organic, vegan eater. My kitchen is finally renovated and designed to cook in all day. I had my first experience growing my own vegetables this summer and managed to feed myself many dinner salads from that. Thing is, I don’t know how to cook too many things. I don’t have those kitchen instincts of knowing what can go together and I’m also a fussy eater which makes palate expansion a challenge. I also can see myself planning trips that don’t focus on alcohol. I want to do an African safari. I want to do a 3 week road trip through Australia. I want to do Norway and some hiking. If I can get a new hip, all those plans are on and I think I can do them without booze. But, it’s a question mark.

I am in perpetual recovery from binge drinking and major recurrent depression. I feel good about the trajectory of my depression but I also know, it takes literally nothing more than a gust of wind to alter it. It’s highly outside my control. I forever have images of Chris Cornell and Anthony Bourdain in the back of my mind. You can have everything and your depression can still get you. I look at alcohol the same way. I really don’t think any of us can ever do more than living in an actual moment and make choices in that moment. Accepting that tenet is frightening for people because it means there really isn’t a whole lot of control you have and lots of people actually believe they participate in behaviors which make them in control. Not true. Ever. Everyone has one thing that can slay them. It’s a just a question of if and when and sometimes it doesn’t happen for people. That doesn’t mean they prevented it. It just means it didn’t happen for them, but it could have.

That’s where I am. Not recovered because I don’t believe that’s a thing. There is no such thing as “coming out the other side for me.” It’s just where is I ve was and where I am now. Perpetual stages of recovery and making good choices when my brain allows for it is more what I can get behind. That level of unpredictably is hard for others to live with when considering my place in their lives but for me, it’s the calmest, most realistic place I have ever been.

I start with intentions but I can’t promise you what choices I will make. I cannot put that pressure and judgment on myself. I just need to live in the day I am in and trust my process which doesn’t include labels, promises or platitudes. It’s just a journey I’m on and I want to be open to writing about it because I need to be writing every day. It’s just something I need to commit to and throwing a little “preamble” out here today allows me the freedom to go back and relive all the little stories in whatever sequence they come back to me….which will not be in order of time or importance.

T

As I was loading my beach gear back into the car after another glorious beach day today, the woman who had pulled in next to me asked how crowded it was on the beach. I told her it was pretty busy but that I had just come from the corner which was quiet and she should head that way. In that moment, she realized I was a local, like herself, because I so quickly understood what she was asking. “How bad are the tourists today?” My direction was enough to clue her in that I was just like her. I mentioned they seemed worse this summer and she completely agreed. We talked about how she couldn’t make a left turn for 10 minutes trying to get here. I mentioned some of the interactions I have had with workers in local businesses being so grateful for me being polite and when they realized I was local, they would open up about their experiences with the tourists this year. She further validated this by telling me where her daughter works and how she comes home from work each day complaining about how entitled the tourists are behaving this year. It’s unlike any other year.

The conversation was very pleasant and we parted ways, wishing each other a great rest of the day. As she left, I noticed a bag of dog poop sitting next to her car that had been left there by a tourist (photo above.). What’s disturbing about this, beyond the fact it was within feet of a sign indicating no dogs allowed between a Memorial Day and Labor Day, is that even closer was a garbage receptacle. It couldn’t have been easier to just throw it out, erase all evidence of having given the middle finger to the beach rule. I couldn’t think of a better metaphor for the ever pervasive behavior of most tourists visiting this summer.

When I was a teenager, my parents were thinking about buying a house down here. I was adamantly against it to the point my father brought me with him to meet the real estate agent and look at houses to see if he could change my mind. My argument then was that it was such a crowded, overdone, elitist tourist Mecca. It’s where all the entitled rich people went every weekend and our family wasn’t like them. I protested greatly about the amount of time that would be wasted commuting back and forth with so many poor, entitled drivers. I wasn’t quite as articulate or “woke” on white privilege then as I am now but I think that’s the concept I was hinting at. My parents certainly didn’t need my permission to buy a house but I was pitching enough of a fit, they decided maybe I did need to be part of the process.

