Hammock Time - Therapy 101
HAMMOCK TIME – THERAPY 101
BY: TAMI HARPER WINN
Sitting in the hammock cross-legged below me near the river bank he asks me, “What do you think you are most afraid of?” I am curled up in the hammock above my dear friend Earl discussing the very near future that is approaching at alarming speed. It is comforting to be here in this space once again, with my old friend, picking up where we left off in Mexico eight months ago. Today, he is here in Idaho with me trying to pick my brain as to what my biggest fear is concerning my daughter leaving for her mission. We are sharing hammock time – Therapy 101.
I am quick to answer. “Being alone”, I say without a moments hesitation. I know the answer today. She is the last baby bird to leave the nest and the cold hard truth is that I’ve have never been by myself since the day I was born and I was scared as hell. What I will find out as we approach this together though, is that there is a deeper fear this is rooted in.
He nods and says, “I didn’t think you’d be so quick to answer.” But with a smile on his face he lets me know with loving assurance that what I am feeling is perfectly normal. How come it doesn’t feel like it?
What does feel normal is being in this place at this moment, with him. He is comfortable and I feel safe when I am with him. With him I can tell him anything and not worry about being loved any less, or judged, or having to compete for his attention. He is very much present with me, and he loves me just the way I am. I close my eyes and feel the love of this moment and thank God for his friendship and our sobriety that has brought us together.
As the sun sets over the river we discuss the very reason why I struggle today. Here in less than two months my life will change dramatically and in ways I’ve never experienced. I feel so unprepared. I feel so helpless. I feel so alone.
It brings me back to a place in time when I was my weakest, without defense. It brings me back to the year 2004 and my then husband, my daughter’s father, was kissing my forehead before he boarded a plane at Gowen Field Air Force Base bound for Iraq to fight a war I didn’t want anything to do with. I was left with three children to raise by myself for the next eighteen months with no support system in place. I was scared as hell. I was living in Nampa, Idaho at the time without family around, new to the community and even newer to this military family I’d been adopted into. I felt I had no choice in anything that was happening to me. I was powerless.
I had left Vegas just a few years prior. Well actually I had run for my very life from Vegas just a short time before, because of a hellish addiction to cocaine and ecstasy. I fought for my very life to break the chains of my past and my daughter was the reason I chose to fight. I found out I was pregnant with my little girl shortly after arriving in Idaho and she became my reason to beat that addiction. I wanted her more than ever. I beat it then without the help of rehab or a program or even a god of my understanding. I did it with love – love for her and for her father and for our new family with my boys. That was almost twenty years ago. And as I would later find out, it was not enough to keep me sober.
My life was perfect. It was beautiful. I had everything I ever dreamed of and more. I had a beautiful home, a healthy family, a loving husband I called my best friend, and I was working on obtaining my first college degree. I had arrived. I had beat my addiction to powders and pills. I did not understand addiction, and at the time I truly believed my problem was the drugs. I could take or leave drinking after I had quit drugs. It was never my thing. I didn’t really care for it. On occasion I would have a beer or two with my husband or friends, but nothing that ever got out of control and I could go long streaks without even thinking about it, much less drinking it. Alcohol, to me, was not a problem.
Now, here I was faced with the loss of my best friend, left to face my worst nightmares all alone with three children. I knew the morning I watched his plane disappear into the blue skies above Boise, Idaho that I was in trouble. I knew this deep down inside me somehow. I can very much remember thinking to myself, “I had better get help fast or else my husband was coming home to me upside down drunk on a bar stool” and I didn’t want that.
I had raced, the day after, to my bishop’s office to beg for someone to help me stay straight until my husband got home. He needed me to. My family needed me to. I wanted to. I hadn’t been to this church since my early years, but I knew something big and ugly was brewing on the horizon and I couldn’t do this alone. My inner most self knew I was beat before I began. I know today, it was my disease talking to me.
