Dear Country Music

I love country music.

I grew up on it.  I loved listening to the radio in the evenings when Mama had it on while she was cooking supper.  When I was old enough I got a clock radio–oh y’all, it had real hands on it and you just had to kind of guess where to put the “alarm hand” to wake up at six or six-thirty.  It was precious.  (Yeah, we’ll go with that.)  I listened to the country music station–WDEN–when I sat and did my homework on my bed.  I loved the music, the words, and the DJ’s–there were some real characters on there for sure.  I remember the one weekend that JD North holed himself up in the control booth and played Hank Williams Jr’s “Family Tradition” over and over when he was trying to raise money for a charity.  It was a mess, but you couldn’t change the station because you never knew if this was the last time he would play it.  Ah, but no…..

Daddy especially enjoyed country music, but as the years went by, he complained about the demise of country music.  How the new artists weren’t singing real music–that they were turning to rock and roll and foul lyrics.  My Daddy preferred the songs of the older artists for the most part.  He used to put “Pancho and Lefty” on the record player and set it to play over and over and over.

He loved a good story.  Always.

Daddy also loved a good tune.  He really liked some of Lionel Richie’s songs, just because of the music.  He also liked Boy George’s “Karma Chameleon”–again the music.  Go figure.

But I digress.  I got to thinking about the state of country music the other day when a fairly new song came on the radio.  “Day Drinking” by Little Big Town.  I have been burning up my search engine because I really think I’ve heard this tune in a commercial or something, but maybe what happened is I’ve heard and liked the tune, but never listened to the words.

Dear Country Music,

Day Drinking?

Really?

I know y’all aren’t talking about a jug of sweet tea either.

I’ve tried to ignore the trend.  It’s been heading that way for a while.  Dierks Bentley’s “Tip It on Back”–I love the tune, I love the laid back feel, so I tried to pretend that you were suggesting I could tip on back my jug of water I tote around.  But then he came out with “Drunk on a Plane” and well, yeah, that one was a little hard to ignore.

This next one is hard for me.  I love me some Eric Church, but “A Cold One” is about regretting the ex-girlfriend taking one of his beers as she left.

Oh Eric, REALLY?

I’m starting to think you are all one or two short of a twelve-pack.

As I was writing this, I came across an article “Does Country Music Need an Alcohol Intervention?” which served to validate what I’d been noticing.

There’s a whole lot of drinking and partying going on in country music.

“The old guys were regretfully drunk,” says songwriter Adam Wright, whose current Lee Ann Womack single, “The Way I’m Livin’,” embodies the same attitude. “The new guys are proud to be drunk. There’s a little bit of a different spin.”

Exactly.

All of you out there writing the songs and then selling the songs and then recording the songs and then yes, choosing to play these songs–can you please do me one favor?

Can you pay attention to who is listening to your music?

Teens.

Young people.

People who need every bit of help they can get to figure out what being an adult looks like.  It’s not getting drunk and being proud of it.  Not for one minute.  No sir.  Being an adult doesn’t look like sitting around drinking coffee all the time (like in Friends) nor does it look like partying until you can’t remember anything the next day.

Being an adult is about making responsible choices.  Which is why I nearly laughed out loud at a high school graduation where the graduates were told they were adults now.  Hardly.  But we’ll save that for another night.

Country music, you had one of your finest moments when Mark Alan Springer and Shaye Smith wrote the song that Kenny Chesney recorded and released in 1998.  “That’s Why I’m Here.”  It’s a real picture of what can happen in real life as a result of all that partying and all that drinking.  I know this–I’ve watched it happen.

And I’m watching it again, country music.  My daughter has a friend who is drinking his life away.  At 18.  It might not happen now or in his 20’s or 30’s but how many do we have to lose to this disease in their 40’s and 50’s before someone stands up and says,  “Enough is enough.”

It’s time.

Enough is enough.

Please stop glamorizing drinking.  Please stop making it look like no fun can be had without a “Drink in My Hand.”  (Oh me, Eric Church–you do have some great songs out there, but this one…..oh me.)  It has a great tune, and I’ve watched my daughter’s friend belt this song out with a face full of joy–before he was drinking.  Y’all make it sound so fun.

And these kids don’t know any better.

Please.  Just.  Stop.

I love country music.  And my children do too.  But as my oldest watches friends and people she loves succumb to drinking and the poor judgment that comes with it, I’m considering shutting you out of my life.  I may be pulling out my Daddy’s record albums for more than just nostalgia if this doesn’t stop.  I don’t want my children to wind up like my daughter’s friend–at a get together and unable to relax and enjoy being with folks because he needs someone to bring his underage self a beer.

My heart breaks y’all.

It’s just too much.  When you’ve seen a life ruined and a person kill themselves with alcohol…..

It’s real.

