#firstworldproblems

Wil Wheaton sometimes complains on twitter about something like poor service in a restaurant, then follows it with the hashtag “#firstworldproblems”.  His way of reminding himself that we still have it easy, even if our waiter sucks.

Then I saw a photo gallery on cbsnews.com and was reminded that there are pockets of the third world right here in the United States.  The photo gallery is titled “The Faces of Addiction” and features photographs taken of homeless in the Bronx.  Some are prostitutes and ex-cons, but all are addicts of some kind.  Reading their stories about how they came to be where the photographer found them was overwhelming.  So many of them never had a chance, their lives derailed in their pre-teens by addicted and/or abusive relatives or neighbors.  Some appeared to make it through their childhoods intact, but a series of unfortunate events led them down the path lined with empty bottles and used needles.

I was struck by the sheer weight of their losses.  I couldn’t imagine, if I were in their shoes (if they had any), pulling myself out of the pit they’ve dug for themselves.  And, like in the impoverished third world, so many of them exist, not just day to day, but hour to hour.  Hooking their way to their next fix and maybe a place to sleep for the night.  I don’t recall reading a single caption that mentioned their hunt for food, which is surely a low priority to them compared to their addiction.  A trip to the emergency room for them, while free in terms of cash paid, ends up costing them everything they own, their bedding, clothes, and various collected items picked up by the city and tossed away.

And as I scrolled through the pictures, the thumbnails from other galleries appeared below the slideshow.  A thumbnail of the little girl who was run to death.  A photo of the Ohio school shooter.  And Brad and Angie.  I winced each time my field of vision drifted to include the last thumbnail.  A) I can’t stand either of them and B) who really gives a flip how they looked on the red carpet or if she struck that jackass pose a million times.  I’m not saying we should be serious all the time and not engage in escapism and fantasy, but the contrast between homeless addicts and cheaters paid millions to play dress up was jarring to me.

Yes, we have it pretty good here in the first world, but we can’t take it for granted that everyone has it as good as we do.  The next time I complain to my husband about all the clutter we have around the house, I’ll remind myself at least I don’t have so few possessions that they can all fit in a shopping cart, and at least I have a home to clutter up.

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Dreams of the open road

The visit with Texas family went very well. Very little drama. By the end of the week, however, I could feel myself sinking in mood. I attribute it to my introversion. Having so little solitude is really draining on me. Also, we were driving between Kerrville and San Antonio on pretty much a daily basis, and I was sensitive to the fact that we were bombarding my brother and his wife with lots of not-always-quiet visitors when they had a new baby to contend with. He was way, way cute, however, and I fear I gave him a bald spot on his head from all my kisses.

When we first arrived in San Antonio, my mother picked us up and drove us to my brother’s house. As she drove me past my high school, the malls I shopped growing up, I was amazed at how much things have changed and how much they haven’t. Jim’s Diner is still there to welcome the drivers coming off Loop 410 on Marbach road. HEB took over Mercado mall. And the feeling I had was wretched.

My husband and I have talked seriously about moving to Texas. We’re tired of the rat race of living in Long Beach/Los Angeles. It looks as though it will be virtually impossible for my husband to have his own massage therapy business here, and I’m so over cubicle living I can’t stand it. In Texas, not only will we be closer to all of my family (both a blessing and, at times, a curse), but, though salaries tend to be about 20% lower, the cost of living tends to be about 40% lower. We might even be able to buy a house, have hubs perform massage to pay the bills and I can stay home to do my thing. Trouble is, I’m still a little lost as to what my thing is. I like writing. I like photography. I like repurposing things. I like creating art. I like singing and acting, though I’ve done very little lately. I’m just not sure that I like any of those things enough to focus solely on that to make a living. If hubs can pay the bills with massage, however, I can dabble in all of them, which would be fun and certainly keep things from being boring.