So, for over ten months I didn’t drink, smoke, run amok, or cause any damage. In fact, I did just the opposite. I prayed like a silly fool. I read scriptures with my husband on the phone. I went to church and had the missionaries involved in my everyday life. We sang Christmas carols with them at Christmas time. I was active and involved with the church in ways I had never been. As a surprise, my husband would decide when he came home on leave that he would be baptized and we would set a temple date. Life was really perfect. Until it wasn’t.
What I know about the disease of alcoholism is that it can lie dormant for years, waiting and getting stronger. It learns me well and then at the right moment, it lunges for my jugular with relentless abandon. For me, it had been waiting patiently for this moment. I never saw it coming. The blood bath began.
My nightmares were relentless. Every knock on the door terrorized me to the point I’d freeze up. Every call from an unknown number left me staring at the phone too numb to answer it. Night in and night out I cried out to a God I didn’t know, begging for this to all end soon. My children were coming apart at the seams. My family was being ripped apart limb by limb.
Ten months after he left, against everything I was feeling in my gut, I denied my truth and went to the bar with my new best friend – a lady in my neighborhood. It was February. I had one beer. That’s it. I didn’t want another one, in fact I was pretty lit off of that one. But, I was lonely. I was afraid and I was placing myself in harms way very much so. I met a man that night and from that very moment my life changed forever.
No, I didn’t cheat on my husband that night. What I did do is open the door for King Alcohol to come in. Within a matter of three months I was throwing away everything that ever meant anything to me. By the Fourth of July I was ending my marriage to the love of my life and in August I was carrying out eight large black trash bags of liquor bottles at the Sturgis Rally with another man and I don’t remember a thing. I was blacked out drunk from the day I told my husband I was hell bent on destroying our family. It started with one beer after a small moment of complete abstinence from alcohol or drugs. Within no time at all I was a raging drunk and in under six months I had lost everything I ever loved and I didn’t give a damn.
The more I didn’t give a damn, the more I drank. The more I drank the more my kids hated me, my lover hated me, my soon-to-be ex husband hated me. The more I drank the more every small piece of sanity I had left came unraveled. I lost job after job. I lost my homes, my cars, my relationships. I drank with my adult children. I drank with strangers. I couldn’t make it home from work without stopping a mile down the road to pound a beer from my cooler in my trunk before proceeding home to grab my tall boys. I had lovers and friends that were as many as the beers I pounded. I don’t remember much of them if any. All I know is that I left wreckage that I couldn’t stand to look at, so I drank more. My guilt was unbearable. I hated myself. I hated everyone and everything. There wasn’t enough alcohol in any store or bar to get me drunk enough to forget, that would take me away from me. It was pointless and so was my very existence.
This went on night after night, year after year, for six long years. I took my young daughter, who I had wanted so much and had fought so hard to get sober for, along on this ride with me. What a disaster and I couldn’t understand for the life of me why I couldn’t stop myself. The hatred ran too deep. No matter how many times she begged me to stop, I couldn’t.
Then came that night. The night they took me off that bar stool and I walked out into the cold dark early morning hours into the parking lot to stand face-to-face with an eleven-year-old girl, cold and sobbing, who had been standing outside that bar for hours trying to get me out of there. She was able to get a friend of mine (who was in AA) to come get me off that bar stool. Thank you God. That was May 10th, 2010. I haven’t had to have a drink since. Yet, even as I write this the tears flow remembering the pain. It never goes away and I hope it never does. I never want to forget because I never want to hurt others that deeply ever again. I loved my family, but alcohol was more important and it scares me to the very core to think that I could throw it all away one more time with just one drink. It terrifies me.
Fast forward to 2017. I have been blessed with sobriety for over seven years. I am here safe in my bed as I currently write this blog. My daughter is out enjoying her evening with her best friend and soon I will hear her come in and stop on her way to bed to give me a complete rundown of her night and kiss me. But, here in just the blink of an eye, that door will never open again and she will no longer come down that hall to share her day with me and love on me. I won’t see her big beautiful smile peek around my door or hear her laughter coming down the hall. I will wait up late for no one, because no one will be there. She will be gone. This sucks.