Thank you country music for your time.  Please write and produce more songs with stories, really good stories, like you have in the past.  Not even about alcohol or drinking, but if it has to be about drinking, at least write ones that show the reality of it–like “That’s Why I’m Here,” “Whiskey Lullaby,” and Collin Raye’s “Little Rock.”   I know you have it in you.  Please show some responsibility.

Sincerely,

A Mama Who Has Three Precious Country Fans to Raise And Has Seen What Alcohol Can Really Do…..And It’s Not Fun

At All

 

 

 

 

It Started Sprinkling

The phone rang last Friday.  Actually it chirped.  Like a cricket.  I guess phones really don’t ring anymore, do they?

But I digress.

It looked like a local call but I didn’t recognize the number.  I was relieved when I heard Mac’s voice.  He hadn’t been at Daybreak when I was there for Sister Circle the previous Tuesday, and I hadn’t heard from him since the week before.  I had been worried.

“Hey, where are you?  This is a new number.  You borrowing someone’s phone?” I asked.

“Naw.  I’m at the hospital.”

Oh NO.  What had happened this time?  He’d been having some bad falls due to his balance not being good, even stone cold sober.

“I’m detoxing.”

Okay.

Wait.  What?!?

“You are.”  I paused.  “Ummm, that’s good.  Really good.  What brought this on?”  Last I knew he was thinking about it, but he didn’t seem in a big hurry to make it happen.

“It started sprinkling.”

I laughed.  “What?”

“Well see, me and J and some of them were all hanging out in the parking lot at the convenience store, and everybody got ready to head out.  It started sprinkling, and I just decided I was tired of this, I couldn’t live like that no more, so I called an ambulance.”

Ah.  Sprinkling.  *shrugging*  Whatever it takes.

He was in good spirits.  He was dreaming again.  About where to go after detoxing.  About what he could do with his life.  He wants to work, he wants to get a job–a real job.  One that he CAN do, despite his balance issues.

My heart soared.  As he talked, I bowed my head and said a silent word of “thanks.”  And I was grinning really big.

Over the weekend we talked a couple of times.  He was in the zone.  He was attending meetings and eating good cooked food and sleeping in air conditioning and on a real mattress.  For the first time in ten months.  All because of his choices.

On Monday, while I was in the middle of dealing with Mr. A.A. Law, Mac called me again.

“Hey.  Guess what?  I called Mr. J and asked him for the numbers for that place he said might could take me for rehab, and he told me to wait a minute.  Then he came back on the line and asked me if I could get up there.  They’re going to let me come back!”

I said the first thing that came to my mind.  “I’m gonna kiss Mr. J when I see him!  Whoo hoo!!!!!”

Mac was going back “home.”  The place three hours to the northeast, where he lived for about a year–minus the two weeks he spent in town here because he took a drink and then many more on his visit back home for Thanksgiving.  When he went back for a second chance and then did not return, after a visit back to town last July, he was told that was it.  And fair enough, right?  There are consequences to one’s actions.  And that was it.

The beautiful thing about this change of heart by Mr. J is that it’s because of one thing.

Relationships.

Mac has called Mr. J off and on over the last few months when he’s been at Daybreak, the day shelter in town.  From what Mac has shared, I gather they’ve visited, caught up on folks who were there when Mac was and those who still are.  I believe that those conversations, the thoughts and struggles shared through the phone line–that’s why Mr. J is willing to take a chance with Mac again.  He’s heard what I’ve heard.  That, for now, in this moment, Mac is ready.

I don’t kid myself, y’all.  I’ve done it before.  Been all happy, happy, happy–saying Oh THIS is the time.  THIS time he is going to make it.

Now I dream and hope smaller.  Today this is it.  In this moment he’s making good choices.  One moment at a time–that’s the true journey for an addict–no, wait–for all of us, isn’t it?

I spent a lot of Wednesday and much of yesterday trying to find a kind soul to drive Mac up to his new/old home today–his discharge date.  I found myself getting frustrated.

Frustrated that I couldn’t do it without getting out of prior obligations.

Mad that no one seemed to be able to make the trip.  Whether lack of dependable transportation, scheduling conflicts, or whatever–no one was able to do it.
I was feeling lost and very sad, and a little like no one could sense what a special person he is and that taking him and getting to know him on this trip would be more rewarding than anything else.

And then as messages from friends I’d asked for help from came pouring in, I saw the opportunity–the possibility for really good things that was coming from this–from me not finding someone right away.

Friends were regretful that they couldn’t do it, but they would be praying.  Friends wanting to support him however they could.  Folks who wanted to write him, send him encouragement.  People who have never met this man, reaching out, lifting him up, taking his journey and making it important in their hearts and thoughts.  Folks were looking to give comfort and refuge any way they could–folks were “being the feathers” for Mac, and it made me cry.

