Breakfast at Le Bateau Ivre

Once a month I find myself gravitating toward the most unique Coffee House/Cafe in Berkeley, CA. I discovered this special place for dining about eight years ago from the recommendation of a friend. This restaurant has long been known for its delicious cuisine and comfortable ambience. I am drawn to this café for breakfast because of the calm, peace and beauty I feel when dining alone in the fireplace room. I don’t know of any other restaurant like this in the Oakland/Berkeley area.

Yesterday morning it was unseasonably cold in the Bay Area. Bundled in my thick fleece coat, I was on my way for an appointment when I realized I had time to enjoy this mealtime pleasure. The moment I put my foot on the front brick steps I felt as though I was on holiday in France. From the cream colored lace drapes to the amber wood floors I was welcomed by coziness. The smell of Eucalyptus firewood invited me to the back room. I noticed a woman and a younger guy warming themselves by the raging yellow-orange flames. They had pulled their small round table all the way up next to the fire screen.

My first thought was, oh darn, they are hogging the heat. I was so cold I decided to leave my table and stand by the fireplace practically on top of them. I made a quick assessment, albeit unfairly, and thought, what a motley crew. I wondered, are you mother and son? The woman with her flushed face, was disheveled, wearing only a thin sweater with several stains and scarf, while her hair was uncombed and stuck up in peaks at the top of her head. The guy had Dreads half way down his back and appeared half asleep. On any other day I would have stayed at my own table, relaxing and enjoying the fire from a distance. Usually I don’t want to interact with anyone because the very reason I go to this restaurant is to be alone with my own thoughts and visions. I don’t believe in accidents and there was a reason I lingered by the fire.

The woman, I will call her Cathleen, said to me sweetly, “Would you like to join us for breakfast?”

The Co-Dependent Me answered, “Thank you, that would be lovely,” while I was thinking, pooh, I wish I hadn’t said that. Still, to this day 20 years into recovery, I don’t want to hurt people’s feelings. I thought of the two of them before myself; but as it turned out, it was serendipitous.

I didn’t even have to look at the creative menu to know what I wanted. Almost every time I go, I order the same thing; the sampler plate, consisting of two eggs, bacon or sausage, fruit and French toast. (They use special bread for their French toast.) It is yummy. The guy, I will call him Josh, ordered an omelet while Cathleen ordered a glass of Merlot; and no food. Josh asked her twice, “Aren’t you going to eat?” And then he asked again, “When are you going to eat?”

It was then that Cathleen started talking incessantly. She clarified that they had both had been up all night; not together, and that Josh was her neighbor. (I found out they barely knew each other and met on the street where they both live.) She had wanted to introduce him to Le Bateau Ivre. Josh is a musician and works painting houses. He indeed had been finishing the detail work on an apartment with a friend until the early morning hours. Cathleen’s hands were shaking but she managed to speak intelligently on so many subjects. We discovered we had known the same artists working in the 1970’s. I couldn’t deny I recognized all the signs of alcoholism in Cathleen’s mannerisms.

I have mentioned this before in some of my previous articles: I have to be very careful not to be swept up in the energy of others who are entrenched in their addictions, (whatever the addiction might be). It is almost as if I wear a light bulb on the top of my head. The light bulb goes off and signals to strangers who are into denial, but obviously addicted, that I am available to listen to their plight. I have come a long way since the days when I was equally as fixed in denial but at times I continue to be drawn to these individuals.

It is not uncommon for me to talk about my journey of healing, my documentary and web site. Yesterday I began spewing information without really realizing who I was talking to. Cathleen had many questions which I was happy to answer. She said very little about her personal life but I was quite impressed and interested in the plethora of knowledge she had about the arts. We exchanged phone numbers as I often do with fascinating people I meet. The shared breakfast was quite enjoyable and when the meter ran out I said goodbye.

Later on in the day Cathleen called me at 6:00 pm. She was very polite and appreciative for any time I could give her on the phone. Normally I am busy preparing dinner but last night my husband was out of town and Mariah and I had already eaten. I gladly took her call. I put on my ear phones and plopped myself down in the living room on my cushy sofa where I could be more comfortable. What proceeded was a two hour conversation. I am sure you have figured it out by now. She is in the depths of alcoholism, physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually a wreck, very close to bottom (if not there now.) I heard every detail of her life for the last twenty years. She, like all the rest of us with addictive personalities, denies the truth before her. Yes, she admits she has a drinking problem but the pain is so great, she is stuck in DEPRESSION and DENIAL. I started noticing about an hour into the conversation I was getting a terrible stomach ache. Stomach aches have always been my signal that there is an imbalance surfacing within me. I needed to confront her with the truth from my prospective.

“Cathleen, you are powerless over alcohol. You need help.”

She said she had tried AA and was terribly uncomfortable. I shared with her that it took 6 meetings at Al-Anon before I got the message. I hated the meetings at first. Then I suggested, individual counseling, group counseling, Adult Children of Alcoholics, self-help books and on and on. I could see, as I have so many times in my life, she wasn’t ready to listen.

This made me sad but I also knew that each of us has a choice to end the suffering and move, one step at a time, ahead, to a higher and better thought, a better place. There is a bottom to the bottomless pit. When one hits that space, you can only go up. The universe is willing, waiting and anxious for us to have the desire and faith that we can be balanced and well. It is our divine right to be healthy. But it is our individual responsibility to gather the courage to send the arrow of desire out to the world and declare our willingness to heal. The part that is so hard for most of us is; to be open and accepting that we have the right to heal and are capable of healing. We can learn to love ourselves no matter how devastating, embarrassing, painful, or incriminating our past has been. This I know for a fact, because I lived that desolation for the first 40 years of my life.

I finished my conversation with Cathleen and wished her well. After hanging up the phone I held the picture of her as a balanced, happy woman. My dream is that somewhere down the road she and I will again have breakfast at Le Bateau Ivre. I am visualizing the next time we meet she is healthy and vibrant and able to appreciate the Sampler Plate. I am so grateful to be alive and conscious. Wow, what a contrast between my old life and my new life. I am hoping that she too will feel this way soon and together we can share in the light of the fire.

Return to Top

The Road to Mariah

A Telephone Call That Changed Lives

As we are walking in the house my husband Bryan excitedly says, “The red light is blinking, pick it up, it might be someone important!” Underneath strewn clothes and luggage is an answering machine used for one purpose, calls with an 800 number from prospective birth mothers, nurse mid-wives, doctors, pregnancy crisis centers and anyone who might have information about adopting a baby. Although our search for an infant is well into the third year, I don’t want to pick up the phone today. Bryan is home for just two days; I have missed him terribly. He travels extensively as a marine engineer and is on his way to Japan for a ship overhaul after working in Louisiana for three weeks. I have been answering calls for months feeling nothing but disappointment and frustration. No, today I just want to enjoy our short time together and forget the difficult roller coaster ride we share.

Our journey toward adoption began when we circulated 4000 Dear Birthmother Letters stating our desire to adopt a child. Almost immediately this brochure found its way into the hands of a beautiful blonde Russian woman who approached us with a proposition we hadn’t considered. She offered to be a surrogate mother. Both Bryan and I had mixed opinions about this option. I think I was keener than he to accept her proposal because I felt it was providence. Galina was from Kiev, Russia the city my deceased father had immigrated from at the turn of the 20th century, plus the fact she looked exactly like a picture of my mother which hung in our family room for years.

We located a professional team at a center for surrogate parenting to help us with the details. Galina, Bryan and I spent months visiting a variety of legal, medical and psychological programs which included an infertility specialist, sperm laboratory, psychologist, attorney, and hospital. Each step was costly, time consuming and waiting became commonplace. Finally after about six month’s preparation we were ready for the big event, the first artificial insemination. Three days before the scheduled procedure Galina called with the horrible news that her twin brother had died in Russia. We didn’t know she had a brother.

After a gap of months, that we assumed was due to her mourning, Galina was ready to plan another attempt. This time her cycle of ovulation was to fall when Bryan would be overseas. He was emotionally and physically exhausted but agreed to fly home in the middle of his job. Again we were eagerly anticipating a baby coming into this world. It was not to be. Galina left us a devastating message on our answering machine that she couldn’t go through with it and that we were not to contact her for several weeks. We were both left in a state of shock. Our funds were depleted and we had lost a year of our lives.

Although discouraged, we began studying open adoption. We took classes, read books and watched videos. Visualizing our desires we made a photo scrapbook for prospective birthparents.

Unfortunately there were two more experiences that were hurtful and debilitating: One young woman who lived in Wisconsin convinced us we were the perfect parents for her unborn child due in four months. We traveled to meet her and were met by a social worker who was bewildered and confused. Apparently the birthmother was telling another couple the same thing and had been doing so for months. The second situation involved me driving by myself all night through a terrible rain storm (Bryan was out of town) to visit a woman who also said she wanted us as adoptive parents for the baby she would soon deliver. After weeks of indecision she decided I was too old to be a mother.

At this point I was almost ready to give up our dream.

I notice the clock reads 4:00 pm. “Oh, I guess I’ll answer it,” I say with trepidation.

A melodic voice clearly announces “Hello Bryan and Kay, I hope you are not out of town. I am Nurse Fisher calling you at noon on October 7th. We have a birthmother who has looked at the letters of several couples and she has chosen you to be the parents of her child. Please call us as soon as you get this message.”

We are stunned to silence. Slowly we come to our senses and Bryan says, “Call her back immediately!”

My heart is pounding as I am dialing the number. When the nurse answers I anxiously say, “We are delighted with your news. Tell me, when is the baby due?”

“Oh honey, one of our patients, a young woman of 15, has given birth to a baby girl this morning. How soon can you come to the hospital?”

We are smacked in the face with the knowledge that over night we are about to become parents! Our adoption counselor has told us we never know how or when a baby will arrive and we need to be prepared. Fortunately we believe her and we have a crib, a rocker and changing table. Bumping into each other we check off the layette items necessary for a newborn to leave the hospital. After quickly packing a bag for ourselves, and arranging animal care for our three cats, we grab the car seat and drive several hours to our destination.

As we approach the pale green maternity room I am thinking, “It begins now, the most gratifying experience of my life. At the age of 54 I am about to be a mother for the first time. I wonder how long it will be before I again get 8 hours sleep.” Around the corner I see a lovely teenager sitting up in bed. I feel an instant connection with this young woman. We have heard from other adoptive parents that they love their birthmothers immediately. I didn’t believe it until today! She feels like family; I want to hug her and cry.

The baby girl is nestled in the acrylic bassinette. My heart swells as I touch her sweet head filled with thick, straight black hair. She looks up at us with her eyes wide open and purrs like a kitten. I feel her say, “I’ve been waiting for you. So glad you are here.” For a long time I have felt the presence of a soul wanting to come to me. I am sure this is she.

It has been 12 years since that incredible phone call. We enjoy an open adoption with our daughter’s birthmother and grandparents. There is not a day that goes by I don’t think of this special woman with love and gratitude for her unselfish decision. The path to Mariah may have been paved with bends and bumps but it led us to the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, the gift of a precious child.

Return to Top

Living Rooms and Leaky Roofs

Instinctively, I knew something significant was about to happen this Saturday morning November 16th, 1985, but exactly what, I wasn’t sure. I climbed the ladder leading to the top of my inner-city cottage in a noble attempt to repair my leaky roof. Raindrops rhythmically filled the buckets in the back room as the biggest storm of the year began to descend upon San Francisco. My financial situation was bleak; I could not afford a professional roofer. Armed with ebony tar and plastic sheathing I attempted to hoist myself over the gutter. Unfortunately, I wasn’t tall enough. I never liked being short. And that day, I hated it. I also didn’t much like the fact that I was a single woman and must attack this task alone.

I combed the block to borrow a taller ladder but none of my neighbors were home. Then, I noticed the front door was open to the second story flat in the building directly across the street. I knew at least two guys lived there. Earlier in the summer they had flirted with me. I remember thinking how young they were compared to most of the folks who had been in the neighborhood forever. With trepidation I climbed the worn stairs to the apartment in the azure painted Victorian. I let myself in, walked down the long corridor to the main living room, and introduced myself to the stranger lounging on the sofa. He was shocked; he didn’t recognize me either.

Without hesitation I said, “I know you don’t know me, but will you please help me fix my roof?” There was a lengthy silence. I came to my senses and felt the flush of embarrassment. “Oh, I’ll understand if you don’t want to. I’ll wait for your roommates to get home. What time do you expect them?” They were the ones that had ‘come on’ to me, not this sandy-haired fellow who was now staring at me with a bewildered expression.

After an excruciating wait he said, “I’ll help you.” Slowly he got up from his relaxed position to change into coverall work clothes.

As he lingered in his bedroom I thought to myself, “Am I crazy? Am I pre-menopausal? Does this happen in middle-age; you lose your mind?”

As he walked out of his room he told me his name was Bryan and I told him I was Kay. He then proceeded with my eccentric request as though the labor was routine. He hauled the supplies to the roof while I frantically tried to straighten up my house. After some time he told me he needed more tar. I agreed to make the trip to the local hardware store.

What I neglected to tell Bryan was I didn’t have a car; the trip to the store was to be on foot. I was in a bind; I had less than $20 to my name and I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to make the purchase. Luckily I had just enough with a few bucks left over to buy each of us an apple fritter.