But, as we drove around San Antonio, I suddenly felt something akin to what my brother felt when he moved back to Texas. My brother is a writer and independent filmmaker. He lived in Los Angeles for a while, then in Hawaii, where he made his films. After falling in love with one of his high school classmates, he moved back to Texas, back to the same zip code we grew up in, and confided to me that he felt like a failure for doing so. I was sympathetic, and told him *I* didn’t think of him that way, that he was starting a new chapter in his life, with a new wife and family, and that moving back to Texas didn’t mean he was giving up on his dreams.

Only now, that feeling is washing over me a bit. I moved to California 13 years ago to accomplish things I haven’t even tried to accomplish. My life is very different now than it was then. I went from being a single drunk who smoked and was forever mourning the death of the person she considered her soul mate to a smoke-free sober person with a darling four-year old daughter and husband that adores her. I feel more confident in many ways than I was then, but I do often feel like the best years of my life…the best years to get things done…have passed me by. It’s a feeling I have to push away to stay out of the hole.

I’m proud of myself, however, for overcoming this feeling of dread. I reminded myself that I can be a success anywhere, and that, should I ever decide to pursue anything related to the film industry, there are opportunities outside of Hollywood available. I actually came back from my vacation ready to roll up my sleeves and continue the slow drip…taking tiny, consistent steps to reach my goals.

And daydreaming about how cool it would be to drive my dream car, a classic 1969 Chevy Camaro, down the open highways of Texas.

Kevin & Bean – Life’s Teachers

Oh, heaven help us if that’s true.

For those not familiar, Los Angeles has a radio station, KROQ, that has a popular morning show starring Kevin and Bean. Yesterday they had people calling in to tell their stories about being trapped in an elevator. Usually I’ll change stations when people call in because it’s like listening to a three year-old talk, with lots of “ums”, and unnecessary details. I stayed with the show yesterday, however, and was entertained by Kevin & Bean ridiculing the callers for dragging out their stories.

So I wrote them a thank you note.

Thank you for making the elevator call-in segment funny.

I usually have to turn off the radio when listeners call in with a story. It’s just soooo painful.

What you are looking for:

“I was stuck on an elevator for an hour and a half with my EX-boyfriend, and I’d had bean burritos for lunch. It took all my energy to keep my ass from exploding”.

What you get:

“So, I was staying at a hotel in downtown LA with my girlfriends, cuz my best friend was getting married that weekend, and, um, I knew there’d be, like, great food at the party, like shrimp and lobster and stuff, but, um, I really LOVE bean burritos, so I scarfed down, like, two before the party. So, we’re at the party and decided we want to people watch and think it’d be funny just to be, like, these drunk girls riding up and down in the elevator, and so we get on, and my friend’s are like, ‘we need to go to the top’ but my other friends were like, ‘no, we need to ride down to the basement’ and, while they were arguing, um, the elevator doors open and, um, my EX-BOYFRIEND walks in. It was SO AWKWARD, cuz I hadn’t seen him since we took that trip to Yosemite three years ago to spread his grandfather’s ashes. So, we were, all, like, being polite and everything, but my friends were trying not to laugh at me, but we had had, like, 20 mojitos or something cuz that’s, um, my favorite drink, then, suddenly, my stomach was REALLY upset and I felt like I had to, you, know, fart. It was SOOO embarrassing.”

So, thank you, for keeping things moving, and thanks to Erica, for bringing up Bean’s mom’s porno.

Audra

To my amusement, Bean responded yesterday, telling me my note was hilarious and he’d be reading it on the air. Sure enough, today on my drive to work he read it. What made it the highlight of my morning was the fact that Bean was laughing as he read it.Yes, he had told me he thought it was funny, but something about hearing these people, these professionals, very funny people all, laughing at my email (in a good way, not a “stuff of my nightmares” kinda way), well, that was just cool. I have to admit, I really enjoyed the fact that my writing/humor was not only appreciated by Kevin & Bean, but that they thought enough to share it with Los Angeles.

I write of this, not because I’m gonna have my email and Bean’s reply framed or anything, but because I was surprised at how much I enjoyed the positive feedback I’d received from something I’d written. This blog represents the bulk of my writing efforts over the last 10 years. At first, it was just something for me to focus on to keep my head above water, but I’m finding myself really enjoying it.