Once down here and seeing houses with my dad, I did start to envision what it might be like to live down here for the summer, get a summer job, learn how to sail a boat, go to the beach with my siblings. I was a good swimmer and even pictured becoming a lifeguard. While it was the dead of winter, my dad did take me for a walk on a beach near the house he really wanted. It was then I fell in love with the beach in winter. Nearly every year since then, I have found a beach for at least one winter walk. I don’t know if it was truly the Cape I fell in love with that day or just the time spent alone with my dad, not fighting (a very rare occurrence) but I got on board and told him it would be ok to buy the house.

When it got down to the wire, my parents decided not to go ahead with buying the house and, instead, decided to put a pool in at our Natick house. A few years after that, the real estate market and economy struggled to the point my parents were relieved at their decision. They said that had they bought the house, they would have eventually gone into debt and lost both houses. By adding a pool and having a house in very sought after, Natick, they profited exceptionally. When they sold the Natick house, they were able to buy 2 houses; one locally for the work week and one on a lake in NH. They were then able to continue profiting off the NH real estate to the point they traded up from a condo to a house and from a house to a land purchase where they built their dream house. The problem was, once they retired and moved to their dream house full time, they found themselves bored outside the summer season because it became a ghost town. When they realized they had a lot of friends on the Cape and that there could be year round activity, they moved down here.

I have now spent a good chunk of time down here over the past seven summers, moving here full time last August in the pandemic. My parents once mentioned they will probably have to sell their house to pay for a nursing home in the future. Because I had been coming down every weekend, I realized I could be helpful with some of the things they have lost the ability to do. I am also staunchly against my parents spending their last years in any sort of nursing home. They are remarkable people who deserve much better so I am here and prepared to take on additional responsibilities as they need. I will worry much less being 15 minutes away from them and having to commute back to the office a few days a week than how much I was worrying a few hours away and spending a bunch of time commuting on the weekends. The commute time will eventually be the same, just “flipped” in a way which allows me to both work and attend to aging parents without giving myself an ulcer. I had also been living in a Townhouse association which became a real nuisance when the Pandemic hit. Having to trust close neighbors to cooperate with social distancing and masks in common spaces wasn’t as easy as it should have been. It was a very “conservative” Trump town I had been living as it bordered New Hampshire.

I have a quaint little ranch house that’s smaller than the Townhouse but I have a huge yard and it’s all mine. When I step outside with the dog, I don’t have to worry that Covid danger is lurking right around the corner. I enjoy gardening and landscaping. For years, my dad said I could never handle owning a house because he couldn’t see me mowing a lawn or shoveling a driveway the way association fees covered for me at the Townhouse. Regardless, I have still spent the past 5 winters shoveling myself in and out of my parking spot in every storm because they started doing a very late and lazy job with it so my fees weren’t really getting me that much. Fast forward to buying my own house, I actually enjoy mowing my lawn and I only had to shovel once this winter. I am much happier having the fees back in my pocket and helping with my mortgage.

I haven’t gone out much since moving in becAuse of the Pandemic. Only this summer did I start going back to the grocery store. I have seen my family without masks and have been out to dinner 3 times; all with appropriately safe “bubble” people. I stopped wearing a mask from the beach parking lot to the sand. But I never stopped wearing my mask and rubber gloves any time I go to an indoor establishment. That turned out to be very smart considering the tourists brought another Covid surge down here – namely Delta, which we discovered is transmissible to and from vaccinated people because of our very own Provincetown getting over 800 cases right after the 4th of July. 75% were in vaccinated people. This means that amongst the non mask wearers were not just vaccinated tourists, but unvaccinated ones virtually “lying” about their safety to us.

