Rehab Santa

The kids met Santa at my rehab last weekend.  For the first time in over three years we drove the forty minutes from Denver to Parker Valley Hope, my inpatient facility.  I have no other reason to drive down to Parker except that Lex from my outpatient speakers panel said Santa would be there for the Christmas party.

I have four kids ranging in age from six to twenty-one months and not one has ever met Santa.

“Maybe this is the year, babe!”  I tell David.  “And it’d be nice to walk through those glass doors not having just hit rock bottom.”

Tired from a long day, and a little itchy at the prospect of smelling all that Sleepy Time Tea wafting around again, we load into the car.  David holds my hand.  Nobody fought while the fiery winter light smacked all the west-facing facades of the sprawly new builds that rest on the prairie further south than we usually roam.

“Do you remember this?”  I asked him.

“Yes, some of it.  Do you?”

“No,” I chuckle.

There’s so much I remember now.  Ask me to recall very detail of Nell’s birth, the only one sober, and it’s crystal clear.  What did I wear to church on the Sunday our friend’s baby was dedicated?  The white dress with those beige Oxfords and a red scarf.  What were the first words David said to me in bed this morning?  “Hi.”

When parking at a rehab I suggest a spot in a far corner for a number of reasons.  We park between the two white lines and debrief the babies.

“Okay kids.  This is rehab, do you remember what rehab is?”

“This is where people go when they have cancer,” Lucy informs us.

“Close, but no.  That’s a hospital.  Good guess though, babe!  This is where Mama went after Atticus was born to get off all her medicine, and where people go to find their Love.  The people inside are just like you and Daddy and me, they are all just trying to find their New Story.  Some of them may act a little different, so come close to me if anyone makes you uncomfortable.  But I do not think that will happen.”

“Yeah, because nothing bad happens where Santa is,”  Rae Rae chimes in.

“Right.”  I affirm, and I believe she is probably correct.

While someone finishes up a testimonial about how terrific sober living is David, the kids, and I play volleyball on the sandy lot I spiked on all those months ago.  The frozen sand doesn’t feel great in my shearling-lined flats but at least we’re not stuck inside.  They said it would take thirty goddamn minutes, it’s been over an hour! I hear a youngster grumble through his cigarette.

An applause signals the end of the lecture that those newly sober and very raw patients needed, and we march toward the glass doors who welcomed me that one night in late Octoboer, 2014.  They let all the light in and all the light out.

I’ve said it before and I will say it again:  If you haven’t been to rehab you should go.

Lucy stays close because her keen observational skills tell her that there is too much Sleepy Time Tea in the air and the bloodstreams of these humans.  Dotted throughout the beanie-wearers and middle-age women who didn’t used to think beer & wine were big deals I see people wearing visitor lanyards, I go get two for my man and me.

Right there, on that sofa, a teenager held newborn baby Atticus (who turned three this past September).  My mom brought him for a visit on my second night, I think.  Maybe third?  Earlier in the day the girl told me about the abortion she had a few months before.  And then the heroin she started using so she didn’t have to remember the abortion.

“Do you want to hold him?”  I asked.

“You’d let me hold your baby?”  Tears huddled in the corners of her dull, brown eyes.

“Of course! Here!”

Twenty minutes later, after all her tears fell, she handed him back.  I won’t try and type out the thoughts and feelings I presume pumped through her prefrontal cortex.  I’ll just leave you with that Advent image—a  broken teenager and a babe.

“Mama I’m hungry!”  They all whine in unison.  So we hurry back and claim a circular table, add an extra chair because #4KidsIsTooManyKids, and I take the big girls to stand in line with me.

“This is just like at school!”  Lucy exclaims upon seeing the cafeteria trays and hair nets.

“Yep!”  I smile down at her.  Except here you eat way more sugar and coffee because they’re stimulants and your poor brain has no clue how to function free from addictive substances.  In this room is where I learned that I never ever need more than four cups of coffee in an hour again.  Ever.

It’s a BBQ blitz until the carolers arrive and freak Rae out.  Those songs are scary, Mama.  A handful of toddlers and big kids can sense the red suit approaching; they buzz around because—sugar.

There’s a woman who’s asking Atticus too many questions and not registering that “Booga” is his nickname, not my son’s actual name.  Nick has discovered at some point in the last twelve days of sobriety that he actually loves kids.  Like, a lot.  And when Nell motions for him to pick her up his glee momentarily makes me forget to say a prayer over her little body because I am 99% sure she is the first baby he’s held.