So, yeah, it made me smile this morning in that “trying-to-appreciate-the-little-things” kinda way I’ve been attempting of late.  And it encourages me to keep writing.

So there’s that.

Whitney Houston, we have a problem

I can’t really say I was a fan, per say.  I’ve never bought one of her albums or really gotten into her songs, though I know many of them.  In fact, “I Have Nothing” has been an earworm in my head since I heard of her death.  I did appreciate, however, the beauty and strength of her voice, and know that many people in her life loved her very much and are devastated by the loss.

That being said, troubled people die prematurely all the time, most of them without the talent, success, and money that celebrities enjoy.  I know, I’ve said before that what is viewed from the outside is merely superficial, and we can’t really know what’s going on in someone’s life to understand their suffering.  I only refer to these things because the average citizen doesn’t always have the means to seek treatment for their ailments.  And non-celebrities don’t get eulogized on national television when they succumb to their demons.

It can be argued that Whitney Houston’s death affects a larger group of people because her music affected a larger group of people.  But, come on, folks, she wasn’t working on the cure for cancer or anything.  The truth is, in our celebrity-obsessed culture, we weep at the premature death of a singer, but don’t even notice when hard-working, well-meaning doctors, scientists, nurses, engineers, teachers, etc. pass away.

Sadly, what needs to happen will never happen.  As a society, we need to ask ourselves why there are SO MANY people who are so unhappy they seek chemical relief.  Not just singers and actors, but cops and garbage men, crossing guards and dentists.  Only about 5% of alcoholics and drug addicts live on skid row.  95% have homes, careers, families.  I know when *I* quit drinking, I found it cathartic to tell people I was an alcoholic, for I had lived with a great deal of shame at the double life I was living.  I was living a lie, so telling people the truth about me was therapeutic, yet I’d often be told by the person I confided in, “Alcoholic?  You?  You’re not an alcoholic!” I didn’t fit the image of a homeless drunk drinking whiskey out of a paper bag, so I couldn’t possibly have a problem.

Too many people are expending too much energy trying to convince everyone they are okay.  The pressure gets to you.  And we as a society, though we can be sympathetic, love to see people fail, especially those as public as Whitney Houston.  We LOVE to feed on the corpse of a dying person/career, then we LOVE to “forgive” the person who claws their way back.  Everyone watched Robert Downey Jr. torpedo his career, go in and out of rehab, and jail, and we ate it up.  As an addict myself, I know the fact that he’s been sober for something like 10 years, well, I cheer that, certainly, and it makes me appreciate his talent all the more.  I’m rooting for him.  When Charlie Sheen went off the rails, people couldn’t turn away from the car crash.  People made jokes about it, yet what we were watching was a mental breakdown.  The man was showing signs of being very, very sick.

We don’t connect with each other.  We don’t show love for each other.  We instead compete with each other, try to best each other.  We like to watch other people fail or act crazy, because it makes us feel better about ourselves.  How else does one explain the success of reality television?  Think anyone would watch any of the Housewives, or Jersey Shore, or The Bad Girls’ Club if healthy, loving, supportive people were on them?  If there were no back-stabbing, narcissistic, addictive behavior to feel superior to?

So I’ll take a cue from Ghandi.  I’ll try to be the change I want to see in the world.  To those who have commented on my posts, either in person or on this blog, I thank you for finding my words valuable enough to reach out to me.  I thank you for listening when I needed to give voice to my pain. It’s truly been helpful to me to be able to share these thoughts and feelings with an ever-widening audience.  I still have to work on being open and loving *in person*, but, baby steps.

Whitney Houston died far too young.  I feel such pity for her daughter, and hope she makes it through this difficult time.  But there are so many people who struggle with many of the same issues.  We rely on chemicals to make us feel good about ourselves and try to convince others we’re okay when we could expend that energy making ourselves stronger.

We don’t love each other enough, and we don’t truly love ourselves enough. And that’s the biggest tragedy.

The kindness of strangers

…especially the ones I know.