When I returned, my new acquaintance said, “Where have you been? The ladder fell away from the house and I have been waiting for hours!” He was stuck on the roof. It kept going from bad to worse. What could I do to thank him for his generosity? Lunch was out of the question; my refrigerator was empty, with the exception of ten bottles of nail polish. Varying from shades of mauve to darker mauve (they basically all looked alike) the bottles were lined up neatly in the portable vegetable crisper. There was no food! It was then I remembered the pastry. As Bryan washed his hands, having finished the repair, I offered the apple fritter. He said, “Sorry I don’t like apples.” I felt dejected and thought, “Who doesn’t like apples?”

Self-consciously I replied, “Well I wanted to do something womanly for you.” By the look on Bryan’s face I knew I had contracted ‘Foot in Mouth Disease.’ I’ll never forget his expression! I practically choked trying to cover up such a major faux pas. Something womanly indeed! What I meant was something involving baking, but you can’t make brownies with nail polish. It didn’t seem to matter that I had nothing reciprocal to offer. We talked in my kitchen for over an hour. I found him attractive and virile and I remember thinking, “What a nice guy; too bad he is at least a decade younger than I.”

When it was time for Bryan to leave, we paused at the front door. He said, “We have pizza parties at our apartment every week, would you come?”

I was flattered and at the same time a little sad. My answer was, “I am probably older than your mother.” I wasn’t kidding.

He replied, “That’s ridiculous. How old are you?”

I knew I would never need to tell my age because surely he wouldn’t pursue me after today. Shyly I responded, “I’ll tell you the next time we get together.”

He quickly said, “We don’t have to wait for pizza parties. Will you have dinner with me Monday night?”

I was dumbfounded. My answer was yes but I felt uneasy about my decision. The minute I heard Bryan walk down the steps I ran to the telephone to call my dear friend Rosemary. She gave me ‘thumbs up’ and encouraged the date. She said, “Go out and have fun; you don’t have to marry him!”

Monday morning I found a sopping note from Bryan on the front stoop. It said he was called to work on the ship and he had to cancel our dinner. I was disappointed and I am not sure I believed him. I thought he might have reconsidered because I was an older woman.

The phone rang Tuesday while I was giving myself a manicure. It was Bryan. He wanted to come over and hang out. Hang out? I wasn’t sure what that meant. I said yes and put away the polish. When he arrived I was fanning my wet nails in the air. He told me to finish the job; I didn’t have to stop to entertain him. The subject of my age came up. The words were stuck to my throat and I hesitantly coughed the answer, “I’m 44.”

“You are older than my mother but I’ve always dated older women.” I felt the floor sink beneath me. Bryan was 25 years old.

Our first official date was the following Saturday evening. As we sat on velvet paisley cushions on the floor of an authentic Moroccan restaurant, eating with our fingers, a tidal wave of energy flowed between us. Our feelings were raw and primitive yet noticeably familiar. We felt our connection was distinctive. After dinner we walked a few blocks to Ocean Beach. Luminous stars were dancing over the swell of the waves surging to the water’s edge. With our feet in shallow sand, Bryan kissed me for the first time. I was swallowed by passion, lost somewhere between confidence and panic. I was falling in love. Do I dare?

Within six weeks Bryan moved across the street to my house. I remember thinking, “If it doesn’t work out it will be easy for him to move; his inventory consists of a few clothes and a TV.” Almost immediately we began talking of marriage and sharing the rest of our lives together.

Before we could announce our engagement Bryan was adamant that he would tell his mother of our plans. The first time he flew to southern California alone for a weekend visit. When he returned Sunday morning I said, “Did you tell her, did you tell her?”

“I couldn’t,” was his reply. My heart sank. “You will have to meet her first.”

The very next weekend we both drove to Laguna. On the way there Bryan told me how he was going to break the news to his mom. He planned to take her shopping the next morning while I stayed with his aunt. I had a wicked stomachache the entire eight-hour trip. I didn’t sleep a wink that night and spent time in the bathroom vomiting. This was one of the most fretful days of my life.

Returning from their shopping trip Bryan’s mother looked like she had been to a funeral. She took the news hard but was gracious to me the rest of the weekend. When we were getting ready to return to San Francisco she said, “I remember telling Bryan he would never meet anyone sitting in his living room. This could be interesting having a peer for a daughter-in-law. At least we’ll have the same taste in music.”

Today Bryan’s mother and I have a great relationship as I do with his siblings. No one seems to be the least concerned about our age difference, just as it is with Bryan and me. I can honestly say we don’t even think about it, only perhaps when writing an article or seeing a celebrity couple in the news. Twelve years ago we adopted a beautiful baby girl at birth when I was 54 and this year we will celebrate our 23rd Anniversary. We both feel fortunate I needed my roof repaired that rainy day many years ago in San Francisco.

Return to Top

The Joy of Connections

An invitation unlike any I had ever received; brilliant orange and blue with a greyhound bounding through a large letter C, which stands for Clayton. I was being invited to my 50th Class Reunion in Clayton, Missouri a suburb of St. Louis. I was overwhelmed with a fusion of excitement, fear, wonder and curiosity. I could feel the rhythm of my heart, throbbing in my chest. I knew it was going to be a journey of emotions. Will I recognize my classmates, and they me? Is it possible to catch up with 50 years of living? Am I too scared to go alone? Giving it much thought, I decided to leave my teenage daughter and husband at home to fend for themselves. What I hadn’t anticipated about this trip, was finding buried treasure.

The community of Clayton, Missouri is unique. It always has been and is still today. Even as a child I knew I was fortunate to live in such a cosmopolitan city. But the fact of its sophistication seems to be lost on anyone who doesn’t live there. Having lived in California for the past 40 years I have often spoken of Clayton with fond remembrance. No one ever seems to have heard of this marvelous city but that doesn’t stop me from gloating about my past. Times were different in the 1940’s and 50’s when I attended Glenridge Elementary School and then went on to graduate in 1959 from Clayton High. Unfortunately our high school class wasn’t diverse ethnically; but the folks who were drawn to this community were liberal, open-minded and well-educated.

“I have nothing to wear!” I spoke dramatically out loud to myself. My days are spent in my studio/office and in my car. I wear the same clothes, although comfortable, over and over adnauseam. It just doesn’t feel right to wear fine clothing when there is a good chance of paint splattering or stains from dirt and dust clinging from soccer fields. I want to be comfortable when I work but for this special occasion, I knew right where to go to dress myself. In the village where I live there is a small shop run by a lovely woman who truly enjoys helping women feel confident in the clothes they choose. She imports garments from Paris and Canada from talented designers at a fifth of the cost of New York or L.A. It was great fun trying on many different outfits, mixing and matching, adding up to at least eight different looks. As I lined my bed with all my purchases, choosing jewelry to compliment each outfit, I had a flash-back. I had done this before in my teens with clothes I made for myself. I was in an entirely different state of mind back then; obsessive-compulsive.

I thought, “Today I am a healthy woman and am eager to reconnect with my dear school friends who were instrumental in grounding me during the years I spent growing up hiding secrets behind closed doors. Will they know how sick I was and are they aware of the unbalanced dynamics of my family life?”

The first day I arrived in St. Louis I rented a car and drove straight to my old neighborhood. It was amazingly as beautiful as I remembered it. When I turned left on Byron Street I was surprised to find that all the cars were pointing in same direction. It now was ONE WAY. It was surreal as I parked and got out of the car. There wasn’t a soul in sight. Do I have the right to investigate the premises? What will people think if they see a strange woman casing their property? It didn’t matter. I had to see where it all happened: my father’s death at age 45 when I was nine years old, the intruder who got away, denial of my brother’s illness, several hospitalizations, and alcoholism permeating our household. I found myself walking around the apartment building many times before I could focus on the windows at the back of the building. What had always seemed like a black hole amidst a sea of green trees now had a different story. I was able to stand there silently and forgive my parents and also forgive myself for any grievances and pain inflicted upon us.

Then I remembered the reason I came to Clayton; my reunion. What had saved my life (and not my brother John who committed suicide in 1988) was the loving link I had and still have with my neighbors and classmates. I needed to explore the area of my childhood where the roots had grown deep enough to carry me through years of codependency and then through many more years of therapy and on to wellness. Several of the parents of my schoolmates had helped out when they had become aware of the severe problems in our household. I was invited to slumber parties (that is what we called them then), dinners, and sometimes even weekend holidays. Because of the innocence of children these wonderful friends were not actually aware of what was going on in my home. It didn’t matter, they cared, and listened, played, made me laugh, and gave me hope for a better future. Because I was so often included with devoted families I actually believed that it could happen to me. I hung on to this picture for 30 years. The children themselves, now adults, I was about to see in just a few hours.

The first event of the weekend was a luncheon hosted by one of my oldest and dearest friends. Before arriving she had e-mailed me and said, “Kay, I have a surprise guest, just for you.” My reaction was, “What if I don’t recognize her! Help!” To my delight it was my college roommate from neighboring University City. We were roommates our freshman year at the University of Missouri, Columbia. I hadn’t seen her since I had been in her wedding about 48 years ago. Thus began the strange feeling that permeated the weekend. I was suspended in a time-warp, hovering between youth and adulthood. One by one our “girlfriends”, now many of whom are grandmothers anxiously joined the party. There were sighs of glee, little hugs and giant bear hugs, but most of all a shared feeling of connectedness. It was as if our friendship as children had carried us to this point today. Interestingly at this age, we didn’t talk about degrees, careers, children, or grandchildren. Our success has been in living our lives to the fullest with the fondest memories of our time spent together.

The atmosphere was electric at the spectacular kick-off cocktail party later that evening. Classmates, wearing picture nametags with their graduation photo, and many spouses, crowded together happily. As I looked around the room I saw the most youthful joyous faces. Then, as in a dream, the fleeting image of the collective group with gray hair, wrinkles, and extra pounds. But the reality was, everything had changed and nothing had changed. For the next few hours we were kids again.

Saturday night was the reunion dinner celebration at a lovely Italian restaurant. It felt like I was going to a ball. We chose our own seat at large round tables accommodating about 12-15 people. It was pointed out that at our table every person had gone to Glenridge, our elementary school. We passed large plates of food that contributed to the intimacy. It couldn’t have been better. After dinner we honored 17 of our classmates who have passed with a chime and a moment of silence. It was heartfelt and quite moving. We were then asked to speak for one minute to share the highlights of our life. One by one as we went around the room it seemed as though there was a light coming from within, illuminating each guest. Although I don’t remember the exact words that were spoken, I will never forget the flow of energy connecting the group. It is an honor and privilege to be a part of this special Clayton High School Class of 1959. I feel blessed.

Return to Top

I am Healthy

It is amazing to be able to say that! I will say it again, "I am a whole, happy, healthy, loving woman." I was sick for the first 40 years of my life. Like millions of other human beings I grew up immersed in the family disease of alcoholism. For generations it has plagued my family. The unbalanced life I led is so common in our society; I didn't know anything was wrong. I was a participant in the chaos, confusion, neuroses, pain and suffering which is present in dysfunctional families. I call it The Dance of Death.

I grew up in St. Louis, Missouri in the community of Clayton. The only memories I have of my father are when he would beat my brother and me with his belt so severely my clothes would cling to the bloody strap marks on my legs. He would make us wait for our "punishment" in our room before he dealt the ugly blows. My mother closed her eyes to what was happening. Both of them partied on weekends where I would find empty highball glasses scattered all over the living room. I had holes in the soles of my shoes while my mother would model a new diamond cocktail ring, winnings from a weekly poker game. My dad was also a compulsive gambler. He died at the age of 45 when I was nine years old.

My mother attracted another alcoholic to her life soon after my father's death. They had a symbiotic, codependent and alcoholic relationship. Every ten days they would consume a case of scotch which was delivered to our apartment from the local liquor store. My mother never appeared drunk but she was distant, selfish and narcissistic. My step father's disease had progressed to the point he was visibly drunk most evenings. His attitude was condescending, nasty and self righteous. He was verbally abusive and drove his car while intoxicated on many occasions. When I think back to that period of my history I remember keeping my personal life secret!!! I was ashamed of their behavior. I pretended all was well and I began developing neurotic habits for self preservation.

In my teens I danced several days after school, participated in theater groups, worked in a department store and had creative life in my head. I imagined the way I wanted my world to be and was in denial as to the truth in front of me. I became obsessive, compulsive and an over achiever. Because I worked so hard I accomplished a lot for a young girl but the reality was it was inspired by fear, insecurity and a need for control.

In college I devoted myself to art and earned a B.S. in Education and a M.A. in Painting and Ceramics from the University of Missouri. I was hired as a college instructor soon after graduate school. I felt "happy" for a time because I was away from home and involved in teaching. I took my job very seriously but the loneliness I felt when I was by myself was debilitating.

I longed for love... any kind. I didn't realize it at the time but I had never felt affection. I became preoccupied with thoughts of "men." I had guys on my mind constantly! I was popular and had many choices but I picked the ones who I thought needed me. Most often they were from dysfunctional families. I dated a lot of drunks during my 20's. It felt familiar. In spite of my success as an artist and a teacher, I had low self esteem and I knew something was wrong with me.

In l969 I began a new life in another city. Within a week of moving to Boston, Massachusetts, I was brutally raped and hospitalized. I never received help with this trauma and didn't properly grieve until years later. I pushed down the pain and was then, more than ever, resolved to create the perfect life for myself, (as if it were in my hands?)

This was made easy for me when Joey Haudel entered my life. He filled the position of my "Knight in Shining Armour," albeit, distorted. He was young, handsome, and alcoholic and had just been released from prison. We needed each other like ducks need water. We bonded in a codependent relationship that lasted 12 years.