Tonight I’m thankful for the young man who did step up and agree to drive a complete stranger in his vehicle for over three hours.  He was the epitome of Kindness and Compassion.  You might know this young man–look up those words in the dictionary–I’ll bet his picture is there beside both of them.  He smiled and looked down at his shoes when I asked him to let me know when he’d made it home safely.  “It’s been a long time since I’ve had to do that with anyone,” he said.  “I’m a Mama, indulge me, please,” I smiled back.  And so he did.  Journey there and back–safe and sound.  Thankful for that.  And so much more.

I give thanks for the change in how I saw things–that moment when I shifted from being frustrated to amazed–realizing that even though this friend or that friend couldn’t drive Mac, they were lifting him up–that was a freeing moment.  It gave me pause, and I was quiet and felt the hush of my anxious spirit almost immediately as the realization hit.  People care.  They really do.  And then they do what they can with that caring spirit.

If you have a moment tonight, as you lay your head on your own pillow or tomorrow as you sit in a familiar place and find comfort in your routine or enjoy your freedom not to have a schedule, please think about Mac.  Cross your fingers, say a prayer, lift him up–any and all appreciated.  Even though he’s going back “home,” Mac knows things will be different than they were before he left.  He told me yesterday he didn’t sleep at all Wednesday night for thinking about this next big step.  He also knows something else–

he’s not coming back to town.  This town that he has called home most of his life–he realizes he can’t come back, for that is where temptation to take a drink with old buddies is the strongest.  He’s sad about that–he loves his Mama and will miss her.  She loves him too, and she says she will visit him when she can.  Fingers crossed for that too.

As you think about Mac tonight, tomorrow, next week, please let’s also think about relationships.  I love my brother.  I will write and be here to talk when he calls.  But it’s not the same as seeing him each week.  Being a friendly face for each other in the midst of all the other faces that might not be quite as friendly.  I am hopeful that someone in town there will feel moved to reach out.  He needs a friend, one who understands, is supportive, and loves him outside of the programs and the steps and just loves him as is.  Someone who will visit him and take him out once or twice a month.  Someone he can trust and call friend there, in his new town.  He needs to be known.  I think that will be a huge part in how this goes this time around.

But I’m trying not to let worry take over. As I learned yesterday, if I do what I can do, and then sit back and wait, good can come.  There was a young man here who put Other ahead of himself and did a great thing today; I am sure there is a feather there who will land with his arms around my brother right where he is now.  We just have to wait.

Tonight I leave you with the words of Mac, whom I am so proud of right now:

“If ain’t nobody told you they love you today, well, I do.”

Love to all.  #beafeather

Loving Through and Around and in the Midst Of

I looked down at where he was sitting.  “He died, you know.”

Mac looked away from me and then back again.  “Yeah, I know.  You told me.”

I stood there, thinking.  This person I love like a brother, sitting there, so lost and so out of touch with reality that he thinks himself untouchable, indomitable.  Were there any words that would get through to him?

“He didn’t think it was a problem.  He thought he was okay. He thought he had it under control too.” I fumbled for what else to say.

“Yeah.”  He shook something off, and laughed.  “Well hey.  I haven’t had a drink today.”  He laughed again.  “Yet.”

I knew the conversation was over.  I stood for a minute more, willing him to hear the words I didn’t say.

He had resources you don’t.  He had a home, a job, warm food at every meal, doctors and treatment at his disposal.  He could watch television anytime he wanted.  He didn’t have to wait in line for much of anything. The only time he had to walk was across a parking lot to his truck.  He had family and friends who loved him and enjoyed spending time with him.  And yet, the disease killed him.  He lost his life to this–this disease you have, the one you have fought so well only to fall prey to its control again and again.

What I wanted to say was, If it can get him, he who had all of those things working for him, how am I supposed to believe it won’t get you too? 

Because the reality is, odds are it will.

That was a week ago.

Today I stood outside Daybreak beside my friend Mac as he teased me about the ink stains from a leaky pen that covered my hand, making it look bruised.  We talked about the puppies that belonged to some other guests at Daybreak.  He looked over at them with a twinkle in his eyes.  “One day I’m gonna have me one of them.”

I nodded.  “That’ll be good.  When you get things…..settled.  Yes.  That will be good.”

“Yeah. I love me a dog.”

He’s had one before.  Living in the “camp” with him.  I never asked what happened to it.  He grew up with dogs and loves them.  I hope one day he can have one again.

We talked about his Mama who had come to see him and took him to handle some business today.  She’s a dear, sweet lady who does what she can.  He loves her too.

As we stood there and the breeze teased us with thoughts of warmer weather, I looked at my friend and wanted to cry.  He looked good today.  He was sober, maybe due to the impending trip with his Mama, I don’t know.  I’ll take it whatever the reason.  He was waiting on his laundry to be done and enjoying sitting outside in the sun.

One of our other friends was under the pavilion trimming someone’s hair.  I asked Mac if he was the next one in line for that.

