18

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According to the Johns Hopkins Medicine website, “No one is sure how electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) helps certain psychiatric disorders. It may promote changes in how brain cells communicate with each other at synapses and it may stimulate the development of new brain cells. ECT may flood the brain with neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine, which are known to be involved in conditions like depression and schizophrenia.”

A beloved friend has personal experience with ECT. Her residual memory loss now cripples her. She doesn’t remember places she’s been, who or what she loves, or knowledge she once proudly hoarded.

“I don’t know who I am,” she explains.

My heart breaks for her as I try to imagine this.

Today, I’m sober for 18 years.

One’s identity – lost and found – leaves a crazy trail through sobriety.

Ok, time for some math. 18 years. When I was 18, so was the legal drinking age. Let’s say, only because it’s true, I had my first drink at 13.

So, for way over 1/2 of my life, how many identities I’ve since abandoned did I drink my way through? Ugh, I hate story problems.

During my 20s, 30s and ok, my 40s, one of my identities was The Fun Girl. One of the last to leave the party. The one who sat on the porch drinking Ouzo, with whoever else didn’t leave the party. The one who went out for breakfast, or for a dip in the pool, before heading home at dawn. The one you counted on to have tiny boxes filled with an array of substances in her bag, along with a change of clothes. Ready for anything.

I don’t remember a lot of details here. I never wanted to get off Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride. Finally motion sickness caught up with me.

In the 70s, women weren’t encouraged to accept wife or mother as a total identity. Mass media said we should be able to do it all. I tried. It wasn’t that I embraced doing it all; I had no choice. In our house, two incomes were needed to pay the bills. And to buy the booze.

I had a parallel identity as an elementary teacher. For 20 years. Soon after I quit teaching, I stopped drinking. On 9.9.01. Now I had to figure out who I really was, minus the teacher label.

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I remember every one of their names.

If you’re lucky, your past builds a path to your true calling. My path is paved with cobblestones. The first 7 years of sobriety, I was a graphic designer, a consignment store owner, and corporate trainer. Someone called me a “job-hopper,” a negative label to some people of my generation. Thank the lord for job-hopping. Miserable jobs forced me to put serious effort into finding what I was meant to do.

I’ve spent the last 11 years as a writer. A sober writer: that feels like a solid identity. It keeps me honest.

A side effect of sobriety is remembering what you said last night. Good or bad.

And memory is a privilege we take for granted.

I learned this from my sweet friend who lost hers.

And from 18 years of sobriety.

Pack your snowballs a little less tight, but in the middle, still put rocks.

Brandi Carlile, Keep Your Heart Young

The Not-So-Final Word

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Yesterday, the New York Post breathlessly reported on the wording of an obituary for a perpetrator of a mass shooting.

As the Post described it, the obituary described the 24-year-old male shooter as “a happy suburban man who loved reading Harry Potter, camping with the Boy Scouts and playing baritone sax in the school marching band.”

The obituary mentioned nothing about him killing multiple people, including his sister, when he opened fire in a nightclub.

His sister’s obituary, posted on the same funeral home website, did not mention that she was murdered by her brother, just that she had died.

Both obituaries brought about a torrent of angry comments and disgusted reactions from the online world. Eventually, the funeral home replaced the shooter’s original obituary with these words.

“Stephen and Moira Betts apologize that the wording of the obituary for their son Connor was insensitive in not acknowledging the terrible tragedy that he created. In their grief, they presented the son that they knew, which in no way reduces the horror of his last act. We are deeply sorry. “

As a friend texted me, “Shit, the whole thing is just tragic. All of it.”

All of it.

As an obituary writer, I treasure the time spent with families as they share stories about their loved one. The sharing and remembering is cathartic for them, and helps me formulate a true depiction of the departed person’s life, with poignant, everlasting details intact.

I imagine the family of this shooter experienced a bit of that catharsis while describing the child they loved to the funeral director who wrote this obituary.