I’m a beach girl. Have been my whole life. In fact, I think our parents taught us how to properly “beach.” When we were kids, the beach was a full day event and we knew we had to walk a long way on the beach because it was important to give others their space, especially when you have children with you. We complained every year about the walk and everything we had to carry. They didn’t make yuppie beach wagons back then. Coolers didn’t have wheels. Chairs were not collapsible and toteable like a purse. Since then, when I go to the beach, I don’t just drop my stuff in the first spot I see. I look for a space away from others and I expect them to do the same for me. The pandemic put this need into overdrive for me to the point I actually have trouble sleeping the night before the beach for fear I won’t get to the beach in time to find that remote space and keep the tourists away from me. Every day this week, I progressively started setting my alarm 30 minutes earlier just to get me beach spot and stop worrying.

My dad jokes that I’m a snob. I can’t deny that. I am very much a snob about my beach space and I do feel entitled because I live here. I have had depression my whole life as well as pretty severe anxiety. I have found the beach to literally be the only place where I can truly relax and breathe normally. I also have PTSD so having people behind me or too close and making me feel boxed in does cause me panic attacks on the beach. It sucks but I don’t need any more space than some 5 person family uses with their circus tents, toy wagons and giant Yeti coolers. I go to the end corner of the beach where the twigs, ticks and bugs are and set up my space far from prime, close to water beach space, so there really is zero reason for anyone to sit near me. There is plenty of space elsewhere so when they do it, it’s by inconsiderate choice …probably because they figure I am quiet and won’t disturb them. But they disturb the Hell out of me. Tourists only think of their own experience. My brain is hyperactive so I can’t focus on reading a book if I can hear someone else’s conversation or music nearby. I get physically very anxious when I find myself re-reading the same sentence over and over again. Plus, people need to hear this. NO ONE, not a local or a tourist, wants to listen to your music on the beach so either use ear buds or keep it off.

The beach is slightly better this year than last. When I first moved down here and decided this was my preferred beach, it was also the only public beach in Yarmouth. It’s very small with a small parking lot. During the pandemic, the rules on beaches were 12 feet between beach blankets, 6 feet between each other when walking/swimming and mask wearing when walking out of your blanket space. People were very obviously not doing this. In addition, fights between soccer moms were breaking out in the parking lot over who perceived should have been the one to get the last space. I had a woman intentionally try to run me off the road and when I got the spot first, she jumped out of her car (with Virginia plates) and started yelling at me. I couldn’t help myself, I yelled back “typical tourist.” She yelled back “what makes you think I’m a tourist?” I simply said “because the people who live here don’t treat each other that way and your Virginia plates, idiot” which shut her up.

Thankfully, the town recognized how awful this issue and the overcrowding were. People were parking on neighborhood streets, blocking owners’ driveways and walking in once the lot was full. There simply wasn’t enough room on the beach for them and they didn’t care. This year, the town made it a fee beach and once the lot is full you can’t come in. That has mostly improved the space issue meaning there is enough room for everyone to spread out. It’s just some people still don’t and sit on top of you. I had friends here last week visiting from Spain and we went to the beach on a particularly crowded day. I hadn’t seen It that packed all summer. Even still, I found a decent enough spot with space from others. As soon as my friend sat down, a new group came in and literally sat within inches of her, even kept moving their chairs closer to her to the point she had to move. I was so embarrassed. Her culture does not behave like that. I know because I spent time in her country where I was so blown over by the politeness and focus on quality of life I put it on my “someday if I move out of the country” list of places I would go.

Why are the tourists so awful and entitled this year to the point it’s very noticeable amongst all the locals and local businesses? I really don’t know. But it’s literally “the talk” down here. The businesses are definitely struggling with staffing. Traditionally, this is an area where students from other countries come to live and work over the summers to earn college money. Because of Covid, they can’t get their visas so it’s crippled the businesses. Most businesses are family owned and have their whole families pitching in. Wages have been increased to entice local teenagers to take the jobs. There was even a controversy with Chatham Bars Inn telling their workers to actively recruit from other bars and restaurants if they received good service. They were to give that waiter/waitress a business card and a promise of a generous sign on bonus which stole them away from that establishment in order to make sure the rich people at CBI weren’t inconvenienced by staff shortages. Heaven forbid they have to wait an extra minute for valet parking.

