Family, Sobriety

Taking Ownership

Like most people, I have a few flaws. I’m scatter-brained. I forget things like birthdays, anniversaries and doctor’s appointments. I say what is on my mind, whether you are prepared to hear it or not. At times I appear as if I am not listening to you or not interested in what you are saying. My ADD brain doesn’t always like to cooperate and share my attention span.  My facial expressions are dead give-a-ways of what I am feeling. I tend to jump into things and instantly want to retreat because I overwhelm myself with responsibilities.

I am not perfect by a long shot.

February 23, 1993 I woke up with the awful realization that I had hurt someone I care very much about. The pain in my heart began as soon as my eyes opened and was growing by the minute. Shame, remorse, disgust, and despair weighed on me that morning. I knew I had to see my friend that I had hurt. I got dressed, threw my hair up in a ponytail and grabbed my cigarettes. I knew I had done something horribly wrong. What I didn’t know was the whole campus already knew about it.

Well, maybe not the ENTIRE campus knew but it certainly felt like it as I walked along the path towards the dorm I was asked to vacate months earlier. I couldn’t meet anyone’s eyes and struggled to hold myself together. There wasn’t anyone (thank God) at the sign in desk. I ran up the steps to my former suite. I opened the door and saw a few of my former friends sitting on the couch. I said hi and asked if my friend was there.

“Did you hear what happened last night?” I asked not wanting to hear the answer.

Anne, one of my former suite-mates, flicked her cigarette ash into the ashtray. “Oh we heard what happened. She’s in there.” I saw the glances between herself and the others. I looked as sorrowful as I felt, hoping that they would feel sorry for me. When I looked at them, the expression was pure “You have a lot of balls to show up here.”

I slowly opened the doorknob and timidly opened the door. The door felt like it weighed 500 lbs. All I remember is my friend not being able to look at me because she was so angry. Her face was swollen and basically I had to get out after I expressed how sorry I was.

From there I went to the library and saw my ex Jim at one of the computers. He always made me feel better. I sat down next to him. I opened my mouth to say what an awful night I had and he immediately said “I heard what happened to Martha.” I stopped. Jim knew the story before I had gotten there. I asked him what he thought I should do. He told me he didn’t know, but what he did know was that people were fed up and that I had to stop. My hands shook as I wiped my tears away. I wanted to stay with him so I didn’t feel so alone but he had other plans. I went back to my room carrying a sense of loneliness and despair I had never felt before. This was it. I could not drink again. Ever.

That was the beginning of my journey to sobriety. It was an experience I never want to forget. It made me into who I am today. I own it. It’s mine. I did something horrible and learned from it. I didn’t get sober right after that, unfortunately. Instead I had to experience more insanity that eventually led me to where I am today.

My father also made a lot of mistakes. All were made due to lack of self control. What I love about him and who he was, was that like me, he owned them. My father took responsibility until the day he died. He didn’t try to lie, make up a modified version of the story to make himself look better, or dodge the subject. He stood up and accepted it. As I see others around me try to manipulate truths, it makes me even more proud of him. It’s not easy owning huge mistakes, especially ones that are the result of lack of self control. Decisions made when you are in the throes of your addiction are especially difficult to reconcile in this society where being ‘strong-willed’ and in control are ideal.

Don’t get me wrong- my father ultimately paid the price by giving up on life and choosing to be alone his last years on this earth. The weight of his mistakes crushed what soul he had. Instead of embracing the forgiveness that was given to him, he succumbed to guilt and his heart just couldn’t go on anymore.

One thing I have learned in my life is that when you run from your problems, your mistakes or poor decisions, eventually they catch up to you. You can only run so fast and so far before the consequences are nipping at your heels. I am grateful that I faced the music for what I did to my friend, and have for other mistakes. When I did try to ease the pain for myself, it didn’t work. It hurt like hell but the reward is knowing that in spite of my weaknesses, I am stronger than I realize.  It is better to say “Yes, I did do that and I know it hurt you. I am so sorry and will make an effort never to do that again” then it is to say “It wasn’t me.”

For me it brings back the question of “What kind of person are you and what kind do you want to be?” If I want to be truthful, accountable and a decent human being, then I need to accept all of me and step forward. My father’s example of not hiding who he was, on one level, inspires me to continue doing the same.

 

 

 

HLHS

Happy Birthday, Dad. Love you.