But what happened next? Should those words of love have been put away, to be read in private? How would those words affect the families of those murdered? Whose responsibility was it to think this through before it was posted online? Was it okay to post it? Did someone miss the boat here?

I don’t know the answers to these questions. I welcome you to weigh in.

It’s an unpleasant, unwanted new avenue we need to explore, as American citizens in 2019.

17

 

updated-logo-1.png17 years sober. 9.9.01.

My first thought of gratitude for the day was for my forever sponsor, Ray. He’ll always be there if I need him, in the flesh or not. Ray’s no longer on this earth, but he was there when I walked into my first meeting. Shortly after I’d moved back to my hometown, after being gone for over 25 years, I decided to get sober. In my hometown. I highly recommend this if you need help with that fearless personal inventory.

After about a week, Ray nicknamed me Humble Pie. Hilarious, that guy. Ray is the first person who pointed out to me that other people’s judgements of me are about their relationships with themselves, not me. He may have stolen that from Buddha. I always accused him of stealing the smart stuff he said. He never cared.

I’m not sure where I’d be without him. For those first 7 years, while he was my rock, I didn’t have ANY friends who didn’t drink. Just him. When I whined about this to him, he laughed and told me to toughen up. He asked me which of my old friends I missed. That was hard to put a finger on.

Those first few years, I was SO angry. He walked me right through that. Allowed it, encouraged it, weighed it, taught me about it. Heck, I’m still angry. But not about the same things. That’s something.

Before I quit drinking, I was a teacher. As I moved through a series of post-teaching jobs, Ray kept telling me to keep my eye on the prize. I said I wanted to “make things.” What a feeling, making something from scratch. A blinking cursor offers me that now. The prize.

Every year of sobriety is different. That’s the only thing about it I know for sure. Looking back on what used to bother me versus now, is a trip. Here’s hoping I never stop learning.

Learning stops instantly when you say, “I know.”

Last week, Christopher Lawford, a recovery WARRIOR, died from a heart attack at age 63, after a hot yoga session. I haven’t seen one obituary without a headline about his “struggles” with drugs — though he’s been sober for 30 years, that seems to be his legacy. But in reality, he won the struggle. The incredible number of people he helped — that’s his legacy,

When I walked into one of those jobs I mentioned earlier, one of the women there said, “Oh, you’re Kitty Sheehan. I heard you used to be totally wild.” I’ll take that as my legacy.

One last thing. I almost didn’t write a blog post today. Cause you know, blah blah blah. Then I got an email from a former student of mine. From second grade! On John Lennon’s birthday a few years ago, she wrote me a letter, after she googled me. She never forgot how I had my class circle up on the floor so I could tell them about John Lennon, the day after he was killed. I didn’t even remember that. Thank god for young minds. She said she reads my post every year and hoped I would write one this year. So this is for you, Dawn H, in Iowa. Love to you, always.

I’m off to celebrate! Much love to you, too.

Dear Charles

Screen Shot 2017-10-26 at 2.19.21 PMCharles, I admire your writing, and rely on it for a semblance of sanity.

But with all due respect, you wouldn’t completely lose your mind if you were a woman.

You’d be too busy:

