Our four legged friends

January 18, 2010 § 8 Comments

Last fall, David asked me for my opinion and some ideas on a piece about pets.  The library in Grande Prairie does a writing competition every year, and this year pets were the topics.  I’ve always felt that pets are an important part of a person’s life for those of us that have them.  They can bring us great joy, they can disarm even the most protected person, and we can learn so much from them.

It was my last at home (home being my mom’s place) over the holidays before heading back to Calgary.  I had just returned home from Edmonton and there was a cute waggily tail waiting to greet me at the back door.  I let Tetris into the back porch so we could properly greet one another without the discomforts of the cold outdoors.  That waggily tail continued to wag, and as usual, Tetris was beside herself with joy to see me.  She eventually calmed down and became the sweetest dog in the world (and no I’m not biased at all).

As I sat in the doorway petting her and scratching her belly, I noticed just how relaxed and at peace I was with her.  It’s taken me a long time to become that way with other human beings, but with a pet it’s just so natural.  I remembered a friend in Calgary mentioning once that she wished she could be as at home with herself with the rest of the world as she is when she’s hanging out with her four legged friend.  What is it about a pet that can only bring out the best in us?

A dog operates from only one place.  They don’t know how to lie or deceive, they are easily hurt, but trust again just as readily.  They will always be home to greet you, even on the days you may have parted on a harsh word because they left a spot on your tie… or chewed up one of your favourite shoes.  And yet, they remain a source of love and affection.  That’s what being on the receiving end of unconditional love is like.  Imagine if most people operated from the same plane.  Where those you interact with are not a source of distrust or stress, but such an unfathomably endless well of joyful emotion, that you know no matter what you do, they love you anyway.

This is the lesson I learn and relearn from Tetris every time I’m back home.  The ability to open myself up and accept her the way she is… holes in the backyard, mud on my jeans and everything… and allow her to accept me the way I am… messy apartment, laundry that’s never done… and everything.  It is easier done with a dog, they don’t have the capacity to judge.  But what if we refrained from judging one another as well?  How much easier would it be?  How much farther ahead would the world be because we trusted one another and weren’t scared to be who we are?


How Big Is Your Change?

January 11, 2010 § 2 Comments

It’s early January and many people are trying to follow through on New Year’s resolutions. Some have vowed they’ll stop smoking. Others have begun an exercise regime.  Many of these pledges will fail. Numerous people have already thrown in the towel by now.

Not all significant lifestyle changes occur as a result of a promise to one’s self on Dec. 31. Sometimes people just realize that it is time.

However personal improvement occurs, it is most heartening to see that people really can overcome major obstacles, whether hurdles life has thrown at them or their problems were self-inflicted.

I was inspired about a year ago as I was contemplating my entry into the writing competition being held by the Grande Prairie Public Library. The theme was Winning and Losing.

The angle of my story was the reverse … losing and winning.

I told readers how a friend’s daughter lost everything – her children, her job, her house – through drug abuse, becoming addicted to crack at age 30.

Interviewing the subject of the story and writing it, gave me a picture I had never seen so up close and personal. I had never experienced the depths people will go to feed and addiction. It brought tears to my own eyes to see the story turn into one of her winning her family back, regaining employment and having the opportunity to buy a home again.

So, while we are considering whether we can make life-altering changes to improve, the answer is … yes we can. Just ask Marcie:

Marcie Wins Back Family, Loses Drugs

My idea of winning and losing has always been pretty simple – did my Montreal Canadiens or Toronto Blue Jays win last night? . . . Or how am I doing in the hockey pool?

Occasionally, the competitive juices would boil if I was vying for a coveted job and, hey, who likes to come out on the short end in an argument?!

But catching up with my friend, Theresa, and her, daughter, Marcie, recently gave me a whole new perspective on winning and losing.

Not since I experienced the birth of my son and death of my father, both in 1989, have I faced such a pronounced rollercoaster of emotions when hearing those two words together.

Theirs is story of a mother and daughter basking in the glow of a renewed life together thanks to Marcie overcoming drug abuse – a five-year addiction to crack cocaine.

Marcie’s definition of winning includes her ability to hold a job now. Being reunited with her two children, now 20 and 12, is another win. Probably the most important victory is the respect she’s earned from her children.

“They know they just have to call me and I will be there.”

For her to regain that connection, Marcie had to be completely open about the ordeal she’d put herself and her family through.

“I also know the tell-tale signs of drug abuse now and have that awareness. I feel more responsibility and more pressure. It is me that stops me from going back,” she says.