That day as I swung between the trees telling my friend Earl all of this, he patiently listened to me. I can still see him deep in thought as he looked into the heavens. I went on to explain it more in depth.
You see, my then husband back in 1998 was a rock I’d never known before. I was a beat up train wreck eaten up by the streets of Vegas. I had lived a rock star life and I was tired then. He offered me and my boys stability. I had left my fathers home in 1987 with a baby in my arms and I have been on my own since. I’m a strong woman, this I know. But, I never had to do it alone. I always had a reason to continue to fight the good fight. There was always someone there to remind me of why I existed. Now, it was just the face in the mirror that would be there.
I explained to Earl that when my then-husband left for war, I felt like the pillar that held our family up had been removed and I had been left in the middle of this family trying desperately to hold it up and do the job he had done for us for so long. I failed miserably as my home came crashing down. I felt weak and defeated.
Now, I knew I could do it without my ex-husband, but again something gnawed at me. You see, I had gotten sober all those years ago off of drugs because I was pregnant with a daughter I had wanted all my life and I had managed to not do drugs again. When I got sober from alcohol, it was her that I used as the reason to stay sober day in and day out. I was held accountable to her each day and my living amends to her and my children was to become the mother they deserved. They say I have. I think so too. But, she was the reason I subconsciously gave myself for staying sober all these years, and now like her father did back in 2004, this pillar was leaving me here to hold up the house. My biggest fear was that I would fail epically again.
I can still see the love that radiated from Earl’s eyes as I told him my darkest fears. I’m so grateful that I have these kinds of friends today that I can give my whole self to – where I can be my most vulnerable. Even after I have bore all this ugly venom for him to see, after I have exposed myself in ways that leave me feeling weak, I know that what he is about to share with me will be the truth and is only meant to help save my life. I trust him.
“You give her too much credit. You gave them all too much credit”, he says. “What about you? Where are you in the house?” He goes on to explain that she was but one pillar in my house. My ex was but one pillar in my house. They were not my house. They only helped to hold up what was mine to begin with. He goes on to ask why I can’t see the credit I deserve in all of this. I have done the work. I have built the foundation with my God for this new house to stand on in sunshine and in rain. The elements of time have already put that foundation to the test. Storms like I’ve never experienced before getting sober, have already rocked the very foundation itself and my house still stood.
I guess my fear was that if I removed a central pillar from that home, I was taking a huge risk at watching it all come crashing down. I had somehow made her my higher power like I had her father all those years ago, to a degree, without even knowing it. I had built the foundation to my new home with all my hard work in recovery. I knew things about myself now and the disease of alcoholism and addiction that I didn’t know when I left Vegas and drugs, or even when I tried to quit drinking before I ever really got started. I have a complete understanding of my condition today that I was blessed with through my consistent work on my recovery, not anyone else’s. I had met my God on his terms and put in the dirty work and had my own spiritual experience. This was my house and my journey. This wasn’t hers then and isn’t hers now.
Maybe my biggest fear isn’t necessarily being alone as much as it is that I could tear it all down once again if I forget where I came from, or I give my power to something other than my higher power or myself, or if I drink again and hurt the people I love the most. That’s what I’m the most afraid of. I never want to hurt someone like that again.
I somehow can get caught in brief moments of PTSD from my days of drinking and drugging, but who wouldn’t be having been through the levels of hell that we have had to go through to get sober in the first place? I can forget and I never want to. This is why it is so imperative that I stay connected to my program of recovery and my friends who live the same principles as me. They keep me real. They keep me honest with myself. They call my shit and they don’t let me feel sorry for myself for very long. They love me completely like no one has ever loved me before, because they understand me to my deepest core. They are me.
Recalling that afternoon by the river I can still see myself looking down at my friend from my hammock, who lovingly smiled his crooked little smile back at me. My fears are not real. They are imagined. They are produced in my own head. That smile of his just gets bigger. “You got this kid”, he says swaying back and forth in his hammock. I so needed this hammock time – Therapy 101.
~ Tami Harper Winn ~
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