I am constantly hearing stories of 16 year olds being yelled and sworn at by adults. Every day at the beach, these teenagers have to do lifeguard rescues of stupid tourists who don’t educate themselves about the tides and ignore the signs of where they shouldn’t be swimming. I watched one rescue last week where the guy didn’t even thank the Lifeguard once they got back onto the beach. My friends and I saw 2 little girls nearly drown when lifeguards went out to save them. The first thing both my friends asked was “why aren’t their parents helping them?” That thought also crossed my mind but, unfortunately, I was used to seeing it. Most of the time, the parents aren’t paying attention and don’t even know the lifeguard running into the water is heading out for their kid. But honestly, the 2 little girls who were struggling, their father was there on the sandbar and he didn’t make a move into the water to help them. Yes, I get it would have been dangerous for him too but isn’t there a parental instinct which just kicks in? Not always. I guess he felt the lifeguards were a service he was entitled to, just like a Starbucks barista getting his coffee for him.

A couple days ago, another unparented child started drifting and couldn’t get back. A total stranger went after her and risked his own life while waiting for the lifeguard to come. He was a tourist. Occasionally, there are good ones. In fact, he was doctor so it makes sense he had a life saving instinct. But, he was also a parent and appeared to have that instinct too. He’s the only parent I have seen all summer respond to a child’s emergency and it wasn’t even his kid. Yeah, that’s how bad it is down here. Lifeguards are just now an expected service you get when you are ignoring your kids; like a nanny which most of these visitors are also accustomed to. I see plenty of them on the beach tending to the kids while mom and dad go God knows where and the kids just scream until they come back. A pleasant experience for the beach goers and nanny left behind.

I am certainly a product of white privilege. I am likely the youngest single woman owning a house down here. That’s privilege, for sure. I also feel entitled because I am a local. By no means am I a perfect little walk in the park. The Cape is an interesting place. People down here are either super conservative or super liberal. There is nothing in between complete hippie and a pickup truck with Trump stickers on it and American Flags draped off the back. Yet, we do co exist a little better than other locations where I have experienced this dichotomy. We do all seem to understand climate change has endangered our location which is usually a topic we do not agree upon on the other side of the bridge. We take pride in our environment as well as supporting local businesses. We treat each other with kindness and respect. We treat our service workers with kindness and respect.

I love living here and want to acknowledge those who work hard to make this such a great place to live. Without our service workers, we wouldn’t have such an eden we want to fiercely protect from the tourists. With that, I’d like to express thanks to the following people I have encountered on my 2 week “staycation.”

To the young man at Apple Nails in Harwich. You did a beautiful job. Thank you for wearing a mask, I am sorry that no other patrons outside my sister in law and I were wearing masks. I am sorry that the tourists have been rude and demanding to you. I am glad you were able to have a little respite working with us, civilized and grateful people. I told you then and will do so again now. Thank you for what you do. You are providing us with a privilege you certainly don’t have to and we are grateful. You deserve to be treated with respect by everyone.

To Black Sheep, I am sorry you have to post a sign outside asking the tourists to be patient with you due to being understaffed. Our waitress was lovely and very welcoming to my friends from Spain. Thank you also for wearing a mask, even outside when serving us.

To the young woman who was crying to her co-worker at Marshall’s yesterday afternoon, you work hard getting all those products on the floor and answering questions from people. I am sorry the patrons are so rude that you ended your work day in tears. I saw you and I appreciate you. There is no earthly reason I or anyone else “needs” throw pillows to the extent you should be that exasperated. I apologize that others don’t recognize this. Also, to the cashier who serviced me, you were a sweetheart and so pleasant. I am sure you ask every customer how they are doing and it gets exhausting but you sounded like you genuinely meant it. Know that when I asked you the same thing, I sincerely meant it as well.