Our experiences together were astounding. What I learned about myself was profound. Our journey is almost unbelievable. I have told this story in a dramatic narrative, I Survived: One Woman's Journey of Self Healing and Transformation on DVD. It is filled with the dark world of illness and moves to the light of wellness. I reached my bottom after years of suffering. I was contemplating suicide but was saved by the Grace of God and the dear voice of a telephone operator who kept me on the phone for over an hour.

I spent years in recovery; beginning with Al-Anon meetings in 1973, several series of Adult Children of Alcoholic Therapy Sessions, individual therapy with numerous therapists and devouring self help books. I had the courage to look within and face the demons. It wasn't easy and many times I wanted to quit. I often felt I was too crazy to get well. One step at a time I forged ahead and never looked back! I visualized a healthy prognosis. Today I am living that beautiful picture!

I am happily married to a man 19 years my junior. I am older than his mother. We just celebrated our 17th anniversary and continue to share the most fabulous life. We have one child, a precious daughter, who we adopted at birth 8 years ago. I was 54 at the time. I am grateful that I am able to be a good parent and relish every moment I spend with both of them as a family. Sometimes I almost gasp for air when I realize I am living a balanced life. Each day I thank God for the gifts I have been given.

Sadly, Joey wasn't as fortunate as I. He died at the age of 42. My dear friend Debra took her own life in 2002. She too was alcoholic. I feel their presence; they are the angels guiding me in my mission to inspire people to their own healing and recovery. Let's continue to get well. We are all loving souls on an enlightened path of a new way of being, HEALTHY.

Return to Top

The Art of Visualization

What is it in one's spirit that enables them to break the cycle of a dysfunctional pattern of living and choose to live a healthy life? Recently I was asked that question by a gentleman in my community. Each time I visited his vitamin store he insisted I talk about my healing.

"What is it within your psychology Kay that gave you the strength to stop your codependency and get well? I've lectured for many years on addictions and in my experience only a handful of people in an audience of several hundred were willing to see the truth, quit denying and begin recovery."

At first I gave him pat answers, "I was sick and tired of being sick and tired or I wanted a better life."

He would say, "No, go deeper. All those folks who were in my seminars wanted a better life but so few seemed to be able to change their unhealthy way of being. How did you do it?"

I've spent years working on myself in Al-Anon, therapy and A.C.A. groups. I have known for some time that my health is a gift from God and I have never taken it for granted. But truthfully I had never thought about exactly what inspired me to get well. I've lost many loved ones to death from alcoholism and drug abuse. Since I am the lone survivor of my immediate family, I pondered his question for weeks. Was I just lucky?

One quiet morning in my Oakland art studio I sat facing a blank canvas as I have done many times. As I began creating shapes and colors with my brush I glanced outside to the redwood trees and a story began forming in my head. It was if I were being guided to knowledge. I was being reminded of what I have done all my life beginning in my youth. I would visualize and imagine the beauty I wanted to surround myself with and how I wanted to live my life. It wasn't any different than painting a picture and building a sculpture except that the images stayed in my head and my heart instead of becoming alive on a painting or a drawing. As far back as I can remember I thought, assumed, and planned that I was going to be happy, have a wonderful family and a beautiful home.

I got up from the easel and took inventory of my surroundings. I have a fantastic husband, a precious daughter, a gorgeous home and best of all I am healthy! I practiced the art of visualization. No matter how ugly my home life was growing up, I never let go of my dreams of normalcy. Being an artist helped because I was able to let go and allow myself to create images that weren't there. I was able to do this in my everyday world, as crazy and sick as it was. I imagined and carried these thoughts with me always. These images were the positive in an otherwise negative world.

I was bursting because I knew I had found the answer to my friend's question. I hurried to the village to tell him what I had remembered.

"Really, if that is so;" he said, "then why did you become so sick with codependency? Didn't you say you were lost in a sea of despair for 20 years? What happened to your imaging?"

"I was brutally raped and hospitalized in 1969. This trauma sent me spiraling downward into the dark world of a codependent. I was already showing signs of illness before this brutal attack because I was born in the middle of a war, a war called alcoholism. But this incident was so devastating to my soul I quit visualizing and had absolutely no hope for the future. I was death walking. Once I stopped creating and imagining a better life for myself my world collapsed. I was powerless against the toxicity of codependency and focused all of my attention on my alcoholic partner. I have told this story, "I Survived: One Woman's Journey of Self-Healing and Transformation" on DVD.

All of us growing up in stressful environments, with alcoholism, drug abuse, or mental illness are candidates for addiction and codependency. This unbalanced way of living becomes as natural as breathing. It is possible to learn how to visualize and make it a part of our daily life. We can actually create our positive dreams. Of course this is accomplished by first opening your heart and having the belief that this is possible. This creative process is a form of miracle. I have taught meditation and visualization and I have seen it work, many, many times.

How to start? Don't panic when you think to yourself, "But I am not an artist." This important tool on the path of healing is a technique which can be taught. Yes, we all can do it and have fun while we are learning. Let's begin by making a Life Dream Plan.

Gather together as many different types of magazines as you can; what you might have around the house, from friends, or buy them at the store. Purchase a few pieces of poster board and have scissors and glue sticks handy. Start by cutting out pictures and words that appeal to you. You don't have to know why you like an image; just go with your feelings if you are drawn to it. Of course choose only images that are positive. You may also use photographs if you wish. When you have a stack of approximately 20, or more, proceed by gluing them on the board creating a unique collage. You may space them out or jam them together. Most people find this so pleasurable that they work until they are finished with a beautiful Life Dream Plan. This can take several hours to complete.

I have been making visualization collages for 25 years. You can never have too many. It is enjoyable to have Life Dream parties with a few friends. Sometimes you can share pictures. Because poster board is large and it might take over your apartment or house, a good idea is to have them reduced and laminated so that you can carry them with you or have them in surprise places like in your drawers. The most exciting thing about this endeavor is when situations start manifesting and you realize the ideas, pictures were on your poster. This method of creating your own reality is powerful.

Each day when I turn on my computer I see the magnificent stones of Stonehenge set against a light ultramarine sky. When I chose this picture I didn't know exactly where it was; I thought in Europe somewhere. I've been looking at this for over a year. When I travel with my family we use our time shares to trade for exotic places in the world. We tried to go to Italy this past summer but there were no resorts available. We were fortunate to exchange for England. On our journey between London and Cornwall was the ancient site of Stonehenge. We didn't have to go even one mile out of our way to see it. My subconscious mind was impressed with this amazing image day after day until it became a reality.

I'm off to work on a Life Dream Plan. What about you?

Return to Top

I Survived

In 1984 I experienced an intense psychological transformation. At the time I was in an Adult Children of Alcoholics therapy group. I chose to be there after years of individual therapy and 12 step programs. I remember thinking when I began the weekly sessions that this was going to be a piece of cake. Surely after years of introspection, I knew myself well.

It started the first evening. There were two therapists, a man and a woman, with six clients seated in a healing circle. A story was told. We were then asked individually to comment on our feelings. Terror gripped me. One woman sat in silence while we watched and waited. Another cried continuously. When it was my turn, I babbled foolishly realizing I didn't have the foggiest idea of what it meant to feel, especially while being scrutinized and on display. For my entire life the balance was lopsided with my thoughts, not my feelings, tipping the scale.

The realization that I was unable to feel, that I had denied everything in my reality and that I had lied to myself most of my life was debilitating. I was sick and overcome with fear. Experience for me had always been dramatic. Being in-group was just what I needed to trigger the pain. That evening was the beginning of an 18-month ordeal, which changed my life forever.

During that time, my past sped before my eyes, as I lay in bed, immobile. The room was dark; light hurt my eyes. My body ached. One week I would vomit incessantly, another I would have diarrhea constantly. I was ill. But what was wrong with me? I didn't have anything that could be cured with medicine. All I knew, I was suffering and wanted to die.

A death was occurring but not that of my body. My ideas and beliefs were crumbling. The negativity that I had buried for years was erupting like a toxic volcano. I was forced to face the webs and shadows of competition, self-destruction and addiction. It was all I knew. I was scared!

Despair appeared to me as a symbol in the form of a black rock. It represented darkness, inflexibility and rigidity. That part of me that I know as my ego self, felt there was absolutely no hope; no possibility of light. There was heaviness beyond description. I couldn't even lift my limbs. This went on for a long time. One day in my mind's eye, I noticed a tiny grain of sand on the black rock. I began focusing on the tiny crystalline speck and watched it begin to grow. It became a glimmer of hope.

Pain was multifaceted. Its symbol was a jagged piece of broken metal, which had movement. I was feeling all the aspects; from physical pain in my body to emotional pain for the loss of my beliefs. After years of denial, I seemed to be experiencing the sensations all at once. The only relief I had was when my cats would visit me in bed. What beauty. I began to invite them more and more.

Loneliness crept up on me. A circle of dim light hovered over my being. It stayed for days. I seemed to be swimming in an abyss of nothingness. After months of the most profound desolation, I heard a voice say, "It doesn't have to be this way."

At that moment the light brightened. I realized that when you try to hold on to something that no longer supports your highest good, you feel pain, despair, loneliness and frustration. It was time to move on. I could no longer ignore this situation. I needed to actively participate in the changes which were necessary for my soul's growth.

I had forgotten my true purpose for being. My ego self had been misguided for centuries; off the track. The loneliness and pain was the separation from my higher self. I had lost "myself."

I began practicing techniques for well being. At first this was difficult and only lasted a few moments. For example, if I were feeling sad because of a personal loss, I would acknowledge it, feel the hurt and allow myself perhaps an hour a day to grieve. Then I would find one thing of beauty to enrich my life. I might take time to read a good book, take a long hot bath or take a walk in nature. If I were feeling despair, I would call a friend to talk or seek a therapist for professional help. For loneliness I would meditate to beautiful music or play a variety of guided meditation tapes. I actually made a list of survival techniques and used it when ideas didn't spring to mind.

I became more open to letting life flow. I visualized myself as a vessel allowing ideas, situations, attitudes, and feelings to pour through me and out of me, not penetrate my being. Eventually I noticed I was spending more time with joyful thoughts than with despairing ones. I was on the road to recovery. I was reconnecting with my soul, my spirit, the God within. I give thanks everyday for this process.

These experiences were the beginning of a spiritual awakening for me. I am so grateful to have survived my ordeal and I do all that I can to nurture my inner development. I find that what begins on a personal level radiates outward toward global transformation and today I am committed to helping others on their journey toward spiritual growth. What about you?

Return to Top


I attended my first concert over 30 years ago. I was in the throes of a diseased, codependent relationship that lasted over 12 years. My alcoholic partner, Joey, and I were strolling on the Boston Common when we were approached by a guy who held out his hand and said, "How would you like two free tickets to a show that will change your life? The matinee is starting right now." We looked at each other and shrugged but had nothing better to do so we accepted his offer. We walked a mere two blocks through the flower laden park to the theater, took our seats in the balcony, and watched the lights dim. A svelte young woman, with wild curly hair, wearing hippy gear, walked to the piano. Through a thick haze of marijuana we were introduced to Carole King. With her first chord, the crowd went crazy. This amazing artist was just my age at the time, although I had never heard her music. I was enraptured as she belted out her lyrics.

Of the 2000 plus people in the audience, I was probably the only one not smoking a joint. I was terrified that the police were going to raid the auditorium and take us all to jail. I was definitely "Miss Priss," more concerned with what Joey was doing and thinking, than with the artistry on the stage. My stomach was in knots most of time, wondering what the next second would bring with my alcoholic partner. I spent every waking moment with thoughts of "him." I was so neurotic that I literally wrung my hands with worry. This special experience might have gone right by me, like everything else in my world, if it weren't for the fact that I was inhaling second hand smoke and was "stoned" myself. The "pot" allowed me to loosen up and chill out for a few hours.

Carole King performed her classic album, "Tapestry," which has sold over 11 million copies and was a 4x Grammy winner. She is a poet and a musician; her work is a gift to us. I purchased her record that day and I still have the original copy. I practically wore it out playing it. At the depth of my addiction her music soothed my soul. As I was getting well, her lyrics evoked pleasant memories or gave me a message that I needed to hear at just the right moment. Listening to her fascinating voice was therapeutic. I didn't have to work or analyze anything. I was just there, enjoying the pleasure of being and listening.

Recently I had the good fortune of seeing Carole King in concert in San Francisco on her "Love Makes the World" tour. As I sat down in the Masonic Auditorium, next to my wonderful husband Bryan, I noticed we occupied seats in the same area of the balcony that I had shared with Joey 33 years earlier. Carole sat at the piano facing the group just as she had done that spring day. The difference this time was her cozy "Living Room" arrangement on stage. It felt like de-ja-vu. Except, not. This time I was there as a healthy, clear-headed woman. All of us in the crowd were much older and there wasn't "dope" wafting in the air. For 2 1⁄2 hours we were transported to a magical world of melodious mystery. She did it again; captivated her audience and moved us to new heights. I was reminded of the beauty of music at all stages of growth.

Each of us creates our own life tapestry. The warp of our weaving represents our childhood, which often is dark and unbalanced. All of our experiences, both good and bad, color the art and give it strength. As we begin our journey of recovery the yarn becomes more brilliant, filling in the picture and making it whole. The richest threads are gold and silver. They symbolize the harmonious sounds of music, of all types, enriching our soul. The fabric of my life was altered that fateful day in Boston many years ago. I accept and experience the healing power of music. I am going to continue to let it carry me to a peaceful world. What about you?