When the singing stops a woman in a red sweater informs us that Santa has arrived.

It’s such a good thing they haven’t seen the fancy guy at the Cherry Creek Mall yet.  My children explode.  They surround Santa as he sits on the rehab chairs I sat on with my sore, c-sectioned body.  It’s fucking magic.  The empty fireplace isn’t raging, but the sober smiles on all those parents’ faces warm the big room right up.

This all started with a baby.

I snuck away earlier during dessert to hand a list of all their names, ages, and genders to the business manager, an alumni of the program himself.  Nearly everyone who works at a rehab is themselves in recovery—we know that the 12-steps are a type of voodoo that only works when one stays tethered to the Truth.

We know that rehab and recovery are close as you’ll get to Jesus on this side of Heaven.

The alcoholic-turned-businessman hurries off and wraps up four presents for my four monsters.  Santa calls their four beautiful names and then we decide to head out, bedtime waits for no man.  Hug Amanda, wave to Nick, smile at the smokers flanking the walkway to our SUV.

The last time I left this place I was thinking thoughts so expansive I was sure I had become a superhuman at some point during my week-long stay; maybe that was true.  Because the Secret, the Voodoo, the Gospel they relayed made more sense than any sermon & it changed me forever.  Think resurrection.

We leave behind the beanies and their nurses, the middle-aged women and their rage.  But David and I know that they’re the lucky ones, because God likes to hang out in mangers and inpatient facilities.

The hardest months of my life met me the moment I walked through my front door sober for the first time, but now I knew I wasn’t alone.  I wasn’t even broken.  I was alive, and in rehab we learn we’re allowed to be a human.  We don’t hide our mistakes, obsessions, abuses, psychosis, or self-harm behind the big glass doors because we can see the scars on everyone else.

And the haphazardly applied eyeliner—that’s a signature rehab move.

The secret is that you’re never alone, and you’re not broken (even though you ache), and of course you can hold the baby, and don’t drink that much coffee, and American rehabs singlehandedly keep Sleepy Time Tea in production.

The secret is in remembering what Love looks and sounds and feels and tastes like.

Booga pees his pants on the way home, after they rip open the gifts.  We listen to Lorde this time, instead of Taylor Swift’s 1989 which she had released earlier on very day of my discharge, 10/27/14.  When I listened to that album driving along Parker’s Mainstreet it was like coming alive all over again.

He’s still holding my hand.  And he is sober now, too.  The Gospel is hard to resist when it looks this good, I guess.

Every new thing I did sober hurt so good.  Like flossing too hard.  Goodhardgood.  Every new thing I do to this day feels so Goodhardgood.  It’s the voodoo that teaches us how to do the scary things even though there’re lots of sharks and fire and blowout diapers.

In the New Story we’re the Love Hulks who can have adult conversations without manipulating, and discipline a child without shame.

The Santa wasn’t real, or even great.  But he was everything we needed.  I don’t know if God is real, in the sense that Americans like to imagine.  And “great” isn’t the first word that comes to mind when I look back over the last twenty-nine years, or since election day.

But I’ll be damned if God as Love isn’t everything we need.  Thank you Parker Valley Hope, for helping us remember.

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Chapter 20: On Justice (and Jesus)

 

Here’s the thing about a Good life with a capital ‘g’— our thankfulness is not enough.  Acknowledging our blessings is only half of the call, and our praise without our action is just blue-balling God.

I’ve purposely left Jesus out of much of the story up until now because mostly, Jesus was a hero who didn’t belong to me; He belonged to the church.  Worship songs about those pierced hands and feet tasted stale after a couple of decades.

It never made sense that God would reject gay people but not liars, since they’re both mentioned in the Bible.  I lie all the time.  Wouldn’t it have been great if we witnessed His outrageous embrace growing up in the evangelical tradition?

We memorized Scripture so we had little bullets stored in our brains, ready to spew out in college and adulthood whenever we felt our theology threatened.  But what about the Bible as a love letter?  We missed the metaphors and allegories and poetry because we feared God’s love would run out when we questioned or doubted or…changed.

Jesus was a pencil drawing whose defining characteristics had been erased by Systematic Theology textbooks and fearful imperatives about abortion, premarital sex, homosexuality, debt, wealth, race, etc.