For her to achieve these wins, Marcie had to lose her home, place her sons in her mother’s care, and give up much more.

“You lose yourself and your goals,” she says of her addiction. “You lose track of what’s important, your values, your self esteem, and then you hit rock bottom.”

It becomes a vicious circle. The crack makes things feel better, but only for so long. Then reality sinks in. Marcie is fortunate she didn’t spiral into further despair or sink deeper into the world of drug abuse.

“When you start hating the way you feel and the way your life is going, turning to drugs is a way to cope because when you are high, you don’t feel,” Marcie explains.

“When you are living a life of chaos, your focus is on getting and using drugs. You are always on the go, people are always around you partying, and people want to be your friends without judgement. The excitement was the feeling of being important and on top of the game.  People needing drugs will make you feel like you are important and they respect you when, in fact, all they want is your drugs.

“The winning side of this is that once you are in rehabilitation, you can learn to deal with your feelings of despair and learn how to cope with the guilt of choosing drugs over your children. You then become able to focus on what is important like family, and getting healthy, both mentally and physically.”

Marcie knew it was time to check into detoxification when she was sitting in a camper, with nowhere to go. It was 11 p.m. on her 34th birthday.

“I had nowhere to celebrate my birthday. I gave myself a present. I knew if I made a bad decision at that point, I would go even lower. If I stopped, I would be able to get help. I called my mom and said, ‘Please come and get me. What have I become?’”

Theresa recalls that moment, too. Was it real this time? Would she ever have her daughter back?

For four long years her grandmother, her mother and father, her sister and her children were forced by this awful drug to live in fear of never having Marcie back.

“She called to say she was done and could no longer face the horrible life she had now and wanted me to pick her up and take her to detox,” recalls Theresa.

The anger welled up in her because she’d heard Marcie’s promises to reform before, only to be disappointed.

“She never followed through and I was getting tired of the let down every time. This time, though, there was something in her voice that was different, and because I love my daughter with all my heart, I went to pick her up.”

Theresa had a lump in her throat when she met Marcie. She couldn’t believe what she saw.

“I found this skinny, dirty, hollow-faced stranger standing under a streetlight,” Theresa recalls. “She was the most pitiful thing I have ever seen.  I drove her to detox, walked her into the first set of sliding doors where she met with someone from AADAC.

“I wished her a happy birthday, told her I loved her no matter she has done, kissed her on the cheek and walked away.”

But she didn’t get far.

“I sat in my car in that parking lot for two hours, sobbing and praying that this nightmare would finally be over.”

Marcie would be in detoxification for five days in Grande Prairie. She then went to rehabilitation for three months in Edmonton where she spent a year getting counselling. She also became a member of Narcotics Anonymous.

Although she was no stranger to alcohol and had smoked pot, Marcie didn’t begin using crack until her 30th birthday, at the invitation of her then boyfriend and that started her downward spiral.

“It was fun. It was exciting, but when the money was gone, I was left with an addiction. That is what I remember and I think of how far I’ve come.”

She thinks back to how things fell apart. She had a house and a car and would be the safe place for her friends to do drugs.

“Every penny went to keeping up the drug habit. Then the car broke down and I was out of a house,” she says.

“I spent every pay cheque and child tax cheque, borrowed money from family, friends, and acquaintances. I’d estimate that I spent $1,000 a month minimum . There were the parties that went on for days and everyone would bring drugs and do them until they were gone.”

Marcie has seen herself at her worst and knows there is a long way to go on her journey, but there are also more wins on the way. She has had some setbacks, but has learned to deal with them without going back to crack. It’s been two years without it.

“It’s not a nightmare now. Everything I have been through has made me a better person. I feel better now than before I started on drugs. I have a wonderful career now. I have a great relationship with my children, my sister and the rest of my family.”

Theresa is overjoyed to be on the good side of the winning-losing equation now. There were times she was ready to give up on her daughter. But she never did. Theresa always found strength in remembering Marcie before her addiction.

“She was my first born and the apple of my eye, and as she got older – my best friend.  She grew up to be a person of integrity, honesty, and had a heart of gold.  She was always helping out friends, even when she had little money for herself or her children,” says Theresa.

“I often remarked that her kindness was being abused by some of her friends and her reply was, ‘if they need it more than I do, I will help wherever I can.’”

Theresa says with that big heart, Marcie would get into relationships with men who seemed to always need something.

“She would always say, ‘I can change them. I will help them to become better people.’  The unfortunate part was she couldn’t and ended up hurt and in financial trouble.  After three bad relationships and the loss of her home, she became upset with the way her life was going and, I think now, she gave up. Marcie said once that she was a failure as a wife and a failure as a mother.”