“Noooooo,” he said, shaking his head.  “I ain’t ever cutting my hair again.”

Aub and I looked at him and squinted in the sunshine.  I tilted my head to the side, looking and picturing him in my mind’s eye with his shoulder length hair even longer.

“I can see it.  Willie Nelson braids.”

“Oooh, and the bandana, yes, you could rock that look,” Aub said, remembering the cover of one of Daddy’s Willie Nelson albums no doubt.

Mac laughed.  “Yeah?  You think?”

As I prepared to let the littles know it was time to go and pull them away from playing with their new friend, I looked over at Mac.  This man who is a poet and artist and who loves to cook and dreamed of opening a restaurant for those in need one day.  The one whose eyes and smile remind me so much of my Daddy, but who is his own man, just as lovable for different reasons.  I don’t even pretend to understand him anymore.  I can want it for him, but sobriety and living in a home, any kind of home, is something he has to want for himself and then be willing to work for.  And the truth is, he doesn’t want those things.  He would rather camp out in the woods somewhere and miss meals when he has to than follow the rules set up by a rehabilitation home and not have to worry about things like food or a roof over his head.  I don’t understand that mindset, but that is where he is.  It’s the disease taking control.

And so I have a choice.

I can walk away, frustrated that he continues to throw his life away and attempt to prevent myself from further heartbreak and worry. Or

I can love him as he is.  Love him no matter what choices he makes.  Love him without trying harder than he does to make things “better” for him, even when that means certain heartbreak.

What he has is a disease.  It’s a hard one.  It has people shaking their heads, wondering why he doesn’t just “stop” instead of reaching out a hand and offering prayers and warm hugs and food brought over in throw-away containers as we all would if the disease had a name like cancer or heart disease instead of the name “alcoholism.”  The name doesn’t allow much room for grace, so not many folks will offer it to those who suffer with it.

But facts are facts.  He struggles with his addiction, but that does not make him less of a person.  He lives outdoors, but that doesn’t make him not human.  He makes choices I don’t get, but that doesn’t mean we can’t be friends.  Or family.

Tonight I give thanks for this reprieve from the bitter cold.  Tonight maybe Mac will sleep a little more comfortably.  I am thankful he has a place like Daybreak to go to for showers, laundry, phone use, and so many other resources.  I am thankful for Loaves and Fishes and Macon Outreach at Mulberry UMC which open their doors to share a meal with people who are in need.  Most of all, I am thankful for a whole new understanding of what love looks like.  Yes, in loving Mac I am risking heartache down the road.  But so is he.  He risks his heart every time he lets someone get close.  He risks being hurt like he has in the past, by people who love him when he’s doing okay, when he’s sober, when he’s making those good choices, or just talking about those choices.  He risks people walking away when he just can’t fight it any longer.  When they just can’t understand why he is as he is.  I am working hard to be worthy of that risk, of that trust.

I give thanks for Mac’s life today.  In the words of Mac himself, and it never fails to bring light into my heart and make me smile,

“If ain’t nobody told you that they love you today, well, I love you.”

And love.  That’s what we’re here for, right?

Love to all.

Tears on a Tuesday…..Loneliness, Laundry, and Living on the Streets

Whoa, Tuesday!  You sure did jump out of nowhere and grab ahold of my heart today.  Totally wasn’t expecting all of that.

There have been tears today.  Over the realizing all over again what Thursday is and that she isn’t here to make her dressing.  I’ve only not had Mama’s dressing three Thanksgivings in my life–the year we were in Japan and the two years that Daddy was so sick.  I just don’t even know.  But I know there are harder things in this life.

Later Sister called saying she was thinking about making gingerbread cookies. I laughed, as she often calls looking for a recipe.  Often the same recipe I’ve given her before.  More than once.  She knows it–she owns it.  When I asked if she needed the recipe, she began sobbing into the phone.  Oh baby girl.  I wanted to crawl through the phone line and hug her.  Turns out she didn’t need the recipe after all.  She just needed me to listen.  Whenever she makes those cookies she thinks of Mama and all the times she called and asked Mama for the recipe.  Precious memories.  And hard.  But still I know there are harder things on this journey.

I was with my Sister Circle this afternoon at Daybreak. We had a small group as some of our friends were out of town.  As we talked about forgiveness and what that looks like and what it’s like to apologize, our conversation eventually turned to the holiday season.  We eventually got around to whether or not the holidays were hard for each of us.  One of our sisterfriends said no, that it was about being with family and she was so happy for Thursday and the opportunity to do just that–be with her family all together.  I looked over at Miss N, our sisterfriend who is the artist, and asked her.  She shrugged.  She won’t be going to be with her family this year.  “It’s hard,” she says.  “It’s only one day.  It’s just one day.”  And I could hear her unsaid words echoing in my head and heart.