To the helpers at Stop and Shop in the self service check-out. Yes, I know self service is controversial and said to be putting cashiers out of work. From my experience with the self checkout, I think this risk is a little further off considering how touchy the machine is. I have learned you can’t scan your items to fast or the system thinks you have out something in your bag without scanning it. That requires you to come over and punch in a code. Also, the weight limit on the bagging side causes issues if you buy bottled water and litter. Despite it telling you the limit has been reached in your scanned items, when you go to move the scanned kitty litter to your cart, the machine again thinks you are stealing so you have to fix that. And, fruits and veggies, god help me. I wear gloves so it’s hard to get the keys to register the letters I am trying to enter and that jams it up. You typically have to come over and help me 3 times while you hear me talk back to the machine that I did scan the item and I don’t need help. Also, what’s with the Radom food scarcity of tourists? It’s not predictable what food item they are going to clear the shelves of each week. One week it’s Dave’s bread, another week it was all the Pringle’s. Another week, only the non dairy ice cream. This week it was rice pilaf. WTF?

To the lifeguards at Gray’s. You are phenomenal. You are supposed to really just be able to sit there, get a tan and flirt with each other, maybe look for shark fins and lightning every once in awhile. I am sure your friends at the other beaches are having a little more fun than you. You work extremely hard. You are laser focused on every little moment and know you are about to go on a rescue seconds before it even happens. You are constantly having to tell other people’s children not to jump off the marsh into the water; parents nowhere to be found and blatant disregard for the sign in front of the marsh which says to stay off the marsh because it is environmentally sensitive.

To the “gatekeepers” of Gray’s Managing the fees and parking passes. THANK GOD FOR YOU! You are the best thing that has happened all summer. I can’t imagine how much flack you get from people when they realize there is a fee now or if you have to turn them away if the lot is full. By the way, last Saturday, the tourists were parking on the neighborhood streets again and walking in. I saw a bunch of it on my way out. You are absolutely seeing people walk in pretending to be renters within walking distance. They lie. They are probably also unvaccinated. The dishonesty thing seems to follow a certain pattern with the tourists.

Lastly, to whomever gets stuck picking up that bag of dog poop 4 feet from the trash, thank you. You shouldn’t have to do that. ALL dog owners know it’s our responsibility to pick up after our pets. Personally, I don’t understand why they bothered to even bag it if they weren’t going to take the next logical step of taking it to the trash. They don’t deserve to own a pet. If you want to own a dog, you resign yourself to picking up poop a couple times a day for the duration of your dog’s life. The extent to the pleasantry or lack of pleasantry on that depends on the size of the dog you choose.

I am re-addicted to caffeine and obsessed with the Wendy’s large Diet Coke. I go every day. During the pandemic, you were the only people I interacted with every day. Your workers are wonderful and are starting to feel like family. They know my order and who I am. They compliment my outfits, my earrings and even my masks as I pass through. Honestly, if my company would just allow full time remote work, you have at least 3 people I am ready to recruit because their customer service is top notch. You are doing something exceptionally right in your hiring and training.

On behalf of all the locals down here, grinning and bearing it, unable to make left turns until after Labor Day, I leave you with the bumper sticker I once saw on the bike trail in Chatham “I am not on your vacation.” I repeat this mantra in my head every time I leave the house, prepared to blurt it out whenever a situation finally escalates to the point I can’t keep it in any longer. I haven’t had to use it yet. So far, cordoning off a section of personal space on the beach with my windscreen seems to be getting the message across most days; except last Saturday when it didn’t work and I ended up leaving the beach early because the tourists ruined the day. Next time, though, I’m not leaving the beach. I’m going to quote the bumper sticker and see what happens.