  • running the damn carpool
  • changing the toilet paper on the roll
  • remembering your daughter will only eat blue jello
  • navigating the dinner invite from the couple you’ve avoided the last 3 times, because your partner doesn’t like them
  • remembering to put the lunch money in the backpack
  • taking the dog for a walk, after you clean up the stuff he’s chewed to bits because he was inside all day (you can relate)
  • buying birthday cards for your nieces and nephews on both sides
  • keeping track of who in the family you share what news with
  • recycling
  • threatening the kids with cripes knows what if they don’t brush their teeth
  • reminding your boss at work he has a lunch date with his male CEO pal from another company
  • reading movie reviews so you know what’s appropriate for the kids to watch
  • knowing they’re going to watch the bad stuff anyway, and planning what to say to them about it
  • calling the the parents who are having the sleepover, to see if they keep guns in the house
  • keeping an eye on the rear view mirror as your kids fight it out in the backseat on the way to buying them school supplies, when all you really want to do is smoke a joint and toss them some broken crayons and see how that works out for them
  • texting your partner important news three times because that’s how many times it takes before they pay attention to their texts; meanwhile trying to remember what you learned in Drivers’ Ed about changing a tire, from that teacher who wouldn’t keep his hand off your knee, but now all you can remember is his hand and something about lug nuts
  • reminding your partner to charge their phone
  • clearing all the clutter out of your house according to the realtor’s instructions so you can sell it
  • picking paint colors to repaint the house so you can sell it, after arguing with partner about why it matters, because paint costs $200
  • clearing time in your schedule to go sign papers at the closing because the house sold in one day
  • remembering which Disney princess your granddaughter is obsessed with, so you don’t screw up her birthday
  • making a mental note to talk to your granddaughter about princess worship, maybe after the birthday
  • buying the wrapping paper from your kids’ school so your kid isn’t the only one who brings an empty envelope back to class when the fundraiser is over
  • making sure the sheets on the beds are comfy so you can all get a good night’s sleep.

Oh, look at that, you only had time to think about sexual harassment once. Whew.

I could go on. But I know you get it, Charles. You’re one of the good ones.

And if you turn out not to be, I’m gonna be so pissed.

Your fan,

Kitty Sheehan

By Richard Meyer

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photo by Kitty Sheehan

 

The Women’s March: 21 January 2017

 

Let this be

a rising sea,

an ocean of humanity —

a surge no obstacle can break.

 

Let this be

a tide of justice, fairness, sanity

by women born, by women led —

an inundation meant to spread

for our, and the nation’s, sake.

 

Richard Meyer

 

Richard Meyer is an award-winning poet from Mankato, Minnesota. His latest book is Orbital Paths

The Audacity of Hope, or Real Men Wear Pussy Hats

This is for the friends who called Sunday and said, “Tell me everything.”

And you.

And you, Catherine.

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photo by Catherine Sebastian

I’ll leave “everything” to others – much is already written about Saturday’s Women’s March in DC. This is my tale.

None of us knew how big this might be when we boarded our two buses at 2 am in Woodstock; hopeful, happy, determined. We gave our bus driver, David, his very own pussy hat.

My traveling buddy was Catherine Sebastian. She’s a photographer and veteran climate activist. She bought two tickets from the get-go, knowing someone would want the other one; that’s who she is. I’m her someone.

Our first inkling of crowd size hit as we pulled into our first destination, the parking lot for the metro station.

A murmured wave of “Holy shit” spread through the bus when we saw the lines to board the metro. The first thing that struck me, as we hopped out and found our spot in line: no one was complaining. We smiled and made room for each other. Imagine that happening from now on, every time people stand in line. Yo ho.

When we stepped off the train at our stop, Archives, we became THE CROWD.

We were a hum of drumming, clapping, singing folk and, oh my gosh, signs. We were all colors, shapes and sizes. Moms, dads, grandfathers, grandmothers, kids of all ages, nuns, priests, wheelchairs, dogs, (yep), police, Veterans, women in beautiful hijabs topped with pink hats, superheroes draped in American flags and rainbow capes, queens in crowns and Princess Leias in white robes.

Up we went.

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photo by Catherine Sebastian

I took Catherine’s arm and sang, “Somethin’s happenin here…”

She answered, “What it is, ain’t exactly clear…”

And we both kept snapping photos.

I felt safe. DC’s finest were wearing pussy hats, for crissakes.

The white-grey sky cast its light over leafless trees: a perfect backdrop for the pink tsunami of us, taking shape in the streets.

We headed to where the stage was set up.