Return to Top

Love From the Inside Out

Marin County, California was a haven in the 1970's for every type of self-actualizing plan imaginable. There were many groups ready to help you honor your inner-child, face your demons and learn to build self-esteem. I was overwhelmed with choices but I was open to experimenting because of what one woman shared with me. It was a day of awakening.

Janet walked into my ceramic studio with an unpleasant look on her face. She had just come from a workshop for a psychology class required for nursing school. In a whispered tone she said, "Kay, you won't believe what I experienced today. I was with a group of 20 classmates sitting in a circle on the floor. We each wrote our deepest secret on a tiny piece of paper which we folded and dropped onto the middle of the rug. The pile of notes was mixed and then we each proceeded to read aloud another student's mystery."

I don't know what I expected, but it certainly wasn't what I heard. My jaw dropped as Janet recalled the event. "One after another as we took our turn reading the secrets aloud, the group was stunned. On each folded sheet were written the words, I HATE MYSELF. Mine was the only statement that was positive."

She and I stood there staring at each other in disbelief. We had no idea that self-loathing was so widespread. She then asked me, "Kay, do you hate yourself?"

I choked on my answer. "No, I don't hate myself."

"Well, how do you feel?" Janet replied.

I remember wanting so much to be able to say the words, "I love myself" but I couldn't. What came out was, "I like myself." LIKE, that was the best I could do. I respected myself, but no, the love wasn't there.

It is easy to see how we have become this way. As souls living in a society which is riddled with alcoholism and drug abuse, we haven't had much of a chance to survive with loving attitudes towards ourselves and others. We have been continuously abused mentally, physically, emotionally, sexually and spiritually for many years. Almost every one of us has had a life filled with lies, chaos, and neglect. The simple act of being held as a child, or being listened to when we spoke, never happened. I doubt that you were ever kissed or hugged or told how special you were. Many of us were bloodily beaten and/or verbally criticized. These stamps of negative behavior formed what we believe to be the truth about ourselves. "We must be BAD to deserve this punishment." It is indeed a challenge to turn this around, but, one step at time we can return to LOVE. LOVE is our natural birthright.

Our Higher Power is guiding us to open to understanding the Laws of the Universe: LOVE is the purest form of energy; LOVE is truth; LOVE is unconditional; LOVE is all there is. When we learn to love ourselves we naturally will love others and they will love us, for we are all a part of each other... we are one. For centuries we have perpetuated a fear-based reality. It is time now to choose the highest feeling of love we can imagine. One by one, two by two, onward and upward, we shall create love in our lives beginning with ourselves.

How do we reprogram our beliefs? Here are a few ideas that helped me on my road to healing. Open yourself to the possibilities without judging what I am about to share. These are in addition to the work I did in Al-Anon, in self-help groups and with therapists. These constructive practices became a part of my daily life:

1. Find three photographs of yourself; one as a baby, one in your youth, and the third as an adult. Paste these on a pink board (the color of love.) The pictures are fine alone but it is okay to embellish the poster with hearts and/or other symbols which help you feel happy. Talk out loud, and/or mentally say the words, "I love you!" several times a day, while looking at the images. Even kiss the photos. Okay, I know some of you are croaking, LOL. Please, just trust and do it.

2. Fill a tub with water and throw in Epson Salts. Soak in this hot bath for as long as you can. At first you'll be quite uncomfortable and probably won't last longer than 5 minutes, but, eventually you'll be able to relax for a long time. This will help release toxins from your body as you spend time with yourself.

3. Repeat over and over, "I am whole, perfect, powerful, loving, strong, financially successful, harmonious, happy and healthy." This impresses your soul like a Tibetan prayer wheel.

4. With this one, I know you will think I am a certified Wacko, but here goes... Hug yourself; do it often, while saying the words, "I love you."

We are literally destroying ourselves, and consequently the world, with self-hatred. We spend most of our time searching for love. It escapes us, that we must love ourselves first. When we truly come from a place of self-love, our history will change. I can now say it, without reservation, "I love myself!" What about you?

Return to Top

Suicide: In Memory

Debra was radiant in her scarlet dress wrapped tautly over her swollen belly. Proudly she gave each guest a tour of the nursery, decorated in yellows and greens with love and care, as she awaited the birth of her first child. I commented to her friend Carol, "What a perfect day for a shower. The weather is beautiful." Carol and I were hosting this special event for Debra on April 10, 1988. Her baby was due the middle of May. We knew, as well as all her family and friends, she longed to be a mother. She had been planning her family since high school. As I drove the half hour drive home, I reflected what a superb day this had been. Debra was healthy and her dreams were coming true. I felt extremely close to her and was grateful I could honor her with a party.

Around 10:00 p.m. that evening the telephone rang. I was startled. The phone ringing after 9:00 p.m. has always bothered me. I chose to let the answering machine pick it up and I screened the call. At this time of my life I was doing commercial voice-overs. My message was an upbeat rhythmical ditty which might have been construed by some as annoying and commercial. I heard my sister-in-law say in a somber tone of voice, "Kay, you must get rid of that message." I picked up. "John is dead. He did it. He shot himself." I was paralyzed with the weight of her words! I don't think I have ever felt worse emotional pain in all of my life. My brother, age 45, my only sibling, had killed himself.

I had already experienced death. My mother, father and step-father all had died from complications due to alcoholism. Although I do believe that drug abuse and alcoholism are a form of suicide, this was different! The depth of my grief was indescribable. I do the best I can with thoughts of John, but, to this day I can't dwell on him for too long because it still hurts so badly. He was my baby brother, a devoted father, and a good soul who grew up with major distortions in his home life. Because I understood the nature of his disease, I had empathy for him and his decision.

John was troubled, beginning in his youth. He was the child who "acted out" his frustrations with the imbalanced life we led. In grade school he tormented other children, not with violence, but with incessant teasing. He craved love and attention and went out of his way to concoct methods of getting it. There was an underlying loneliness which I could detect. In high school, my brother was sick and bed ridden for several weeks. He had epilepsy (which was under control with drugs) and thrombophlebitis (blood clots.) It was recommended by his physician that he quit playing football a sport he loved. During his illness he plotted his future. He wanted to be a millionaire. He thought the path to a successful life was money. As soon as he was able, he began studying and working at a variety of sales jobs to accomplish his goals. He had a gift for marketing and a charismatic personality which enabled him to influence sales, whatever the product, and also impress women. He became quite popular, was well dressed and handsome. From outward appearances it looked like John would succeed.

His businesses grew rapidly; he married and started a family. I truly believe he wanted to flourish in relationships as much as work. But, he was crippled. He didn't know how. He loved being a father and did the best he could for his two young girls. They remember him fondly. On his tombstone it reads, "Greatest Dad." They were 10 and 11 when he died.

Although John didn't drink because of his epilepsy, he was a compulsive gambler. This disease accelerated during the early 1980's. Before his death, he was heavily in debt. Although none of our family knew, he was also addicted to "the businessman's cocktail; cocaine," and had become a heavy user. It didn't take long for him to slide into deep depression. His world began to deteriorate and he was in trouble with the law for the first time in his life.

I lived away from John, in different states, for many years. I wasn't aware of the seriousness of his addiction. Actually, no one was because my brother was expert at keeping secrets. The culmination of his disease was with his arrest for selling cocaine. The fact that he would go to prison exacerbated his sadness. He felt he could not survive incarceration. The fear, shame, and humiliation consumed him. He tried an overdose of pills and was unsuccessful. I didn't find out about this until weeks after the attempt. I begged John to go to NA, Al-Anon, or any 12-step program. He wouldn't confront the truth and remained in denial. I used myself as an example because; after all, we shared the same family background; all this to no avail. He actually tried again a second time, but his efforts were thwarted by a friend. This put him in Intensive Care for several weeks. It was there that I spoke with him for the last time. He said, "I wish I had spent more time with you; I love you Kay." The day he left the hospital, he was determined not to fail, and chose a gun. A precious life was over.

We were different in many ways, John and I. He didn't believe in God. He did not feel the guidance of a Higher Power and he did not have faith in the divinity of Love. Several years before my brother's death, I, too, reached the level of psychological depression to want to end my life. This event is detailed in my DVD, "I Survived: One Woman's Journey of Self-Healing and Transformation." I thought about it, but instead of acting on it, I reached out to Suicide Prevention and was saved by a voice on the telephone. A gentle man listened to my crying and enveloped me with understanding. The day I reached bottom, I knew I was dying. But, I heard the voice of God, the Brain of the Universe. I didn't give up. My transformation is documented in the article, "I Survived."

Debra and her family were loving and supportive when John died. She tried to help me come to grips with my sorrow. I had no idea that she herself was beginning the throes of addiction. It wasn't obvious. Debra was consumed with being a new mother and she excelled at the role. She seemed to handle the myriad jobs of motherhood without flinching. What no one knew was her reliance on wine to combat stress. She hid it well. There was no reason to suspect codependency or compulsive drinking, because Debra's parents are not alcoholic or drug users. Although not as common as when one grows up in a dysfunctional family, she was steadily becoming a closet drinker. I spent time with Debra after her first child, a beautiful girl, was born. I was in awe of her parenting skills. She seemed to always be confident with her decisions. Intuitively she was a loving parent and she had a great sense of humor. She and I spent much time on the phone conversing playfully. During these conversations Debra always wanted to know what I thought and felt about codependency, alcoholism and recovery. She would approach these subjects with curiosity. Whenever I would try to go deeper and ask her what she felt about these issues, she couldn't seem to answer. She would get the glazed look that I have seen so many times in my life; denial. But I didn't get it, for the only time I saw her drink was socially and never to excess. Having spent the majority of my years in a sick, unhealthy environment, I didn't suspect that Debra was in that place at all.

By the time her second child arrived, three years after the death of my brother, we were like sisters. She invited me to come to the hospital to await the birth of her son. I expected to be in the waiting room for hours. Instead, the nurse invited me to go to the labor room. It wasn't long before we moved to the delivery room where I joined her husband to witness this miracle. The energy in the room was electrifying. Debra gave birth naturally, without drugs, courageously. This was one of the most elevated spiritual experiences I have ever had. I am grateful to have shared it with my good friend.

The 1990's proved to be quite challenging for Debra. Her husband was transferred several times with his job and she was called upon to relocate her family. This was painful for her and by the time of her last move to Washington State in the late 90's her alcoholism had progressed dramatically. Her husband and children were living with a different person. But, all the rest of us, her friends in California, had no idea that she was sick.

All I knew, she was seeing a counselor for depression and I was happy for her. What I didn't know, she wasn't being honest about her drinking and the therapist had prescribed anti-depressants. She always sounded groggy and "out of it" on the phone. I began to worry and wonder what was "real" when we spoke. I found out much later, she mixed alcohol and prescription drugs for months. She was on a down hill slide which ended with a DUI. Finally, she was forced to get help. She entered a Residential Treatment Program ordered by the court. It wasn't long after she was sober; she relapsed and once again returned to an In-House Recovery Program. After that stint she was clean. The Debra I talked with on the phone was my long lost friend. I thought if anyone could make it, she would be the one. I was wrong. On September 5, 2002, she took her own life.

What has helped me reconcile Debra's death is that she communicates often with me through my dreams. They are quite real. She answers questions that I have, and generally leaves me feeling empowered by her presence. For those of us left behind, the effects of suicide can be devastating. I strongly urge grief counseling; it is never too late.

We need to talk about our feelings of loss. If it isn't possible to see a therapist, open up to a friend who will listen. There is someone who cares.

If you are thinking about killing yourself, you will feel like you are going crazy. You will be numb to the world. When temptation is looming in front of you, turn your back! Reach out; ask for help! Let us know how much you are suffering. We don't want to lose you! I know it isn't easy being here, but when you cross over to the other side you will be continuing your soul's journey. What you haven't healed here, you will need to work on there. Life is a continuum. It never ends. What we learn while in the body accelerates our spiritual growth. Don't give up!

I believe we are all one, all a part of each other. This is why I feel such pain from the loss of my brother and Debra. We are each others accumulated sorrows as well as our cumulative joys. When someone commits suicide, there is an open sore in our collective psyche. It can be healed. Each time one of us breaks the cycle and recovers, we help the whole of humanity. Each day, in every way, I thank God for the gift of Life. What about you?

Return to Top

Cat Lady

In Ancient Egypt cats were treated with great respect. One reason is religious: because the goddess Bast (a popular and revered God, and the protector of all cats) was worshipped in the form of a cat from 3200 BC and the second is secular: when the cat was domesticated around 2500 BC, they guarded royal granaries and kept them free from vermin that threatened the Egyptian's food supply. As far back as I can remember, I have had a love of felines. If you are a dog lover, half of us are, please don't stop reading. I have some cat tales I believe you will find interesting. If you are wondering, "How in the heck does this relate to recovery?" read on.

It all began with Ink Spot or Inky for short. I had begged my mother for years to let me have a cat. She always responded with, "We don't have enough room, our apartment is too small." I was determined I could care for a small animal on my own and continued to nag her until she gave in. My stepfather was actually on my side (one of the few times) because he, too, was fond of cats. They surprised me for my 10th birthday with a beautiful Persian cat, 16 weeks old. When he jumped out of the box and ran for cover he scared me because I had been imagining a small kitten. Inky was jet black and rather fluffy. This big, dark puff ball bolted under my bed and would not come out for hours. I was heart-sick because I couldn't believe I was finally allowed a pet and he didn't like me. I was so starved for love I think I expected an instantaneous bond. After awhile he came poking out from under the tattered white chenille spread, curious about his surroundings. That did it! He and I were inseparable. I would talk to him and share my problems. Whenever I was unfairly punished I would cry and he would literally lick my tears. He looked deep into my eyes as though he understood. Inky slept with me every night and would hide with me under the covers. He was by best friend. Just as the chaos intensified in our house my precious pet didn't come inside one evening. My dear Uncle Wally drove me all over town looking for him and after days of searching we found him dead at the side of the road. My pal was gone and I didn't even have a picture of him. It was many years before I would open my heart to another animal.