The jesus many Millennials (and recovering evangelicals) know is one who cares more about the less significant theological trees than about the forest of grace, mercy, faith, and justice open to the public twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.

When I stopped using substances to dull the brightness of a Goodhardgood life, my eagerness to thrive and heal blinded me to the hundreds of millions of others who don’t have the same access to healing as I do.  Many of the posts here on this site focus of my healing, on my experiences, and on my story.

And that is fine, that was a part of the process—lots to extract.  Owning my own story here finally helped me believe in the collective stories we all have to tell.  Before, I didn’t know that part of my purpose was to help others hug their own Goodhardgood stories, too.  I just thought I was making peace with my own.

Sometimes we decide to stop dissolving pills under out tongues, and in that moment a brand new story starts to write itself on our hearts.  My new story felt so safe and right until the itchy, burdensome cloak of anxiety and discontent found me.

One day Jesus asked me to step deeper into the story of Kingdom Come.  Would you hand me that cloak, sweetie?  Would you go out and wreck the world like only a love hulk can?

I bet He’s asking you, too.  Can you feel it in the air?  Old stories are falling off of us like snake skin that’s grown too tight.  You and I?  We are the lovers God commanded to live justly, with compassion and humility.

Thanks God isn’t enough, though it’s the perfect place to start.

Things start to get really fun and terrifying when you ask, How can I help?

Justice is like asking permission to strap God’s glasses onto every human you meet, after you’ve put them on yourself.  Once we’ve all seen through heaven’s eyes in our own sockets, we put our hands and feet and prayers and pocketbooks to use.

Behind the big gray sofa in my living room a giant window keeps me smiling.

All the glories and horrors of our life get ushered back and forth by the breeze.  When a kid chops off a finger, I hear the screams and run out to attend.  When a kid belts out Trolls on the front porch the melodies dance through the opening and I smile.  Spring lilacs tip toe into the house using the same soft gusts that escort the yellow, peppery roses later in the season.

My days are better because of this window.  I’ve written about it before; how this little eden wrecks me with it’s perfection; how David’s help severs my bonds to the dishwasher and stove and laundry baskets, I’m a free woman!  And don’t get me started on the divinity of nap times and negative PET scans.

C.S. Lewis describes the weight of glory, and here—in front of this window—it rests heavy.

Now I know:  if I want the big open window and loving spouse, educated children, and good harvests for me then that means I need to fight for everyone’s access to those glories.  If something feels good and right for me, I need to step beyond thankfulness and plunge headfirst into social justice.  Just like Jesus and Buddha and Mama T did.

What if we trusted that each member of humanity was on our team?  That we all played for the same coach, suited up in the same dressing room, sprinted on the same field, and won identical prizes no matter what?

Jesus tried so hard to get us to see this.  That’s why He washed out feet and broke our bread, no matter what.  We’re all on the same team, you guys.  He rolls his eyes and sips His wine.

Ellen used to say “Hi, I’m Ellen.  Do you know Jesus?” to everyone she met, because she knew that Jesus had their name tattooed on His bicep.  She wanted to make sure the feeling was mutual.

Once, toward the end, a hospice chaplain stopped by for some reason.  He walked into her room and she asked him, “Do you know Jesus?”

“Well, yes.  Look, I’m wearing a cross and carrying a Bible.”

“No.  Do you know Jesus?”

Ellen didn’t care about the trees, the theologies, or the doctrine.  Ellen focused on the forest of Love in which Jesus let us loose.  “Knock yourselves out! Holler when you need me!”

When you start to see God’s love for all humanity, you start to care a little bit more about the healthcare, safety, and sleeping conditions for all humanity.  It hurts to look at the bloated babies who wash onto the Grecian shores.  Watching an unarmed black person getting choked to death by police officers isn’t how I planned on spending my evening.

But that’s where you’ll find Jesus.  Excusing injustice becomes awfully hard when you’re standing so close to Him that you notice the tears streaming down His face.

Yes I want the wind sweeping through my window.  I want the money for massages and the right to love my partner till the day those mossy green eyes close forever.  I just want it for all people now.  And I will resist any theology that tells me I am more deserving of it than anyone else.

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Chapter 19: On Pain (and healing)

Most of us know that pain is gorilla-glued to the human condition.  I even think that most of us can summon some sort of peace in that knowledge—a nod, an honoring, I see you.