Ha! I just made that sound so easy. Let’s say we walked toward a Jumbotron on the horizon, above an ocean of words and hats.

Catching photos of signs along the way, we grabbed each other, in awe of the fantastic sights, laughing, crying tears of joy and wonder. This was for real.

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And just like that, we stopped. No more moving ahead. As we stood, wondering what we should do, the crowd decided for us. There was to be no moving forward or moving back. The longer we stood, the tighter the squeeze. All prior plans, out of the question.

Catherine said, “Let’s go to the back of this,” and before I knew it, she was dragging me through spaces I’d never guessed I’d fit through. Civility reigned, and people let each other through, offering advice about where they’d just been, what the scene was like over there, back there, up there.

It took us an hour to do this. No worries, I just kept my eye on her pink hat, heh heh. 

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We found some breathing room at last, and heard the police decided to sort of re-shape the crowd, turning people back from heading to the stage. That was fine with us; the show was all around us. There was no time or desire to stand in one place.

Every child I saw was serene. Up on a parent’s shoulders, calmly checking out the scene, like it was nothing unusual or alarming. Or walking, some with signs. Or in a stroller, wide-eyed face topped with a tiny pink hat.

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“She’s my GPS,” he said.

I took my cue from the littlest marchers. It was all good.

We’d see men; we’d thank them.

“Of course. We’re here for you!” they’d reply.

We smiled, crushing on that.

My husband was home watching it unfold on TV, and when he texted me the first photo of the crowd, it was the first time we saw what this looked like from the air.

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Every time I’d show that photo to someone, same reaction: (Double take) “Oh my god! Is that us? Oh my god! Honey, look at this…”

Catherine’s husband called us with the early crowd estimate. Made us weep once again.

The impromptu march began – right from where we were standing.

We decided to head straight into it, head on. You know how normally people would frown upon such a thing? Not here. My video is below. Notice the “oh sorry” and the smiles and high fives. I stopped a lot to high five and bow to signs. You can see Catherine on the move ahead of me. There was no diabolical plan ahead of time to pass the Trump Hotel, it just happened. It’s interesting to watch the crowd’s calm, yet decisive reaction when it does.

Check out my video here. 

Ok, you’ve seen the signs. They were fabulous. So creative, funny and true. Spelled correctly.

“We’re here to apologize on behalf of Ohio.”

“Introvert snowflake. Here anyway.”

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photo by Catherine Sebastian 

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Text from my daughter:

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We walked toward the White House. The plan was to leave the signs there. With an eye on the clock, we turned and made our way to the metro stop, with no idea what we’d find. We found more long lines and more camaraderie. We stood for our 45-minute ride back to the parking lot. More than once, sitting people offered their seats to people standing. What?

We poured out of the trains to load the buses, singing, “Lean on Me” and helping each other get where we had to go.

We had to climb a fence to finally get to our bus. I smiled inside on the way over, glad to be in that very spot at this very age. Oh, the Places You’ll Go!, the man wrote.

We made it home, tired but peaceful.

Imagine my surprise on Sunday, to learn Trump fans were mocking us, crowing that we didn’t even know what we were marching for.

Trust us, fellas, we knew why we were marching.

I was trolled by a man on my Facebook page, (Now? After all this time? Has he met me?) suggesting it’s time to move on, and oh, it’s not healthy to be so angry.

Stop projecting, ok, darlin? And pick up the phone if you have something to say to me. Let’s talk. I’d love to tell you how this feels. And I listen.

There are two kinds of men in my life.

The kind who tell me it’ll be ok that a sexual predator has been elected president,

and the kind who call me to ask how I am, the morning after it happens.

My husband brought this when he met our bus. He’s that kind.

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I marched because love must win.

But we have so much work to do.

No laurels to be rested upon.

It’s Day 4, and the shit show is as bad as we thought it’d be.

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photo by Josh Edelson via Getty Images

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