“Why’s it gotta be just one day?”

I know.  I get it.  She’s lonely every other day of the year.  Why go and do this for just one day when she’ll have to go back as it was the very next day?  And every day after that.

Broke my heart.

I also saw my friend Mac today.  I guess I “conjured him up.”  I hadn’t heard from him in about two weeks, and last week some folks shared how concerned they were about him.  I called his Mama this afternoon to see if she’d heard how he was, and so yes, of course, he was right there in front of me after I hung up with her.  I was glad to see him.

He hung around for us to visit after Sister Circle was over.  It’s been cold, and today it rained all day long.  He looked like he was doing all right though.  But he’s tired.  He teared up as he talked about it.  He’s done with living on the streets.  Again.  He wants to go back to the transitional program he was a part of out of town.  Again.  He had lost the number to the contact there, a man who really cares about Mac.  I have it, so I handed Mac my phone with the number ready to dial. Was I calling his bluff, wondering if he was just telling me what I wanted to hear?  Maybe.  But he took the phone.  He made the call himself.  And he called back.  And he did this for himself.

Turns out he can’t return there.  Long story, but I understand.  And I agree.  But the person there cares so much, he called me back with two places to contact and see if they have an opening for Mac.  I am thankful for him and his caring heart.  Funny thing is, I didn’t see it in the beginning.  This tough love thing is hard to discern sometimes.  And judging someone at first contact almost always gets me in trouble.  He’s a good guy.  I appreciate him.

As I sat visiting with Mac, a volunteer called out a name, and a young couple went over to the half-door at the laundry room where several washers and dryers were working hard to keep up with all the needs for the day.  The volunteer who is there without fail every Tuesday afternoon handed over a basket of clean clothes.  What caught my eye was the look of sheer joy on their faces.  The young woman (honestly she didn’t look much older than my Aub) closed her eyes and breathed in the clean smell.  They both pulled their still warm clothes close to their chests and sighed contentedly.  The woman squealed with delight and her companion laughed loudly at her joy.

Y’all.

I had to look away and wipe my eyes.

I’m a spoiled you know what.
I have my own washer and dryer.  I have a precious family whose clothes I get to wash.  Whenever I want.  We have a place to store our clothes rather than shoving them back in a backpack…..and having to carry all of our clothes on our back or risk having them taken away.   Oh, how I have taken it all for granted.  How many times have I whined or moaned over the laundry, the washing the folding the putting away?

Watching that beautiful couple and their sheer joy over something that is so basic for me and mine…..

it made me thankful.  And ashamed.  And it put things into perspective.

At least for today.

So in the morning, in the midst of the traditional baking and remembering who is not with us this year, and trying to figure out if I even want to attempt Mama’s dressing, I will be making calls for Mac and waiting for him to call me and keeping my fingers crossed that something will work out…..and that this time he can hold his own in his battle with that demon alcohol.  And I will be playing catch-up with the laundry.  I am sure at some point I will find myself breathing in the clean clothes and holding the warmth close to my heart.  And remembering the joy I got to see.
Yes, I know there are far harder things in life.  The realization that the loneliness will return after one day of being with others keeping you from even trying, the horror of fighting a demon that puts your life in danger each and every day–and cold, wet night, and the life of carrying all the clothes you own around in a backpack…..I’ve seen them all today.  All I’m left with is the tears.

Oh Tuesday…..

“Our Liberation is Bound Up in Each Other”

I first “met” Hugh Hollowell as “The Marine” Karen Spears Zacharias writes about in Will Jesus Buy Me a Double-Wide?: (‘Cause I Need More Room For My Plasma TV).  He is the founder of Love Wins Ministry in Raleigh, North Carolina.  Their mission statement is:

We feed people…

But we are not a feeding ministry.

Sometimes, we help people get jobs…

But we are not a job training program.

Maybe 10-12 times a year, someone leaves homelessness with our help…

But we are not a housing ministry.

Yet, at any given moment, we may be doing any of those things.

But what we really are is a ministry of presence and pastoral care for the homeless and at-risk population of Raleigh, NC.

On Saturday and Sunday mornings, friends and volunteers of Love Wins meet at the park (on the sidewalk at the edge–it would require a permit to meet within the park itself, which would cost $1600 per weekend!) and share biscuits and coffee with folks in need.  There are no other feeding ministries in Raleigh on the weekends.  If you are in need, THIS IS IT.  Nothing else all weekend long.  Unless you panhandle.  Which is illegal.

Picture from http://lovewins.info/2013/08/feeding-homeless-apparently-illegal-in-raleigh-nc/

Picture from http://lovewins.info/2013/08/feeding-homeless-apparently-illegal-in-raleigh-nc/    Hugh Hollowell and staff and volunteers of Love Wins ministry speak with police Saturday morning.

