For Brenda: or The Head Pop

Approximately three days into my decision to stop letting alcohol, drugs, and other fuckeries ruin my life, I was pretty convinced that I’d made the wrong choice. I’d joined this club where so many people had had lives so much worse than mine (or so I thought at the time). I had an education, a solid profession … two in fact … And a few coins in the bank. I was pretty sure “I” didn’t belong with “these” kind of people. Since, I was told early to look for the similarities and since the life I was living three days before was likely to have me dead or in jail, I kept coming. I kept looking. Then on November 12, 2009, in a room full of candle light and shared pain, I heard my story. It came raw, uncut, and with the wit of a PhD, beccause she was one. It was a woman I would come to know as Brenda R.

Now, Brenda and I didn’t have d.o.c or even occupation in common. What linked us is that we were both smart, and somewhere deep down felt that addiction was just another thing to be out smarted and in my case, solved via achievements. As I listened to her bitterly push through the story of her early recovery, I identified so closely with the sense of resistance she had to the process. She recalled that no matter how hard she bumped her head, she’d always go back for more. Sounded like me in a major way, and not specifically as it related to chemical addiction (it did), but also behavioral addiction and the general inability I had to get my shit together (the latter of which I can still lapse into until this day).

Brenda was a living breathing indicator that this was indeed where I belonged. I listened to her a lot in those first months. I’m not sure if she ever knew how much.  She was the raft I held on to until I looked around and realized that I was more like all of “these” people than I was different and I was able to let go and embrace the process. Brenda was a no bullshit kind of lady, and could be slightly intimidating until you got to know her and found out that tough exterior was wrapping up one of the warmest and most beautiful people you could ever meet. She was honest even when it didn’t paint her in the best light. There’s a recovery saying that goes “you can’t save your face and your ass at the same time.” In the time I spent with Brenda I saw her live this consistently, though she may not have lived it perfectly.

Shortly before I left for school Brenda was diagnosed with cancer. She fought it with the same tenacity in which I saw her fight addiction. She was weak but feeling good enough to come to the going away dinner some of my sisters in recovery had planned. At that dinner she opened up like flower. I saw a side of her I’d until that point never seen. She was gentle, open, and reflective. We’d been in one another’s lives for over three years at that point and I didn’t find out until that day about how educated she was and how much she’d accomplished in life while wrestling with the monster of addiction. Humility was definitely another of her strong suits. She sent me off with kind words scribbled in my travel journal and the gift of our shared experiences in my heart.

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I saw her for what would be the last time this past Summer. Her cancer had worsened and it was clear that every moment I’d spend with her needed to count. Once again my sisters in recovery and I gathered together to hang out, fellowship and show one another love.  We talked, ate food, laughed, and cried together  we hadn’t in a long time. Brenda, had been struggling emotionally and it’s clear in hindsight that she knew her time in this world was drawing near its end. Rather than trying to put on a brave front she openly discussed her fear of death in a way that I had never seen anyone do before. It was truly brave and made me feel an incredible gratitude for finding recovery. Through the process I’ve learned that you can face all fears in a way that might not always feel good, but it will liberate you like nothing else can. I’m not sure, but I can venture a guess that when Dr. Brenda Richardson closed her eyes for the last time earlier this week she had fought her way through to acceptance of what was to be.

At one of her anniversary celebrations I once heard her talking about the sound one starts to hear around the point of their 5 year anniversary. The sound? “The popping of your head out of your ass.” Today, I celebrate 5 years clean and if I’m still enough, I can barely hear that “popping”, that clarity that comes with time and effort. If I turn all the music off, shut the door, and get real quiet … maybe I’ll hear Brenda in her matter-of-fact tone talk about how she fell short in one way or another, but that she’s gonna keep comin’ until she gets it right. This is for Brenda, in honor of her ferocious spirit, powerful mind, and vulnerable heart. Though I’ll miss the hell out of her, she’ll live on through my recovery practice. My face will often not be saved, my ass will be wholly protected.

Rosie.

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