Theresa realizes now that she, like many parents of drug abusers, was in denial.

“I didn’t realize at the time how bad off she was,” Theresa says.

However, Theresa was faced with that reality when she had to pick up her two grandsons from school in January 2004 and then didn’t hear from her daughter for almost five months.

“My life changed dramatically as I then had to become legal guardian to both children,” she says.

“I was angry, scared, mad, confused, hurt and every emotion imaginable. This is something that a mother should never have to go through – not knowing if your child is hurt, scared, cold, hungry or has a warm place to sleep or, if someone has hurt her, or even worse yet killed her.

“I worried about the lifestyle she was in – the dark side of life – and I couldn’t even find her to bring her home.”

Added to this, Theresa had plenty of advice telling her to let go.

“I had many friends who said that “tough love” was the way to go but until you have to go through something like this, you will never know how hard that is,” she says.

Theresa did have to take some action for Marcie’s own good and the safety of the family.

“I eventually had to do and say things to her when she did get in contact with us.  I had to cut off all access to money; I had to tell my own flesh and blood that she was no longer welcome to come home to have Christmas dinner with her family because of drugs.”

Buying Marcie gifts became pointless because Theresa knew they would just be sold for drug money.

“My daughter went from a beautiful, healthy, loving human being to a thin, dirty shell of a person with no goals, no hope and no laughter in her heart.  Crack turned her into someone else. There were times that I almost wished she was dead so that at least I knew she was finally safe and out of pain.”

Theresa smiles when she thinks of her daughter now and is thankful she never, deep down ever threw in the towel on Marcie.

“I am very proud of my daughter as she has worked her way back to not only being the way she was, but I believe even a better person than before because of what she had to go through to get here,” Theresa says.

“I never, never, ever gave up on my daughter and truly believe that all addictions are a disease and the only way back from the bowels of hell called addiction is to have someone on the other side – waiting and supporting them in any way they can.”

Marcie agrees. “I wouldn’t have been able to do it without my mom. Some people have nowhere to go after they get out of rehab. I was lucky she would take me back. I wasn’t a perfect person, but she hadn’t grown to hate me.”

Marcie, now 37, was also motivated by the opportunity to have her family reunited after being separated for the better part of four years.

“I wanted to get myself back, but I wanted to get us back as a family.”

Her big dream is to once again own a home.

“I want a place for my grandbabies to visit.”

Winning and losing really is more important than last night’s sports scores. A whole lot more.

The Freedom in Letting Go

January 3, 2010 § 7 Comments

I used to think it was about letting go.  That when people left us, we had to let them go. They were gone.  They were lost.  Maybe they died, maybe they simply fell out of our lives.  My biggest challenge used to be letting go.

Before I moved to Calgary and after my brother died, I lived in his condo for a year.  I was holding on.  I was holding on so tightly.  Had it not been for my mother’s somewhat more than gentle push to get out of Millet, I would’ve stayed.  I would’ve held on.  Because I thought that if I held on tightly enough, it would mean that I wouldn’t ever forget him.  It would mean that I’d never actually have to lose him. And then maybe I wouldn’t have to miss him as much.

A voice inside my head kept telling me that I had to let go.  I had to move on with my life.  In fact that’s what we tend to hear from others trying to offer support, trying to breath some life back into us.  And maybe it is about letting go, at least to an extent.  I couldn’t hold onto what life was.  It couldn’t be the same, no matter how tightly I grasped at what I could.  When I left Millet, I hadn’t let go yet.  My parents and I kept his condo for a good six months, I went back almost every weekend and hung on.

I can’t pinpoint the exact time I began to let go, but I do remember the first time I was able to look at his picture and feel him smiling at me and be able to smile back, not from a place of sorrow, but from a place of happy memory.  I felt like he was telling me that I was okay.  I was through the woods.  I was headed uphill back to what life used to be like.

Today, I picked up his pocket watch.  It stopped ticking a long time ago, and I’ve never bothered to replace the battery.  As I thumbed the texture on the casing, examined the still hands, I realized something.  It is not the ticking of the hands that made the pocket watch a pocket watch.  I’ve carried it with me on occasion even without the ticking hands.  And just as the pocket watch remains what it is, so to does Wayne.  My brother is still my brother.  And I can bring him with me whenever I need to.  It’s not about holding on anymore.  I had to learn to let him go to get to the place that I found he is still here, though he may not tick, he can still exist as whatever I need him to be.

Where Am I?

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