For six years they’ve been doing this.  Just sharing goodness and food and relationships with folks in need in Raleigh–folks who are homeless or otherwise in need.  But yesterday morning, August 24, the Raleigh PD came up as folks were gathering and said that there would be no feeding of folks happening–that if anyone handed out a biscuit he or she would be arrested.

*sound of crickets*

Say what?

Let me get this straight.  The good folks who prepared the coffee and breakfast sandwiches and showed up on a Saturday morning will NOT be allowed to share what they have with the good folks who showed up for both physical and spiritual nourishment?  Is that what you’re saying?  ‘Cause I’m not sure I’m picking up what you are laying down.

I don’t even know, y’all.

(Does anyone else see the dilemma here?  Hungry people who cannot be fed as they usually are on the weekend and cannot panhandle to get what they need–ummm, it doesn’t take a mathematician to figure out this equation.  Hurting people hurt people, but so do hungry ones.)

Apparently the mayor did meet with Hugh Hollowell today and said that no one would be arrested for the feeding ministry until this is all straightened out.  There will be a meeting or a hearing to follow.  I am hopeful this can all be straightened out.  Soon.  In the meantime, there are people who went hungry this weekend because someone was administering the law without looking at the spirit of the law.  And the names and faces behind it.

In writing about what happened yesterday, Hugh said, “…..our liberation is bound up in each other.”

So true.

My friend Mac is back on the streets.  He lasted the ten days of detox/rehab and about six in the transitional housing before he walked.  So some could say it’s his choice.  And it is.  But it’s also his disease and how he’s programmed himself over the years I guess.  The alcoholism has a powerful hold on him.  He doesn’t want to want to drink, to need the drink, but the desire doesn’t ever completely leave him.  And so he’s back.

He came to see me last week right before my Sister Circle.  We visited a little before and a lot after.  It was good to see him.  He is still laughing and teasing.  I’m trying to love him where he is and not put expectations on him.  Like he go back into Rehab.  That I won’t care about him unless he does.  I just can’t do that.  But it’s hard.  Hugh Hollowell is right.  My heart is tied up in knots as long as my friend suffers and is on the street.  And y’all, there is always a name and a face on the streets.  Someone’s child, sister, brother, friend.  Whether we know him or her or not.  Always.  And as long as there are, none of us are free.

Tuesday night after our visit, Mac called me from a friend’s cell phone and asked if I were close by.  I was not.  Seems that he wanted to see if I could get him a room–“so I can get a shower and get cleaned up.”  Mac.  This friend, this brother of mine, who has never begged around me before.   When he realized I wasn’t in town, he said, “Oh well, that’s all right.”

Frustrated I said goodbye.  They have showers and washers and dryers at the Day Center.  I don’t understand exactly why he didn’t partake of those things earlier that day. And he has told me many times he prefers sleeping outside, so I’m not sure what that was about.  But I got the same call again today.  A room.  For the night.  To get cleaned up.

My heart is breaking.  I had to say no.

It’s not about the money.  It’s about the relationship.  It’s about what his disease is doing to him.  It’s about codependency and enabling and addictions.  It’s about choices–his and mine.  And it’s about transitioning from a friendship to the haves and have-nots.  I have the resources to get a room, he does not.

And still I said no.

Yesterday I got angry because the powers that be said no to hot biscuits and coffee for folks in need.  Today I tell my friend no to a room that would get him in out of the elements for a night.

I make no sense even to myself.  And yet, I’d do it again if asked.  And I’m pretty sure I will be.  Mac knows I love him, and he even said, when I apologized, “Yeah, I know, it would be enabling me.”  Oh yeah, he knows all the key words and phrases.  It’s not his first rodeo either.

My little guy has taken to asking “how old were you” questions.  “Mama, how old were you when I was born?”  “Mama how old were you when you got your first puppy?” “Mama how old were you when you first watched Star Wars?”

If tonight he asked me, “Mama, how old were you when you finally had it all figured out?”  I’d have to answer, “I don’t know, baby, I’ll let you know when I do.”

It’s a confusing thing, this loving on all kinds of kinds.  All I hope is, as Mr. Hollowell’s ministry says, that in the end “Love wins.”  I’m counting on it.

If you’d like to help and support Love Wins, Hugh Hollowell lists names and numbers to call and share your thoughts–even for those of us out of town–at the end of this post.  You can like Love Wins on Facebook or subscribe to their blog by e-mail to stay informed. 

What Do I Do Now? Part II

pic of words

So tonight I was on the phone with my sister when my cell phone rang.  It was a number I didn’t recognize, but since it was a Macon number I asked my sister to hold on and I answered.

It was Mac.

My friend who just three weeks ago told me he was done with his recovery and that he’d rather drink.  And that I could forget him and he’d do the same.

My brother.  The man whom my family loved as one of us.  The man who shut the door, and I didn’t know where he was or how he was.