It was 1972, soon after Joey and I had moved to San Francisco and we both wanted a cat. At the time Joey was managing an apartment building and no pets were allowed. I was willing to wait until we began our new pottery business in Santa Rosa but Joey insisted. Out of fear, I would always do whatever he wanted even if it meant going against my better judgment. We searched the Want Ads and visited the local SPCA looking for a black cat. There was a small ad in the classified section that said, Kittens Free. We followed a woman's directions to a large abandoned tavern next to the defunct San Francisco Playland Amusement Park. It was strange and eerie. Although the bar was no longer functioning, it was set up and poised for anyone to have a drink. The woman who placed the ad, Bitsy, was no where to be found. We just sort of wandered about aimlessly and on occasion would go outside and check the address to make sure we had gotten it right. We began calling her name and soon a tiny, shriveled woman, made her entrance from a dim back room. I said, "Are you Bitsy? Do you have kittens?" She didn't answer me, just grunted and motioned for us to follow her. We actually had to lean down, and crawl through a space pushing open a low creaking door that would stick periodically. Shockingly at least 30 adult cats occupied this dusty supply closet. They were jumping and running everywhere, just narrowly missing our heads. It was scary! Just as I was about to leave Bitsy climbed up on a loft and yanked a tiny black kitten from its mother's nipples. I said, "Is she old enough to leave her mother?" Bitsy replied, "Oh sure!" I am convinced she had so many cats she didn't care if the kitten was too young. She was taking every opportunity she had to find homes for the litter. When Bitsy placed this little baby in my hands the kitten didn't even fill my palm.

Just like everything else up to that point in time, I didn't have the guts to say, "This kitten is too young to take home." We took her and left. For the next few weeks we were Eva's surrogate mother. Joey and I worked together to nurture this tiny creature and help her stabilize. We fed her from a doll's baby bottle and kept her warm with towels. After about one month of care, she began eating and drinking on her own. Since I hadn't had the chance to be a mother myself, this experience proved to be rewarding. I wanted another cat. Within days of my wish we acquired Ethyl, a calico Manx, a wonderful addition to our feline family.

Soon it was moving day to an old western tavern dating from the late 1800's in Santa Rosa where we planned to build a pottery. We found ourselves in an outrageous situation when we arrived to the building that was to double as our future business and home. The guts had been removed and the space was trashed. We lived there for 6 months without heat or hot water. I have documented this unbelievable story in I Survived: One Woman's Journey of Self-Healing and Transformation on DVD. The day we moved in and discovered this horror; we also were gifted with a special omen: a beautiful white bunny who had been abandoned and left on our doorstep. Ethyl and Eva became fast friends with this friendly rabbit. We named him Peter and found out a few years later he should have been named Peterina. This was told to us by a woman who came into our life in the most unusual way: After the Santa Rosa debacle, we moved to an apartment in Fairfax, western Marin County, CA. The two cats were allowed but not the bunny rabbit. We felt so responsible for the care and feeding of this beautiful guy Peter that we would drive to Santa Rosa, 1⁄2 hour each way, everyday to feed him. It was getting tiring. I happened to be in the bank and overheard a woman tell the banker that she wanted a bunny for her daughter. I am not kidding! And, it wasn't even close to Easter. I introduced myself and explained our situation. She said, "I would love Peter Rabbit for my little girl." She even drove there to pick him up. We kept in touch for several years and it was she who told me she purchased another male rabbit for companionship and "lo and behold," Peter had babies several times.

About the same time a girl, where I worked, heard me talking about Ethyl, the Manx. She brought a box to my house with a special little black Manx kitty rollicking inside. I couldn't resist him. Although I knew better, I just had to add to our family of cats. Now we had three babies. (See picture of Joey with Eva, Ethyl and Edgar.) I began learning the joys of sharing a life with such special pets. We had three young ones at the same time and we felt privileged to watch their antics when we were at home in the evenings.

One morning when Joey and I were off to Clay in Mind, our ceramic studio, we found a silky ebony cat asleep in the back seat of our Ford Pinto. He was adorable when we awakened him. He yawned, stretched, and it seemed like he was talking to us: Hey you guys, well your window was open and I needed a warm cozy spot to sleep so I helped myself. I hope you don't mind. I didn't make a mess. I hated to have to put him out of the car to leave, he looked so comfortable.

As we drove away I watched him find a cool spot on the concrete in the corner of the car port. I thought about him all day. When we returned that night he was still there. I couldn't bear to see him hanging out like that. Although we were way over our limit as to pets, Joey and I agreed we would at least feed him, but not bring him in with the other three. We lived in a third floor walk-up and the stairwell was open all the way to our apartment. He followed us upstairs without hesitation. I fed him outside our door and then he left. For the next few weeks he would show up early in the morning and scratch loudly, or cry, until he got his food. He repeated this in the evening, no matter how late we returned.

I decided to try and locate his owner, if he had one. I scoured the neighborhood asking questions and was led to a residence down the street. The stray cat was right at my heels when I approached this mysterious looking building. He hung near me as if he knew something was coming. I rang the bell several times and finally a guy in his underpants answered the door. Just as he was about to speak, a hefty black dog came charging and barking out of the house. The little cat went flying up my long shirt. Ouch! We two adults and two animals were screeching in horror, with the dog's leash flailing in circles. What a sight! Finally, the owner of the dog managed to yank him inside. The cat jumped down from my waist and took off like lightning. Now I knew where he lived. The guy in skivvies said, "Oh, so that is where Skip has been? Yeah, I got this dog and the cat never came home again. I wondered what happened. Do you want him?"

"Do I want him, do I want him! Well, I certainly know he isn't going to stay with you," I thought.

"I already have three cats, but I will feed him and see what I can do to find him a good home."

We continued our same feeding ritual for months. It was when Joey and I were going to San Diego for a week, it all changed. The woman who was going to cat-sit for us came by to meet our feline family. I told her the situation with Tasha (we had named him by now) and she said, "Oh, there is no way this cat is going to come up three flights of stairs exactly when I come once a day. We'll just have to leave him inside."

"Yee Gods," I said. "Won't they all fight and kill each other? Our apartment is so small."

"Nope, leave it to me. I am the original cat lady. They will be fine!" We did just as she said and the cats survived without a problem. We now had a furry family of four! They accepted each other as brothers and sisters. It was I who had the fear of assimilation. We spent many happy years with Eva, Ethyl, Edgar and Tasha.

In 1979 Joey and I moved to a historic street in San Francisco. The home we purchased was one of the only single family dwellings on the block. There were several brownstones and apartment buildings. I wasn't aware how often people moved out and just left their pets, especially cats. The day we arrived with our furniture we were greeted by three stray cats crying at our back door. I was a "sucker" for unwanted animals. It broke my heart. I thought, "What do we do now?" At first we didn't do anything and just tried to ignore them while our brood of four would sit at the backdoor for hours hissing at the strangers outside. Our cats had lived inside since we had first gotten them. I started noticing that one of the neighbors in the building next door would put out a can of wet food about once a week! Once a week wasn't going to "cut it" for these poor creatures. I decided I would feed the strays downstairs twice a day just as I did our cats. So, up and down I went to the basement with wet food, dry food and bowls of water. We officially had two separate cat families.

One day I was outside and I spoke with the neighbor and asked her if she knew who had owned the cats. Her reply was, "Yes, there was a woman who lived in your house for many years and she loved her cat Penny, the one that resembles a raccoon."

"What happened to her," I said.

"The old lady went to a nursing home and when her attorney came to get her cat I hid her because I didn't want them to take her to a shelter."

I was speechless, because in my opinion it would have been better to let a shelter find a nice home for a cat then to have her starve outside for days or weeks. I learned right then that when you live in a crowded city you will meet a variety of people with differing views about the care and feeding of animals.

She told me that the other two abandoned cats had recently joined Penny in her crusade to get back inside the house where she had lived for so many years. We decided that since we had taken the responsibility for the outdoor crew we would name Penny's cohorts Thelma and Spotty. These guys spent their time lounging on the deck in the sun while our four would sit at the backdoor watching them in envy. It was a pitiful sight. It wasn't long before Joey and I decided we would let our indoor cats out for at least a few hours a day. I was panicked because I had seen Spotty wandering the streets of San Francisco many times and I didn't want him teaching our pampered ones his tricks. But, when I saw how happy they all were together, I caved. I learned if you just give the animals time to get to know each other, they will do fine.

During these years I was a dreadfully sick woman. I was in denial as to the depth of Joey's and my illness. I was struggling to make a living as an actress and an artist. I learned to put on a good show and I kept my pain hidden from most of my peers. Because I couldn't bare the life I was leading, cats became the focus of my attention. They are pure love. I truly believe that animals are gifts to us from God. They would sleep with us, curl up on the sofa purring constantly, and all of them seemed to look into my eyes with a depth of understanding that was reassuring. I enjoyed nurturing them and received great comfort in their presence. Without knowing what I was doing, I continued to add this form of love to my life.

The deck on the back of our house was butted up against the next door neighbor's property; I could practically see into their living room. One day I sauntered outside and a magnificent white Persian cat was staring at me. She started crying and I knew she wanted attention. There was a fence creating the boundary between our two residences. I couldn't get to her and it didn't matter anyway because she obviously belonged to the guy who lived next door. I thought she was beautiful and I wished I could pet her. Unfortunately her crying and hanging outside her door went on all day, everyday.

One night I introduced myself to the young man I thought owned the white Persian. I told him how she was lonely, had no other cats to play with, and I invited her to join the troops at my house. He said, "Oh that would be great. I am a student and between school and work I am gone a lot. Her name is Lady Buffington, Buffy for short. She is 14 years old and I have had her since she was a kitten. I brought her from New Orleans when I moved to San Francisco. We weren't here even a week when she escaped, climbed up to the roof and fell down two stories to the ground breaking her jaw. Oh my gosh, she has been through so much during her lifetime. She has had several operations and serious illnesses. That would be so kind of you if you don't mind." We carved a hole in the fence and Buffy lunged through immediately.

Only, Buffy wasn't happy being outside with the rest of the gang. No, she wanted to be with me. She followed me everywhere and wanted my attention all the time. I adored her so I didn't care. I felt we had a special bond. I found some beautiful stationery and wrote a letter from my heart asking if there was any chance this young man would let me have Buffy for the rest of her life. I was nervous about delivering the note because I thought it was presumptuous of me, but I felt compelled. Much to my surprise this is what he said, "I was hoping you would ask. I love her but I have seen how she relates to you. But I would like something in return. I am fond of your outdoor cat Thelma. What if we trade?" It was just that simple; we did it. Buffy loved it at our house and Thelma was a queen next door.

It was late spring when Eva, our first, was 9 years old and her time to go. I hadn't lost a cat since my childhood when Inky died. Just a few hours after I had her euthanatized I was standing at the back door thinking of her with great sadness. I was looking at our overgrown garden filled with rich emerald ferns when I heard a little peep/squeak. I thought I was hearing things, but it sounded like a baby kitten. I called Joey and asked him to listen with me. Oh yeah, the chirping continued. We ventured outside and plowed through the dense foliage to find a small, thin black cat that had just given birth to a baby black cat. It was uncanny, on the day of Eva's death.

As we approached the duo the feral mother cat ran away. She was so tiny she looked like a kitten herself. Her baby was left on the ground. We had already been through this once before with Eva; we weren't about to raise another kitten. But, what were we to do? We decided to bring food out to the very spot where she had given birth in the ferns. We made chicken soup, yes, I know it sounds crazy, but soup it was indeed. The little mother came back and devoured anything we brought her and continued to nurse her newborn kitten. She was too frightened to let us near her and would run away as we approached with the food. But, then shortly thereafter, she would return and gobble her meals. We knew we needed to find a home for the baby at about eight weeks old if she were ever to have a chance. We weren't quite sure what was going to happen to Little Mother.

My girlfriend agreed to adopt the black kitten who looked just like Eva. The most horrible thing happened after my friend left. Little Mother grieved deeply; she cried a long, low, desperate shrill for days. I tried several times to corral her with no luck. When I finally thought I had her, she took off and scurried up a hole in the neighbor's house and became lodged between the walls. It kept going from bad to worse. After days of hiding she climbed out to eat. I slowly began moving the food closer to the basement where I fed the downstairs crew. This took weeks of work and much patience. But, it worked! Little Mother was now a part of a family.

I could never hold her therefore I was unable to have her spayed. One year later she gave birth again to one black kitten. This time she allowed me to make a special spot for her in the basement and she seemed grateful to use it for birthing and then to raise her baby. I knew it was time to try and find her a home. I put an ad in the local paper, prayed that a miracle would happen and someone would take an undomesticated cat and her kitten. My friends said I was crazy and that no one would want any part of that package. Never say never; a woman and her son read my truthful ad and agreed to take them both. Getting them to their home was a chore! They almost brought them back when Little Mother became wild, jumping and scratching, all over an enclosed bathroom. But, for some reason, the nice family hung in there and put Little Mother in their garage, much like our basement, where she lived for many years. Amazingly, she gave birth EACH spring to one black kitten.