The last 36 hours have been interesting in that there seems to have been a memo circulated that people who know me should reach out to me and say or do really nice things that make me feel like I’m actually liked and cared about.

One of the guys from my congregation sent me a text yesterday, asking me if I was okay and saying he missed me and the family (I haven’t been to one of my meetings, i.e., church, in about three months).  I didn’t go into great detail, just told him I’ve been having health issues, to which he responded with an offer for he and his wife to bring something over…food or other “get well soon” stuff.

This morning my brother called me and said some stuff that was on the sweet side of things…stuff about wanting to keep me around and all.  This is especially important to me because, for reasons I may elaborate on at another time, I grew up feeling like an only child, despite the fact that my step-dad and mom had five kids between them. My brother and I started to repair our relationship after Josh died, but we’ve slowly gotten closer in the last few years and especially the last few months.  It feels really good to say I have a big brother and have it actually mean something….a lot of something.

And then two ladies from my congregation stopped by.  One of them, Diane, has known of my struggles and texts or calls me a couple of times a week to check in on me.  She and Pulon stayed for an hour or so and we talked about my struggles of late.  Pulon was especially loving, and came over as I was talking and gave me a hug, tears in her eyes to match my own.  It turns out she, too, struggles with clinical depression, and she had had no idea I had been in the 20 foot hole.

Lastly, the hubs and I had dinner with his mom, grandmother, and the kidlet.  Aside from a sweet gesture from my daughter, what struck me was the lingering squeeze I received from Tony’s grandmother.  A terrifying woman when I met her, the birth of my daughter softened her considerably, and she is now pretty much a cream puff, at least in the kidlet’s presence.  She’s 85, Italian, and still speaks with a Queen’s accent despite having left New York over 30 years ago.  And today she hugged me like I was actually her family, and not just her grandson’s wife.  Last week his mom left a voicemail on my cell phone and referred to herself as “mom”.  Wha?

I know these seem like little things, but for me, they mean a lot.  I tend to think people don’t think of me when I’m not in the room, and would prefer not to when I am.  I know it’s not fair to myself, or to those around me, so I’m really trying to appreciate these tiny gestures.

Oh, and tonight I Skyped with my newborn nephew.  He’s only five days old and we haven’t yet met physically, but his eyes said “I love you, you’re the bestest auntie in the whole world”.

Either that, or he was pooping.

Scale of Honesty

Ewww, sounds like a bad Dr. Who episode.

My brother is pursuing a second Masters degree in counseling.  Today in class they discussed the ethics of being a counselor and he thought of me or, more specifically, this blog.

He’s one of the few people I know who’s reading it, and he is concerned that, if a licensed professional counselor reads about my bouts with depression and sees reference to my past suicide attempt, they may be ethically bound to contact the police in an effort to make sure I’m okay.  Of course, there would be consequences to that, my biggest concern being my daughter.  I told him I’ve often questioned just how open I want to be on this thing.

I try not to be so vain to think that hundreds of people are reading it.  I know that’s not the case.  But, of course, when you put something out on the internet, it’s out there for anyone to read.  As helpful as it has been to give voice to my issues and concerns, I continually have to ask myself, “how far do I go?”  That may be one of the reasons I have yet to tackle the subject of my childhood abuse in great detail.  It’s not something I’ve discussed in depth with too many people, and I’m not sure I want to.

But I know that I’m not alone, that so many of the issues I’ve struggled with…depression, addiction, suicide, regret….they are issues that soooo many people struggle with.  Reading about William Styron’s struggles with depression helped me.  Maybe my putting myself out there might help someone else?

I’ve kept so much in for so long…I’m really trying to live a more honest and open life and letting go of the facade I’ve built to keep people out. “Mustn’t let anyone see my flaws.  Must try to convince everyone I’m together and happy”.  Truth is, sometimes I’m together, and sometimes I’m not.  Sometimes I’m happy, and sometimes, not so much.  Lately, I’ve been pretty good.  I’m far from the 20 foot hole, staying positive and just taking the days as they come.

Honestly.