He is in a rehabilitation/detox program.  Again.  He’s been there since Monday.  Before that he was staying by the river.  They tell him they’re going to put him in a halfway house in town soon.  He didn’t want to talk too much or answer any questions as he was in a public room and wasn’t being allowed to talk very long.

Okay.  I just sat back and listened.

Visiting hours are Saturday.  From three to four.  He wanted to see if I wanted to come.

The same time that is already spoken for.  Something else entirely but it’s something that I have to do; others are involved, and I can’t change the time.  I don’t know if I would have been able to go see Mac had I not already had this obligation, but I like to think I would have.  Could have.

I just don’t know.

He said he understood.  That he’d call me when he knew more about the wheres and whens of them moving him.  And he gave me his ID number so I can get information about his case.

I am thankful he’s getting help.  I am extremely grateful he is off the streets and not drinking.  The thing is I didn’t roll my eyes as he said, “I just can’t live out there anymore.  I can’t make it.  It’s not for me.”  But I did listen unemotionally.  There was no joy or “yay, way to go” in my mind or my heart.  I’ve already heard these EXACT. SAME. WORDS.  Last November to be exact.  I’m just not sure I’m ready to get back on this roller coaster.

I’ve told my children, especially my teenager, that there’s no story you can’t bring home with you.  No matter what, you can tell me.  I will always love you.  ALWAYS.  There may be consequences and repercussions, but I will love you.

And Mac?  He’s family too now.  So does that apply to him?  Can I listen to his stories and support him?  I told him I would always love him, and I will.  But can I do it at close range again?  Can I watch him walk this path again?  Can I support him as he does?  Cheer him on?  Can I put my heart out there?  Again?

I wish I could say without question, Yes!  I wish I could say I will.  As many times as it takes.  Yes.  But I’ve seen the damage and destruction that comes from addiction–on more than one occasion–and I just don’t know.  I’m tired and I’m scared for him, and I just do not know.

But I do love him and I always will, and for tonight, that will have to be enough.

What Do I Do Now?

Yesterday in the midst of the joy of family and all the good stuff, I got some bad news.

My friend, whom I have had the privilege to walk with for a couple of years, let go of eight months of sobriety and all that hard work.  He gave it up to return to his life on the streets.  And drinking.

My heart is breaking.  Again.

It was February of last year that my friend Mac* turned himself in for probation violation.  He was on probation for arrests for things like public drunkenness and loitering.  Nothing violent, all charges related to his alcoholism or his state of homelessness.  He was tired of it all, so he found a cop he knew and turned himself in.  He detoxed at the jail.  It was a few days later that I saw his picture on the LEC website and started writing him.  We had been building a relationship over the past year or so, off and on, when he would come to the Sunday night suppers.  Even drunk his mind worked well.  Even sober his legs did not.  He is witty and expresses himself through the written word very well.  But above all else he is an artist.

Mac's butterfly.  We were so hoping for his own transformation, leaving behind his old life.

Mac’s butterfly. We were so hoping for his own transformation, leaving behind his old life for a new beautiful, healthy one.

He especially loves tribal art.  He also does pencil drawings that have taken my breath away.  When he came for my oldest’s graduation in May, he had a beautiful cane that he had carved and inked and put a glass eye in at the top.  I asked him where he got the wood, and he replied, “The woods.”  And he laughed.  Well of course.  It was gorgeous.  He has a gift.

I have celebrated his successes.  I have been with him in court, speaking on his behalf, about the good in him, and the future I could see.  Another friend and I drove him to the treatment center that accepted him as a patient.  When we arrived, he felt so out of his element.  He pointed to a bench in some azaleas and said, “Well, there’s a spot for me.”  When we got to the door and knocked (we had arrived after hours), a sweet lady came to the door and said, “You must be Mac.  We been waitin’ on you.”  He replied, “I’ve been waiting on y’all all my life.”

When a friend and I visited him for Family Day eight weeks later, it was obvious he had made friends and was well-liked and respected.   He done good, as we would say growing up.  The next day he moved to a transitional program in another town, about three hours from here.  He hit the ground running.  He went to the scheduled meetings, he made friends, and he took on the job of cleaning the main office and taking care of the roses.  He was so proud of those roses.

He had some bumps in the road.  He had times that dealing with authority was a little hard for him.  He came home last November and decided he just couldn’t go back.  The power of the alcohol was stronger than his desire to get better and have a home.  He spent a week on the streets, and I spent a week vacillating between worry and anger.  The following Sunday he showed up at the supper at the day shelter and said, “Please take me back.”  The people in charge at his place up north had said he could come back.  However he had to detox before he got there.  Mac spent another ten days doing just that, and then we found someone to drive him back.  He was back on the right track.

I was so hopeful.