A Cat Lady has cat stories. The ones that I will share next time I find truly incredible. The most astonishing are when I am on the path to recovery and have a family with Bryan and Mariah. To be continued...

Return to Top

Denial is the Disease

As far back as I can remember alcohol permeated my life. Although I didn't know it at the time, it was the more important than family. My earliest memories were of this strange smelling substance that my family drank, talked about, and couldn't seem to live without. I can picture myself as a toddler stumbling out to the unkempt living room early in the morning on weekends. With chubby little fingers I would lift the highball glasses strewn about the room to my lips. I would drink any sauce left from the night before. I thought the liquid tasted like medicine and found the pungent flavor alternately disgusting and exciting. After all, this is what my parents drank when they partied on Friday and Saturday evenings. I wasn't allowed in the room, was put to bed quite early, but I could hear the whooping and hollering mixed with sounds from the record player. I always felt I was missing out on the fun and was trapped in my room for hours. Of course nothing was cleaned up or put away after a night of drinking so my brother and I had a blast playing games with melted ice and the heaps of cigarette butts left in the ashtrays. The bottles were usually empty but we managed to tilt them far enough over to taste the drippings. We thought this was entertaining. When it was pointed out to my mother by one of her friends that drinking the residue of mixed alcoholic cocktails might not be a good idea for her young children she replied, "There is nothing left in those glasses. It won't hurt them." DENIAL

After my father's death my mother was in a fog most of the time. Although I was only 9 years old I made excuses for her behavior and covered for her when any of my friend's parents would inquire about her well being. She welcomed the advances of the new man in her life who eventually became my stepfather. Together they would drink a case of scotch every week to ten days. Their libations would be delivered to them personally by the local liquor store owner, even in a snow storm. He would trudge up the three flights of stairs to our apartment to make sure his best customers were satisfied. Although my mother never appeared drunk, (she had the constitution to maintain well,) my stepfather was on the floor often. Since he was a huge man, and couldn't be picked up, we would just step over him. He would drive while under the influence and the two of them would force me to ride in the car to help with the directions. I protested, "I don't want to drive with a drunk and be killed." My mother's answer was, "Get in. Don't be so dramatic!" It was only when he ran over the maintenance man's foot that my mother quit defending him vocally. DENIAL

It was quite warm one summer night in Missouri where I grew up. It was the year of my 13th birthday. I was taking a cool bath while my mother and stepfather were sequestered in their bedroom. I remember I was singing in the tub which was unusual for me because I did not have a pleasing voice. I must have been in a good mood. The window was open wide and the curtains were blowing slightly from a breeze which was welcomed in the heat. I stood up in the tub to dry myself when I noticed a man's arm coming through the bathroom window. I began screaming and dropped to the floor. I was petrified! I wrapped the towel around me and crawled to the door. With shaky hands I unlocked the lock and ran to my mother's room. Banging on the door I yelled, "Someone is trying to break in our house. Help mother, help!" At first they didn't answer. When I hysterically kept repeating myself she finally opened the door. I told her exactly what had happened and what I saw, over and over again, only to get blank stares from both of them. They didn't believe me. They told me I was overreacting and needed to go to my room. I dejectedly hid under the covers in bed the rest of the night. The following morning the maintenance man knocked on our door and said that the screen from the bathroom window was found under the steps with a hole cut over the hook that held the screen in place. My mother hadn't even noticed that the screen was missing. She never acknowledged that my fear was real. DENIAL

It was the fall of 1970 when I first met Joey. I had only known him a few weeks when he paid a surprise visit to my classroom where I was teaching art in Lexington, Massachusetts. It was toward the end of the school day when I looked up at the door and saw a belligerent young man accompanied by his buddy, an older gentleman, who was three sheets to the wind. I panicked! What was I to do? This was a conservative community and I took my job quite seriously. The two of them sauntered into the room as if they were headed for a party. I walked over to them and as quickly as possible ushered them out into the hall. All the students were staring and watching the drama. It wasn't easy. On the way out Joey slurred, "Hey, Ms. Kopit, we came to pick you up." It had been snowing all day and when I looked outside it seemed as though my car was almost buried. I told the duo to go wait in Joey's car until the last class was over. I saw the principal eyeing them suspiciously as they disappeared down the hall. The bell rang just as I returned to the classroom. No one was saying a word. The silence was deafening. All the students marched out quietly except one girl who lingered by my desk. "Is that your boyfriend Ms. Kopit?" She then added, "He is drunk." "No he isn't, "I said. "But, his friend is." DENIAL

The snowstorm outside was more like a blizzard. When I reached Joey's car with the top down, (which I later found out was a stolen Triumph,) the two wacko's were oblivious to the mound of snow covering their heads. I said, "You can't go home in this convertible; you can drive with me in my VW Bug." They peeled themselves from the open, snow covered, sports car and both got into my vehicle, with Joey diving for the driver's seat. I asked him repeatedly to move. "Get out Joey, I will drive!" No matter how much I pleaded he wasn't about to move. Finally I climbed in the back seat and prayed we would get to Boston from the burbs safely. That ride was one of the scariest of my life! I remember screaming no less than three times when Joey almost side-swiped a car, narrowly missed a center divider (I actually took the wheel and steered us to safety,) and I freaked as he skidded across the pavement when he was trying to land in Somerville, several miles from our destination. Instead of Boston, where I lived, we stopped at the Triangle, a corner that housed three separate taverns where the locals would play "Musical Bars" until closing. I was so glad to be alive I didn't care where we were. The two of them vanished into one of the three saloons. I waited and waited, frozen to the bone. Instead of driving myself home, I went looking for the pair. They were happy to see me when I entered the smoke-filled space because they had run out of money. For the rest of the evening rounds of booze continued to be served and I was the one paying the tab. I didn't even question it. I just did it! DENIAL

In 1980, after my thoughts of suicide, see "Opportunity," I was still hanging on to my unbalanced beliefs. Joey was gone most of the time and I spent several hours a day pacing in front of the large picture window in the front room of our house in San Francisco. I was waiting for him to come home. It was pathetic. I would count the cars that past and would jump up whenever I heard an approaching vehicle. One night I heard him walk slowly up the stairs and he entered in a daze. "I just totaled the Pinto," he said. "What" I was in shock. Rambling he stated, "I was driving down Delores Street and I hit a tree head-on." I pleaded for more of an explanation. "Did you hit another car, or hurt anyone." "No, and no one saw the accident." I said, "No one saw the accident. Are you crazy? Delores Street is one of the biggest streets in the city. Where is the car now?" He hung his head and answered, "I managed to drive it a few blocks away where it died." DENIAL

It was this incident that drove me to the next insane act. After 10 years of marriage I tried to commit Joey to a hospital. I actually visited three emergency rooms that evening, hoping and praying someone could help me, help him. I'll never forget one of the nurses dressed in starchy white. She told me that the hospital would only keep him for 72 hours and then he would be released. Actually, they all told me that but I didn't believe them until I spoke with this nurse. I wanted some relief from the insanity I was living with him and I wanted it to be permanent, not for just three days. I remember I began spewing everything crazy he had done in a list that would have frightened the devil. I couldn't stop; it was as if I had gone mad. The nurse turned to me and said, "Are you all right?" "Am I all right, am I all right? I am not the one getting drunk everyday, stealing, and crashing cars. What do you mean am I all right?" I was so angry with her! I had tried in every way to be a good person and a good wife and she was asking me, was I okay? DENIAL

My dear friend and publicist, Rhonda Boudreaux, has her tale of denial. In her words here it is:

When you think of it we are all in some sort of denial, either protecting a loved one or protecting ourselves from ourselves. My denial started at a very young age and went on for many years. I grew up with alcoholics: my father, grandfather, grandmother and just about every uncle and aunt on my mother's side of the family. There was no family gathering that didn't involve alcohol. The pattern was set early on for me. My father was a binge drinker; he would go for years without drinking and then some event, such as a divorce (he was married 9 times) or a big gambling lose would trigger a six month drunk. My father and mother were divorced when I was 18 months old. I didn't see him as much as I wanted to, so it didn't matter that my father was drunk more than not when I finally would see him. I felt sorry for him because he would cry a hurtful cry. In my mind I made excuses for his drinking. I was in denial before I was old enough to go to school.

I started "real" drinking at age 17 after the birth of my first son. My then husband was in a band and I was allowed to go in the bars with him. I was actually drunk every weekend for about 5 years. Because I was a binge and weekend drinker, I was in total denial and truly believed my excuse to drink was validated by the abuse of my then husband. When my youngest son was born with a birth defect I hit autopilot and quit drinking for 6 years. During my divorce, after 18 years of abuse and 6 years of sobriety, I felt free again and hit the bars. Why not, my father drank to ease the pain? I didn't have a problem with alcohol and could stop any time I wanted, I just didn't want to, yet.

When I was confronted about my drinking by loved ones and close friends, I was destroyed, not at the thought of being an alcoholic, but by their accusations. I really believed there wasn't a problem. My reaction was shock, denial and indignation. I would have passed a lie detector test if I were asked if there was a drinking problem in my life. I honestly believed that it wasn't true, and that I was being totally misunderstood.

My mother told me I acted like my Aunt Barbara June, another alcoholic in my family. I think that was when it hit me. You would have to know my aunt but her alcoholic actions and the fact that no one could be around her because she was drunk all the time, opened not only my eyes but also my heart. I have not had a drink for many years but I miss the buzz from a couple of glasses of good wine. I still, to this day, tell myself that I can have just one glass; denial is always there in a smaller way. I know I can't have just one glass of any alcohol. Admitting my denial is the hardest part of getting well.


We, as a nation, are in denial about almost everything, not just about drugs and alcohol. When the truth is right in front of our face, we don't believe it, we deny it. I believe it is a toxicity that affects the core of our universal mind. We are destroying ourselves and our planet because it has been too painful to accept what our souls know to be right. It is time now to stand up and be STRONG. We need to have the courage to accept the truth and the reality of what we are doing to ourselves and our mother earth.

The United States has the highest growth rates of any industrialized country in the world. The U.S. population is growing by 3.2 million people each year. Since 1980, the U.S. has converted more than 10 million acres of forest to suburb, an area twice as large as Yellowstone, Everglades, Shenandoah, and Yosemite National Parks combined. Growing populations demand more food, goods, services and space. Our advertising industry with their glitzy and false ads, encourage us to acquire products we don't need. The underlying message is that getting more, having more, and using more will produce happiness. The pressure is on to accumulate things no matter what the cost. And, the cost has been astronomical!

Our natural resources are rapidly shrinking. The oil and gas we depend on is running out. At the same time our demand for energy has skyrocketed. On April 18, 1977, President Jimmy Carter gave an insightful televised speech to our country ("Jimmy Carter, The American Experience") urging us to face the truth that, "Ours is the most wasteful nation on earth. We waste more energy than we import." He began his speech by saying, "Tonight I want to have an unpleasant talk with you about a problem unprecedented in our history. With the exception of preventing war, this is the greatest challenge our country will face during our lifetimes. The energy crisis has not yet overwhelmed us, but it will if we do not act quickly. It is a problem we will not solve in the next few years, and it is likely to get progressively worse through the rest of this century. We must not be selfish or timid if we hope to have a decent world for our children and grandchildren. We simply must balance our demand for energy with our rapidly shrinking resources."

President Carter presented his energy plan to Congress. His communication drew a strong reaction from special interest groups, the Saudis and the oil industry, suggesting that there was no energy problem at all. He said, "We can be sure that all the special interest groups in the country will attack the part of the plan that affects them directly. They will say that sacrifice is fine, as long as other people do it, but that their sacrifice is unreasonable, or unfair, or harmful to the country. If they succeed, then the burden on the ordinary citizen, who is not organized into an interest group, would be crushing." Today, 28 years later, we are living his predictions. We are in a mess. We have DENIED the truth.

I urge each of you to read the brilliant work of Thom Hartmann, "Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight." I was so moved by this book that I purchased 10 of them and passed them on to my friends asking that they in turn pass the book on. Thom Hartmann is an author and an educator who comes from a place of love and peace while at the same time offers facts and figures we cannot DENY.

Let's start with ourselves. I am going to take off my rose colored glasses today. What about you?

Return to Top

Magic of Believing

At Christmas time all my friends seemed happy, friendly and excited for the big day when Santa Claus would deliver presents to their house.  My father was Jewish and my mother gentile which was why when I was growing up Christmas was more of a celebration of family getting together, eating, drinking, and exchanging presents, than a religious holiday.  As a child I didn"t know the difference, I just knew I loved that time of year, near the end of December.   My father was ill for years with heart failure, (he had several heart attacks) and my mother worked as a hairdresser to support us.  We did not have much money and even necessities were given to us by our Aunt Letha and Uncle Wally.  Life was a struggle and alcohol didn"t make it easier, but once a year, we were allowed the pleasure of dreaming of what Santa might bring.  We could visualize without being put down for our desires.  Of course it was understood that you had to be good, for if you were bad Santa wouldn"t stop at your address.  I worked hard at being good!

Decorating the artificial tree was fun because it was the only activity I ever did with my mother.  It was wonderful to be able to help her un-wrap the brilliant bulbs and the colorful bubbly amber lights shaped like candles.  Each bauble was surrounded with tissue paper which was used over and over, year after year.  I actually enjoyed the slightly moldy smelling tissue.  We carefully would place each piece of tinsel over a limb one at a time.  When my brother would throw big gobs of tinsel all at once it was sure to cause a fight.  I was tightly wired and if I couldn"t control the flow of the decorating I went berserk.  Fortunately, John didn"t like to put the ornaments on the tree; he thought it was too much work.  We would spread a thin cotton skirt at the base when we were finished.  I loved looking at the flickering candle lights bouncing off the dazzling colored balls.  This is when I would dream of what I wanted for Christmas.