Trying to ignore the redemptive power of pain and healing in our world takes a lot of energy.  Because proof is sprouting from every inch of charcoaled land, bouncing off the bald heads in infusion rooms, and radiating from the walls of AA meetings, therapy sessions, and homeless shelters.

Wherever humanity finds a home, pain will unpack also.

But did you know that healing is stuck in that sticky, gorilla ooze, too?  That restoration is as human as tears, or pores?

There’s this patch of skin on the outside of my left heel that I just can’t stop picking at.  Little flecks of skin mostly, and every once in a while I larger piece that I rip away when the kids insult my cooking or David works late or another hurricane rolls by.

In middle and high school I tore away the entire bottom of my heel pads so that each step I took could remind me of my shit-stain status; so that I never forgot about the pain inside.  The pain proved I was alive, I could bleed, I was human & not a robot.  My wounds allowed me to fix something in my world of chaos and uncontrollable grief.

A bandaid might not be able to keep Ellen alive but it can help with the blood pooling in my shoe.

I’ve detailed the physical pain my bone marrow transplant & cancer treatment caused.  What I never had a chance, or the words, to describe, was my physical healing.  The one that gave me my life back.

You see, therapy worked really well for the first fifteen months, until it didn’t.  The pace slowed after the first year or so and I felt stuck.

But I’m still picking at my heel and my cuticle.

The aches aren’t easing.

I don’t want bandaids anymore, God.  Where is my wholeness?  I want to be fucking healed!

…like the bleeding woman…and every Bible character…and all humans ever…

We just want healing.  We want to feel unafraid and electric.  We want power, not too much that God would expel us from Eden, but enough that we don’t feel an overwhelming need to consume every croissant within reach.

I feel like that deserves an amen.

Did you know that showing up for our healing, our purpose, our life is literally the most courageous choice one can make?

In the middle of my six-week stint at outpatient rehab, a brawny paper towel man lookalike—who was graduating and forced to sprinkle a little inspiration on the newbies—stood in front of the group and drenched us.

“As a fireman, my buddies and me, we’re considered heroes.  But you know what?”  He says with tears pooling.  “You all are the bravest people I’ve ever met.”

I want to be fucking healed!

Say it with me.

So for the first time in my life the patch of skin is starting to heal.  It’s heel-ing.  Yes, I’ve gone months without abusing it before, but then I could fall back on butter and coffee—that is not the case anymore.

There’s nothing to fall back onto except Grace, and a Goodhardgood God.  Thanks God, for adoring me even when I black out and yell at my kid so loud she pees in fear.  Thanks for holding that so I don’t have to ingest it, or pick at it, or cut it, or drink it, or anything else with it.

Inhale.

Exhale.

How could I stop showing up for the free kingdom compost that God so gladly shovels out?  Ellen showed me how to do that, too.  She never stopped planning her “healed party” at Charlie Sheen’s house because pain and healing are a part of the glue that hold us together, something my sister understood well.

What if I told you that sometimes I go talk to Jesus in my bedroom?  And while laying on my white cloud bed in the dark I allow Him to massage me with these healing flashlights that He keeps in a burlap man purse.  A warm red glow softens up my body and melts away the fear.  And then the pain is gone.  Do you want to go?  I’ll take you to Him.

What about the fact that my brain never fully believed my cancer was gone, and that’s why radiating pain plagued my limbs for years, even after the scans came back clean?  Because in my mind and body the cancer was still killing me.

Or that it wasn’t until I realized I was finally, and truly, safe from my mom’s belts that my back pain started to disappear?  Because when my roots felt safe, my core muscles could finally relax and contract, strengthen, move.

Did you know that dread causes pain?  Do not be afraid.  No wonder!  God doesn’t want us to hurt, God wants us to heal.

If pain is a part of our world, then healing is, too.

The Brawny Man is correct.  Showing up for all of your life and trusting a Healer is harder than cancer treatment, the death of a loved one, abuse, infertility, parenthood, divorce, infidelity, trying to explain to foreigners how Trump got elected, and running into burning buildings.

Hold and honor your pain, yes.  It is an awfully beautiful part of your story.  And then, when it starts to feel too itchy & the circles under your eyes become darker than you remember, you have my permission to step toward the redemption that Love offers us all every moment of every day.

To craft and claim a New Story.

It will be the hardest work you do.  It will cost you more than you thought it would.  But I can see that you’re tired of bandaids.  Me too.

Say it with me…

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