He came back again in May for graduation.  He looked better and seemed happier than I had ever seen him.  He seemed…..not as restless.  I told him I thought he was in a good place.  He agreed.  When we said goodbye after that Sunday lunch, that was the last time I saw him.  I hugged him bye and told him, as I always did, “Love you brother.”

He had a court date yesterday.  Apparently he was picked up during that week in November for some kind of loitering or other similar charge.  They would not accept that he was living out of town and back in a program.  They insisted he show up.  (Note to self–Write a letter to the court about how well that all turned out.  Angry letter.)  I planned to go and pick him up on Monday from his home up there, but he told me last week that he’d already gotten a bus ticket.  After talking with my friend who works with a ministry for the homeless about how to process this, I praised him for taking care of his business himself.  I was a little sad though because I had looked forward to visiting on the ride back.

We planned to have supper on Monday night to celebrate his birthday later this month.  It never happened.  Late in the day he cancelled, apologizing that he’d already told his friend from AA that he was staying with that he’d go to a celebration at the fellowship hall.  He didn’t want me to be upset.  I wasn’t, but I didn’t know when else I’d get to see him.  He promised me he’d have his Mama drive him down to see us on Tuesday.

He texted yesterday morning that they had no record of his required court appearance at the courthouse.  I heard nothing else until yesterday evening when I asked him if he was okay.  Long story short, he decided he’s not returning to the transitional program and his roses and his disability hearing he worked so hard to make happen–that other people worked so hard to make happen.  He was drunk with his AA friend he’d been staying with.

And so it goes.

I should have known.  And maybe I did.  I was very worried last week when he planned the trip for himself.  Back in May he was so careful not to be by himself.  This time he kept me in the dark about so many of his plans.  I’m not sure when or if he was by himself and what exactly happened.  But I should have been more prepared.  This is not my first rodeo with an alcoholic.  In my “previous life,” I was married to one, and I learned then that trust is not something to give easily to someone with this disease.  Yeah, I’m a codependent from way back.

Today I was lucky enough to enjoy impromptu fun with a dear friend and her toomuchfun children.  What a crew we had in the back of the van.  Big time fun with allergy shots en masse, a lunch together at a new restaurant for us (always nice to add a new “food allergy safe” one to our list), and all kinds of pre-teen drama going on in the soft play at the fun center.  We laughed so hard, sharing stories and more stories.  I thought about Mama’s rainbow last night, and I refused to let Mac’s choices steal the joy of the day.  If I had to mope, I was “saving it for the plane,” as my friend Baddest Mother Ever was once advised.  A joy and laughter-filled day.  I’d do it again if asked.

When I got home, I called Jay, the man in charge of the transitional program, to see if he knew anything.  Yes, someone drove Mac up to get his things and then he left.  “Tara,” said this compassionate man whom I’ve been talking with for about a year, “you do what you want, but I really think you need to let him go.  He’s going back to what is familiar and you can’t change that.  I’ve been doing this a long time and we can’t understand this choice, but we can let him go and pray he finds the peace he’s looking for.”  Good advice I guess.  But easier said than done.  I guess I have to switch off the “care” valve.  I don’t know how to do that.  Instead I will worry and wonder and crane my neck looking for glimpses of him as we drive through downtown.  I will grieve.  Again.

I am thankful for another sweet friend who shared her story of addiction with me late last night.  She laid it out there for me–this was his choice, and it has nothing to do with me.  He has to accept responsibility for his actions.  It means so much that she would share her story, and that she absolved me from my guilt over this.  Why don’t I feel better?

Tonight I am thankful for a joy-filled day that I didn’t let Mac’s choices steal.  I give thanks for friends who listen and care and for a friend who loves and trusts enough to share her story so it could help me understand a little better, so I could maybe gain a little perspective.  That is true courage.  But I am also angry.  Angry that alcoholism has taken another person I care about.  This isn’t just being mad at a friend who made a choice I don’t agree with, this is someone’s life at stake.  He has nearly died out there before.  I’m angry with the court system that couldn’t leave well enough alone, accept documentation that he was in a legitimate program and write off the minor infraction in deference to what was best for him.  I’m angry with the people in the town where he was–that no one reached out and said let me be a friend to someone who could use one.  He so needed to start building a life with people there, making friends and becoming vested in that community, building a new life.  I’m angry and sad that it’s likely I may never see him or hear his laugh or put up with his teasing me again.  And I’m angry with myself.  That I let myself get to this place again, despite all that my past experiences have taught me.  That I can’t let go of the idea that maybe I wasn’t or didn’t do enough.  If we are God’s plan for helping others, then what on earth just happened here?

As all these thoughts march through my brain tonight when I lay my head on my pillow, I hope I will also hear Mama’s voice:  “It’s okay to feel angry.  Now you just have to be careful what you do with that.”  And that’s what it boils down to, isn’t it?  Okay, now what?  What do I do now?  How do I let go?

 

*not his real name