My eighth year, 1949, I was dreaming BIG TIME!  I wanted a Madame Alexander doll.  This composition doll with painted features and sleep eyes was my vision for a companion in lieu of an invisible friend.  I longed to have a doll to play with and I prayed with all my might that Santa would answer my prayers.  That year several presents, without any tags, were placed under the tree a week before December 25th. I took every opportunity to pick up the packages and rattle them to see if I could figure out what was inside.  I did see a box large enough to hold a doll and I was fixated on that rectangular gift.  It was way in the back partially covered by the cotton cloth.  I would close my eyes and almost go into a trance imagining a beautiful Madame Alexander with a thick stock of curly hair.

We were told to go to bed early on Christmas eve and sleep fast so that Santa wouldn"t see us.  My mother said, "If you see Santa Claus and look him in the eye, he won"t leave presents."  I believed her.  She added, "The quicker you go to bed the sooner Christmas Day will be here."  We always did two things before we went to our room:  we hung our stockings on a coat hook, (we didn"t have a fireplace) and we left cookies and milk for Santa.  I took cat naps all night long for I was busy listening to any sounds the wind made and was sure I heard Santa in our house.  I always wondered how he made it inside.  But, I really didn"t care because I knew he was magical and had the same power as fairies, angels and maybe even God.

John and I would be ready to get up around 5:00 am but we needed to wait for Aunt Letha and Uncle Wally to come over, for they loved being with us when we opened gifts.  I heard my mother say, "You had better get here quick.  I hear the kids pacing in their room."  As soon as the front door opened we bolted to the living room and saw layers of packages all around the tree.  Santa had been quite generous and also had filled our felt stockings with fruit and candy.

It was a tradition for one person to "play" Santa and hand out one gift at a time to each person in the room.  This delayed the pleasure and also allowed us to appreciate everyone else"s presents.  One by one we would tear into the paper.  I received socks, underwear, pajamas inscribed with polar bears, and a wonderful multi-colored knit scarf.  My mother and aunt always gave each other a Vanity Fair robe.  To me it always seemed that items for girls and women were more vibrant.  I can"t remember what my brother, dad or uncle received.  As the torn wrapping paper and ribbons filled the room I almost forgot about that large rectangular box.  When my aunt began cleaning up all the empty boxes and paper I heard my mother say, "There is one gift left.  Let"s see whose name is on it?  Kay."  There it was the box I had been studying for two weeks, with my name on it.  "This is from all of us Kay, Merry Christmas."  My hands were shaking as I un-wrapped the package.  I lifted the lid, turned back the tissue, and there she was Madame Alexander dressed in a red velvet cape with a matching beret!  I thought I had died and gone to heaven.  Aunt Letha then handed me a burgundy velvet drawstring bag.  Inside there were incredible hand made clothes my mother had sewn for the Madame.  Keep in mind, Barbie Dolls had not been created yet.  Dolls, even the caliber of Madame Alexander didn"t come with a wardrobe.  My mother had lovingly designed bras, panties, slips, blouses, skirts, and even an evening gown all for this tiny doll.  Wow, I had never experienced anything quite as special in my life.  It was one of the few times I felt genuine love and caring from my mom.   

It is extremely sad to me that alcohol stole my mother and father and drugs robbed me of my brother.  What potential there was for us to have had a happy family without addiction?  I treasured that special doll for years and even took it to college with me. Unfortunately it was in a box of sweaters that was stolen from my dorm when I was moving at the end of my freshman year. I put the image of the doll out of my mind and didn"t think about it for many years.

The first job Joey got when we moved to San Francisco was managing a beautiful 40 unit apartment building, with an elegant marble entry, at the Foot of Nob Hill. He did the work of manager and part-time maintenance man in exchange for rent. I hadn’t been able to find a teaching position coming from Boston but I needed the work and was willing to do most anything. I was fortunate to find employment with a cleaning service that cleaned offices in the Financial District downtown in the evenings.

As the Christmas season was approaching I wanted to make our tree unusual. Joey and I had just married and we had never decorated for Christmas together. Considering the fact we didn’t have much money we decided to make ornaments by hand. We spent several hours a day constructing papier-mâché stars, moons, and balls. He and I worked together in an art studio we were allowed to use in the basement. We chose to use the cast iron stove we had brought from Massachusetts, (see CODEPENDENCE DAY) as the base for our tree. While we were working on the decorations I told Joey the story of the Madame Alexander doll. He didn’t say much but listened intently. After a few weeks of work we drove to a tree lot in the woods and cut down our own tree. It was romantic and I was looking forward to a preparing a Christmas feast for two. I knew this was going to be a good holiday.

I needed to clean offices on the 23rd. I usually would arrive home around midnight.  That evening it was closer to 1:00 am because several businesses had parties and there was more work involved.  As I walked down busy Pine St. I enjoyed looking at lights strung everywhere.  It was lovely.  I did notice that night it seemed more quiet than usual.  I couldn"t wait to get to our apartment because I was tired and wanted to get to bed.  I was looking forward to my first Christmas in California.

When I opened the heavy glass floor to ceiling double doors I noticed that the limestone floor was wet.  In fact, it was so drenched I almost slipped.  My mind was racing.  Why hadn"t Joey cleaned this up?  How did it get there?  What on earth had happened?  As with so many other events, something always seemed to go awry.  I tiptoed over the flooded floor and opened the first door to my right which was our apartment.  Joey was passed out on the floor and the rooms were filled with smoke.  I ran to the small kitchenette and found all four gas burners flaming several inches high.  I was angry and also scared!  The apartment could have easily caught on fire.  (In our years together the fire department had to come many times when Joey would try to light his cigarette with the burners from the stove.  He actually never caused a fire but came extremely close.)  I forced him to get up.  "What happened?"  I demanded to know.

"I vomited coming in the front door and I tried to clean it up," he said with great remorse.

I had kept his drinking such a secret from everyone and I wasn"t about to let it out now.  I took a bucket and a mop and cleaned up the mess.  As I was working an elegant gentleman who lived upstairs came through the entry and asked me what was wrong.  I lied and said someone in the building was sick after a party.  He said, "Too bad."

The next day Joey and I barely spoke.  The reality of his drinking and our exhausting life together hit me hard.  He tried to pretend like nothing had happened but we both knew we were in trouble.  This was like so many holidays of my youth.  He asked me to pose for a picture in front of the tree with our ornaments.  I did so with disappointment. He handed me a beautifully wrapped package and said, "Merry Christmas." 

"I thought we weren"t exchanging gifts?  What is it Joey?" 

"Open it and see."

First I untied the lace ribbon.  Then I slowly opened the rectangular box trying not to tear the paper because it was stunning.  As I lifted the tissue paper I gasped.  Inside was a Madame Alexander doll dressed in a red velvet gown.  I cried because of this enchanting sentiment.  Of course I thanked him profusely but all the while I was confused in my heart because of the incident the night before.  This was reminiscent of my past.  Alcohol had come between a loved one and me, had cheated us both of happiness, although at the time I didn"t understand what was happening.  I tried to give Joey a hug but he wasn"t able to respond.  The next thing I knew, he got up, left the house and didn"t come home for days.  I spent Christmas alone that year.  It wasn"t the first or the last time he walked out when confronted with embarrassment. 

Today, I am living the dream I always kept in my heart for Santa, (see I AM HEALTHY.)  My Alexander doll is a beautiful girl named Mariah.  Our daughter is ten years old now and she feels she is one of the only people in the world to see the "real" Santa Claus.  Just the other day she said to me, "You know Mommy I will always believe in Santa, even when I grow up because I SAW HIM!  Some of my friends don"t believe but they have only seen all the helpers of Santa dressed like him at the malls." 

When Mariah was six we spent the holidays near the Chicago area where Bryan"s mother and sisters live.  Traveling to see our family where we have seven nieces and nephews all close to Mariah"s age is thrilling in the winter especially when it snows.  That year Grandpa Joe and Grandma Sharon had transformed their basement (a suburban walk-up) to a magnificent family room with a wall of glass bordering Grandma"s charming garden.  It had snowed heavily before we arrived which created breathtaking visuals of the trees and shrubbery outside.  It was bitterly cold forming icicles dangling from the roof. Several stockings were hanging on the mantel and a roaring fire was in the fireplace.  The children were playing games and several of the aunts and uncles were conversing. A garland of lights flickered outside illuminating the magnificent Christmas Eve scene.  All of a sudden Grandma shrieked, "Look outside!"  There must have been 15 heads that turned in unison and also screamed.  One of the kids said, "It is Santa, it is Santa."  Santa Claus paused for a moment and looked right into the cozy warm room.  As he turned the corner and went around a large bush, a wiggly brown tail was spotted.  We all were sure it was a reindeer.  One of the children yelled, "Uh oh!  We have to get to bed.  If Santa sees us he may not come to our house."  All the cousins who were staying at Grandma"s that night raced up the stairs so fast it seemed like a flash.  The oldest boy had the covers over his head and didn"t want to get up to brush his teeth.  What an exciting experience for all of us to have seen the real Santa Claus!  We were in awe.

One of the reasons I feel like I survived the family disease of alcoholism-codependency is because I BELIEVE.  I believe in Santa Claus, fairies, angels, miracles, and the innate goodness of human beings.  I have confidence in the truth.  I believe in Magic. What about you?

Return to Top


Many of us have had the opportunity to examine the meaning of forgiveness.  If we have the wisdom and the grace to forgive, honoring the process within our hearts, we will be set free.  Intellectually we know this but to emotionally release resentment can be difficult if not impossible.  "Forgiveness is not an occasional act.  It is a permanent attitude."  These words were spoken by Dr. Martin Luther King.  I have a dear friend who has that outlook on life.  She has been blessed with the spirit of understanding.  Here is her story.

I had just moved to Boston, Massachusetts in 1969 when I met my upstairs neighbor Melissa in the deserted back stairwell of our eight story apartment building. Both of us were on our way to the laundry-room.  I learned she was 20 years of age, from Maryland, had left an alcoholic family (her mother and father both drank heavily until her dad's death at 48,) and a situation where all her peers were drug addicts.  She had no financial support, had made the move on her own, and was searching for normalcy, as was I.  I was impressed with her courage to relocate to another city to try and forge a better life.  Because of our common background we bonded easily in friendship, one that has lasted almost 37 years.

I was in the throes of a codependent relationship with Joey Haudel and although I wasn't aware of it at the time, my life was chaotic and I was out of control.  Joey had moved in with me in the studio apartment right beneath Melissa's.  When things would get rough, she and I would meet in the stairwell for tea.  At this point Melissa was working three jobs to pay her bills and wasn't involved in a romantic relationship but she was supportive when I would vent my problems that seemed to escalate daily.  It was the "blind leading the blind", but nonetheless a valuable comradeship.  I saw early on Melissa had a deeper acceptance of human foibles than I.

Melissa became involved with a successful professional guy, just about the time I was leaving with Joey to move to California in 1971.  Bobby was handsome, intelligent, and a champion body-builder.  He earned big bucks and was in demand for his talent and expertise as a financial analyst.  The life style he led was intoxicating to my friend and within a few months of meeting him they moved in together, just as I had done with Joey.   I met Bobby a few times before we left for the west coast and thought, "What a great catch."  Little did I know he too was alcoholic?

From the beginning Melissa tolerated unrealizable behavior because that is all she had ever known and also she had no one to turn to for help; she had no where else to go.  Bobby's conduct was erratic when he drank revealing a violent temper.  Early in their relationship when he returned home from work one evening, discovering the meal Melissa had fixed for dinner, he picked up the enameled pot of beef stew and threw it against the wall. As the vegetables dribbled slowly to the floor, he dramatically exclaimed, "This isn't a dinner, this is a lunch!"  This incident was extremely alarming but she didn't relate it to drinking or alcoholism because Bobby wasn't drunk.    

Melissa was troubled by his actions and found the behavior puzzling but she made excuses for him because she never saw him smashed the same way she was used to seeing her father.  When her dad was intoxicated he was a playful drunk. He would go outside and cuff the leaves of the trees as a punching bag until he eventually passed out but wouldn't force his vengeance on anyone but himself.  He couldn't hold a job, although he was a skilled electrician, and died at the age of 48.  Before his death he would always say to Bobby, "You're the man, you're the man!"  Melissa felt they had some kind of connection but she wasn't ready to believe they were two of a kind.  She chose to see that Bobby was an intelligent, respected businessman with advanced degrees, but a man with a bad temper.

Bobby had won the title of Mr. Laguna Beach for bodybuilding.  His appearance was intimidating, the bulges in the sleeves of his hand-made suits made it clear that he was a guy dedicated to developing strong muscles.  One evening in Copley Plaza he and Melissa met at a lovely hotel restaurant for a business banquet.  After dinner they moved to the adjoining tavern which was an architectural dream.  The walls were paneled with deeply recessed red mahogany squares, and lovely Tiffany lamps adorned the entire length of the bar.  They were sturdily designed to take a lot of wear and tear.  Each metal lamp, with its decorative glass shade, was built into the surface of the heavily glazed wooden counter.  There were no cords or connections that were visible.  Bobby was considered to be the "laugh a minute guy" and apparently knew several of the bar patrons.  He generously bought rounds for everyone several times.  As the evening progressed he became louder and more boisterous.  As Melissa tells it, "Everyone began chanting, "Take it out, take it out."  They were taking bets on his ability to pull out one of the embedded Tiffany lamps.  Several guys were pounding their fists in rhythm to the slogan. I was horrified and immobile as the spectacle intensified."  Sure enough, Bobby sensationally managed to uproot one of the exquisite lamps, raise it above his head in triumph and Melissa was asked by the hotel manager to pay the bill.