Today, my father would have been 76 years old. In years past, I would call him up, sing him ‘Happy Birthday’, and attempt to make plans to see him. He would laugh and thank me for serenading him on his birthday. He would ask me how Liz was doing, and how the younger two were. I would share an Addie story and send videos of the two playing together. He would ask me about work, and how my life was going. He didn’t understand the concept of Blue Tooth so he would think I was in danger for talking on the phone while driving. This would lead to the goodbye portion of the conversation.

Today, I sat and thought about how much I miss the opportunity I used to have to pick up the phone and hear his voice. As I sat at my kitchen table finishing my lunch, I realized that today was not just his birthday. Today marks 30 years from the day when my life changed forever.

March 18, 1987. My stepfather, mom and I were on our way back from Mass General where I was being formally tested for ADHD or ADD at the time. The H hadn’t been added yet. I knew it was my father’s birthday and my parents had mentioned that we were going to stop at my soon to be former step-mom’s house on our way home. “Are we stopping because it’s Dad’s birthday?” I asked, truly believing for a moment that he had come to his senses and moved back in with her. I was happy we were going to see them because I adored my father’s third wife. Anita was so good to me and I loved my step brothers and sister. I couldn’t think of any other reason of why we would stop by other than wishing my Dad a happy birthday.

I was a naive 14 year old. My parents looked at each other and my mom went silent. She didn’t say anything other than “I don’t know honey.” Steve kept driving. I sat in the back, my heart filling with excitement over seeing my father. What I didn’t know during that short drive is that I wouldn’t see him again until I was 16 years old. I didn’t know in that moment, that my father had done something that would change all of us forever, especially him.

My father had a few addictions. I won’t go into them here but I will say he enjoyed the slot machines quite a bit. Like many with addictions, his grew out of control and he was making poor decisions based upon impulse. He left the family law practice to start his own business. He isolated himself from the rest of the family, and caused a rift between himself and his wife. I knew that they had split up, and the news made me very sad because I loved them very much. I didn’t understand what was happening and kept asking him how it could be fixed during the last dinner we had together.

The last dinner we had together was when he told me that he and Anita were getting a divorce. We were at Mamma Mia’s on the waterfront. He gave me a fake Rolex watch and a hundred dollars. I considered it a belated Hanukkah gift. I had no idea it was a goodbye present. Funny that he gave us watches. Did he know that time was going to forever change after that moment?

We reach Anita’s house and I get out of the car. I am starting to feel as though it is a tad strange that both of my parents are here to wish him a happy birthday. What was going on? We walk in and Anita asks us to go downstairs and sit in the living room. I remember my step-sister crying and I am trying to figure out what is happening. I was told that my father was in a lot of trouble, that he had taken money that didn’t belong to him, and that no one knew where he was. He had left the area and the police were looking for him. It was about to hit the news so everyone thought that I needed to know before everything hit the fan. I was speechless.

Years later, I jokingly said to my father that one thing you don’t do with an adopted child is LEAVE them abruptly and disappear for over 18 months. Abandonment issues, anyone?

My story then goes on to taking 5 valium and a beer, a classmate saving my life by calling the police, and me finding myself in one of the three places alcoholics end up at the end of their drinking- only I had just started so….yeah. I landed in a psychiatric hospital for two weeks. I felt worthless and unwanted like I had never felt before. It was absolutely one of the darkest moments of my childhood. The man that I adored and would have done anything to be with, disappeared without a trace and hurt others by his actions.

Being 14, I wasn’t able at the time to realize that his actions affected the entire family. I didn’t know the effects his actions were on the law office or what my uncles and cousins went through. I wish I was more aware, because I think the feeling like they didn’t care would have been eradicated. They cared a lot. My uncle Richard was driving me home after a Seder one night and told me how angry he was at my father. At the time, I felt like he was mad at me but he wasn’t. He was angry on my behalf. They all were. No one could really say it at the time and today, I know with every fiber of my being how much the Levins care about me and my family.

That moment in 1987 took my life from one pathway and sent me down another. The man I knew as my father died that day, and Jeff came into the picture in 1989. Jeff hated himself and what he did to his family so much that he left for Florida after he paid his dues in prison. The shame eventually ate away at the man he was and this past October, it finally took him.

In spite of my father’s poor decisions, I loved him. Even though he became Jeff, I loved him. He distanced himself from me a few times in my life, and I did from him, but I loved him. Not a day goes by that he isn’t in my heart and today, on his birthday, I hope he was blessed with the peace he desperately looked for since March of 1987.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Family, Yoga, spiritualilty

Happy St. Patrick’s Day to Me?

According to Ancestry DNA, I have about 20% of Irish DNA. Granted, it’s part of the 75% European piece of the Elissa pie, but it was enough green to shock me. I don’t know why it came as a shock. Since 1981 U2 has been my favorite band. My favorite part of summer camp werdna piee the counselors from Northern Ireland as a child. My affinity for all things Irish has been with me as long as I can remember. Even the men in my life have tended to be descended from the Emerald Isle, so why the big surprise?

I have always known I was adopted.  There was never a time where I didn’t look around and think “They made this up.” I mean, if you saw my baby pictures, it was kind of obvious. The story always began with “We were so excited when the phone rang announcing your arrival.” Then it would lead into a theory that my birth mother was in the military, that she was too young to take care of me, that she was Mediterranean, and that I was in such a hurry to be born, I was born en route to the hospital in the ambulance. The story always ended with how much my family wanted me. That had to be made clear before we moved on to something else.

As I grew up, I began to notice that there were a few holes in the story. For example, how did we know she was in the military? The hospital where she received her care was a Naval hospital in Chelsea. My birth mother was a patient of a family friend who was her obstetrician. This family friend got in touch with my parents and that is how I was brought to Plymouth.  It was never confirmed that she was in fact- part of the US Navy. That was assumed because you had to be in the Navy in order to be treated at this particular hospital. And why did she need to take an ambulance? Didn’t anyone drive?

When people would ask me my nationality, I would say that I was Mediterranean, because that was the answer for a while. After someone told me I looked French, I would say that I was part French. People would ask me if I was Italian. I didn’t think so. When I was in college I was asked if I was French Canadian. At the time people weren’t crazy about French Canadians so I didn’t want to be associated with that dislike. “Nope, the other kind of French.” I would reply, even though my looks said otherwise.

A few years later I went to Montreal with a friend. One night we were on the Tube, and I saw the reflection of a beautiful girl across from me in the mirrored glass. She had greenish eyes, reddish brown hair, and a medium complexion. I thought she was very pretty and was a little envious. Then my eyes caught my reflection right next to hers and I realized that we looked alike. I had the same complexion, hair color and eye color. Our builds were similar. Until that moment, I had been surrounded by people who did not resemble me whatsoever. I felt ugly until that moment where I realized that I shared this look with everyone around me.

That was a great day.

Earlier that summer, my cousin Larry helped me gain access to my birth certificate and I saw my birth mother’s full name for the first time. Patricia Therese Frappier. There it was. My French identity had been sealed with an accent ague. According to the papers, Patricia was living in Newburyport at the time. I was told later that it was a home for unwed mothers. This tells me that she was most likely from a Catholic family from the area. The blank signature line for the Father’s name also told me that she was alone. She took an ambulance to deliver me at the hospital because chances are she didn’t have anyone who could be with her. Her name was the only one on the certificate. He is a complete unknown. I had an idea of what half of me was, what was the other half made up of?

About 5 years ago, I decided to see what my DNA compilation album is and took the Spit Test that comes in the kit. I sent off my vial and didn’t think anything of it until an email found its way into my inbox with the results. 21% Native American. 20% Irish. Well, certainly explains a lot if you know me at all. Took “born to be an alcoholic” to a whole new level. I didn’t see ANY French Canadian, or a lot of Mediterranean. I did see some Greek, small percentage of Italian, and the token below 1% of African which supports the theory that modern humans began in Africa. Irish? Really? Wow. Native American? Even better.

Unfortunately, I know this is just a representation of what my makeup could be. I won’t really know anything until I hear more of my story. The DNA Pie does solve a few puzzles that I struggled with growing up so that was worth the $99 alone. Seeing a glimpse of who I am in such a unique way was truly breathtaking. The years of obsessing about Ireland makes sense to me now.

St. Patrick drove the snakes from Ireland, as the legend goes. Snakes represent old ideas and practices that are considered undesirable and mostly likely were the Pagan religions that were competing with Early Christianity. St. Patrick drove away the snakes and darkness, and brought in the light. My snakes are self-doubt, depression, self-loathing, and insecurity. I want to continue this journey to find out more about my origins but I can sense the fear growing when I see possibilities of where I can find the truth. I don’t want fear to keep me from asking a retired OB questions about Patricia, even though he may be bound not to answer them. Either way, the snakes of discontent need to leave this island. They need to be driven out from under the rocks and dark corners. Today, on this St. Patrick’s Day, I am ready to drive them out.