The couple planned a trip to Nassau for much needed rest and relaxation.  Melissa, not having traveled that much in her young life, was thrilled about this vacation.  She packed several pieces of luggage for both of them.  She observed that on the way to the airport Bobby was anxious, fidgety and non-communicative.  When they arrived at Boston Logan Airport, while the taxi driver was graciously unloading the trunk of the vehicle, Bobby pushed him aside.  He began shouting that his luggage had been damaged and without warning picked up the tire-iron and was ready to hit the man.  Melissa was again appalled.  A pattern of behavior was immerging; Bobby picked fights.

When they arrived at their hotel in Nassau Bobby went straight to the bar and began his loud, obnoxious conduct.  Embarrassed and exhausted from the flight, Melissa left for their room and went straight to bed.  Shortly, Bobby came upstairs and asked her to marry him.  She said, "I can't marry a man who is so unpredictable." With that he jumped on the batik spread and began choking her around the neck!  With all the force she could muster, Melissa fought him off her body.  She was petrified! Turning on a dime, Bobby began pleading for her mercy.  He began begging her to marry him, stating he couldn't live without her and that his behavior would change; he promised.  He left the room as quickly as he had entered leaving Melissa limp and spent.  Within the hour Bobby returned to present her with a diamond engagement ring.  He was apologetic and remorseful.  She weighed her options: Continue to work three jobs or marry a guy who could take care of her and her mother. Against her "better judgment," she chose the latter.

For the next several years the couple continued on the "Fast-Track."  Bobby was a workaholic, climbing his way up the ladder, and rarely home. Melissa happily took over the job as stepmother to his three children, ages, 9, 12 and 14, as their mother was deeply troubled. She enjoyed parenting the kids and was instrumental in creating a balance where it had been severely lacking. Putting her energy into the family was satisfying and fulfilling; it also pushed her further into denial of the truth of her codependency and Bobby's alcoholism.

After about five years of marriage, a respected investment firm in New York City offered Bobby a lucrative position with their company.  He agreed to take this prestigious job but before they left Boston he purchased a country home in Vermont to assure a place for holidays, weekends and summer vacations in New England.  Melissa spent quite a bit of time there decorating her first house.  (She and Billy had lived in an apartment-condominium.)   She was eager to entertain her mother and sister's family in a place she could call home; she invited them for a long weekend when her sister's daughter was about 3 years old.  They gladly accepted, flew to Boston and from there drove 3 hours to Vermont.  This was going to be a wonderful family reunion.  The night of their arrival they all had a great time.

The next day Bobby called on customers and was gone all day.  He was invited to an executive luncheon with prospective clients where liquor flowed.  The three women stayed home, talking, hanging out together and playing with the toddler.  The time just flew by as they were having so much fun.  At dusk they were still busy socializing and didn't bother to turn on the outside lights.  Inside it wasn't that bright because they had been enjoying the sunset, and hadn't noticed the lights weren't turned on.  All of a sudden Bobby came rushing inside, in a "pissy mood" screaming and flailing his arms in the air, "There are no lights outside!  I couldn't find the house and have been driving for hours!  Why aren't the lights on?  Tell me, why aren't they! And, why is it so dark in here?  Where is dinner?  What did you fix?"  With that he picked up a Waterford vase, threw it against the wall hitting a framed lithograph, scattering glass shards all over the room.

Wow, time seemed to stand still, no one said anything.  Bobby went into another room and passed out.  Melissa's mother said, "You have to leave this man, he is crazy!"  In the middle of the night her family awakened her and said they were leaving.  In spite of the cold, darkness, and not being in familiar territory, they chose to drive themselves to the nearest train station and sit outside until the doors opened in the morning.  They went back to Maryland.  This was the beginning of the end for Melissa.

It wasn't long after that incident the two of them were having breakfast one morning in their New York apartment.  Melissa commented about something on a page of the newspaper.  Bobby said curtly, "Can't we just sit here in silence without reading?"   She retorted, "I am 32 and I am not going to live my life like this anymore!  I want a divorce!"  Bobby went crazy!  He ran to the 35th floor and threatened to jump.  It seemed to her that the whole New York Police Department was downstairs with a few deputies working diligently to bring him in safely.  This drama went on for hours and his son David finally talked him into coming down.  Melissa had such bottled up anger toward Bobby that she picked up a lamp and threw it at him.

Back in Boston, walking through Faneuil Hall, Melissa felt liberated.  Six years of marriage to such an extreme guy caused her to question her own sanity.  For many years she worked on herself mentally, emotionally and spiritually.  Her talents in business were exceptional, affording her a wonderful salary, property and travel opportunities.  She was fortunate to make countless friends who were like family to her, as well as, to travel to Maryland several times a year to visit her mother and sister.  She has studied codependency and used any opportunity she has had to check in with herself in regards to her mental health.  Melissa has become a healthy, happy, well-balanced woman.     

For the last 25 years she has stayed close to David, Bobby's middle child, spending many holidays with him.  Although Melissa didn't want to know, David insisted on keeping her abreast of the details about his father.  He told her Bobby had moved to Hawaii 15 years ago feeling he had done everything he could on Wall St.  He had given up cocaine but was still drinking and body-building.  He was a substitute professor and managed to work just enough to pay his bills. 

Two years ago David gave his father Melissa's e-mail address.  She was absolutely furious!  She wanted nothing to do with him, but to her surprise Bobby wrote her he was clean and sober.  He had spent all of his money on booze, women, and cocaine, hitting bottom at age 68.  Slowly, ever so slowly, he was beginning to heal.  They began an internet correspondence, not a romance, but a friendship.  When I heard this I was quite skeptical but it wasn't my business and knowing Melissa's good heart I chose to watch and wait.

Bobby is now 70.  Melissa told him she didn't want him to die in Hawaii alone, to come home and be with his children.  Last summer he did just that.  He lives meagerly on social security but is content to have his sobriety.  According to her he is so grateful for his sanity he doesn't complain at all about his financial struggles.  He has stayed as a guest in her home feeling somehow connected to Melissa.  She said he feels like family.

Melissa has been good to her mother; it is stressful to be away from her when she is ill.  She has moved her two times in Maryland searching for the most comfortable independent living situation.  It hasn't been easy but Melissa loves her dearly and wants her to be happy.  A few weeks ago her mother became depressed, dehydrated, and was on a downhill slide spending several days in the hospital.  Melissa called Bobby and asked if he would fly to Maryland and stay with her until she could return on the weekends.  He said he would gladly come there and take care of her.  He said, "I am indebted to you; I will do anything for you."  Melissa's mother has been treated well under Bobby's care.  He has bathed her, fed her special meals, poured her tea, made her laugh and tucked her in at night.  Melissa told me she didn't know what she would have done without him. 

"Kay, I forgive him.  I am fortunate to have the opportunity in this lifetime to see the power of forgiveness." What about you?

Return to Top


At a steady lick I am racing toward the police station. I feel anxious; I need to concentrate. The focus will be on my feet; one step at a time I need to reach my target. Shakily I notice the tap shoe in my right hand. I must have picked up the first thing I saw as I was dashing out of the house in fear. With heart beats throbbing in my throat, it will be my weapon against any opposing forces. Familiar buildings stand tall in the distance. I don’t know the exact location but I am hoping it will be in the center of town, near the City Hall. The destination is near; I only have a few more blocks. I am 11 years old, not even a teenager. What am I going to say? What will they do? Help!

Just a few years earlier when I was nine, I faced the first tragedy of my young life; I remember the day well. As I stood crouching behind the hall closet, the door ajar, I felt profound sorrow watching my mother embrace her good friend. She was sobbing profusely. I heard her say, “Morris is dead.” At that moment the pain I experienced was for her. It was as though my feelings about my father dying didn’t matter. That is when I began pushing down personal suffering, denying any terror I had about losing a parent. I saved all my grief for my mother, a young woman of 35.

I thought, “How is she going to make it? Daddy’s hospital bills are in the thousands, he has been sick for five years.” I longed to comfort her. It was odd, when family members began coming around, they didn’t offer to hug my brother or me, and they too saw only her unhappiness, not ours, her children. It appeared we didn’t count.

For the next week we stayed at the homes of school friends and were not allowed to go to our father’s funeral. It felt like we were in the ‘Twilight Zone.’ The parents of acquaintances were quite good to us and were generous buying us gifts. But, it was strange to be shipped out of our house and to never be able to talk about our dad. Everyone in our family acted like it didn’t happen. It took years for me to realize that I had a father at all. It seemed as though he disappeared.

My mother was a beautiful woman, actually a ‘knock-out’ by many men’s standards. She had bleached platinum blond hair, long legs and was unusually buxom. She was told many times that she resembled Jane Mansfield, the successful movie star. For these reasons she had many suitors after my father’s death. Her favorite date was ‘Cee’ a man who was tall, handsome, and alcoholic. He was financially able to ‘wine and dine” her every night after work. For many months we were shuffled between the homes of friends and my dear aunt and uncle to accommodate their evening schedule. We weren’t aware at the time that her new boyfriend didn’t want the competition with her children and that he wasn’t at all interested in meeting us. Although we had heard a great deal about him, it wasn’t until Easter weekend that we were introduced at a family dinner.

My mother and Aunt Letha were busy in the kitchen preparing the special holiday meal. If we could depend on anything, it was certainly my mother’s cooking. She had garnished the ham with pineapple circles pinned with cloves. Small bowls of lentil soup were chosen to be served before the entrée. A sweet aroma filled the apartment. All of us were anxious to devour the garlic mashed potatoes; she never had any lumps or dry spots. Yummy. Of course there would be a home-made cake; today a German Chocolate topped with small marzipan carrots. My contribution was to decorate the dining room by strategically placing Easter eggs on the mahogany table along with sugar chickens and chocolate bunnies from our baskets. There would be scrumptious food beautifully displayed. It appeared to be the perfect day to meet Mom’s new beau. We were all eager to impress him.

I brought out the celery and cream cheese hors d’oeuvres sprinkled with paprika. When I placed the appetizers on the coffee table my brother and uncle scooped up several for themselves. I offered Cee the plate and he declined saying, “I would rather not spoil my appetite but I will have another drink.” I went back to the kitchen and my mother gladly made him a highball. As I walked to the living room she commented to Cee that I was a good artist. My aunt chimed in and told me to show him my latest drawings. I felt strangely uncomfortable talking with Cee and the idea of using my art as filler was a good idea. I didn’t have to travel far to get the drawings. When I came around the corner I noticed him watching me with a peculiar gaze. It gave me the ‘willies.’

My Uncle Wally said, “Anyone for Gin Rummy?” My brother gathered the deck of cards and the two of them quickly became engrossed in playing. I used a small desk to spread out my art notebook. Cee sat down while I remained standing turning the pages one by one. To my consternation I felt his hand on the back of my right thigh. I moved away thinking I was imagining the touch. Conversation was minimal between us for I had a difficult time understanding his mumbling. I thought to myself, “I wish you would speak clearly.” Did he say, “You are beautiful just like your mother?”

I count my pencil drawings, out of sight of my uncle and brother, and return the sketchbook to the hall closet. I want to get back to the safety of the kitchen. It happens quickly! I am being pushed inside the large, dark, walk-in space. I feel Cee’s breath spray my face. With one fell swoop his hands are in my panties! Yee Gods! I am petrified! I am being suffocated with the weight of his body! I want to scream but the sound is trapped in my throat! I have to tell my mother! Let me out of here! The door flies open.

Breathlessly I hurried to the kitchen and was about to shout, “Your boyfriend fondled me!” when I found my mother and aunt laughing. Surprisingly I said, “I am going for a walk.” I couldn’t hurt her. It was the first time in years I had seen Mother smile. They both looked at me curiously but I bolted out the back door, down the porch steps, before they had a chance to speak.

It is a quiet day in the precinct. I walk straight to the officer sitting at his desk and say, I need help!

What can I do for you young lady?

My mother’s boyfriend touched me in private places.

Does your mother know?

No. I was afraid to tell her.

Would you like me to tell her for you?

Yes, could you do that?

Let me drive you home and I’ll see what I can do.

The officer walked me to the front door and rang the bell. My brother answered and was speechless. I don’t even know if he and my uncle knew I was gone. “Is your mother home?” asked the officer.

“Wait just a minute, I’ll get her.”

With the family and Cee in the living room; I grew cold with dread. The policeman said, “I would like to speak with Kay’s mother.” They left to have privacy in the kitchen. I couldn’t look at anyone and my stomach was killing me. I went to the bedroom and curled up on the bed with a heating pad.

The remainder of the Easter weekend was a blur. Just like my father’s funeral, the incident wasn’t mentioned but fortunately Cee never tried anything again. We rarely spoke for the next ten years.

I’ve always been introspective and analytical. I try and see the ‘lesson’ learned in any experience, positive or negative. When I reached ‘my bottom’ in the early 80’s I was able to remember myself as that young girl, one who was brave enough to stand up to what she believed was wrong. It took that same courage to face the truth about my codependency. I believe it is this way for all of us; to have the guts to say ‘No’ to what is Wrong and ‘Yes’ to what is Right. It isn’t easy and not always clear for Denial is powerful. But ultimately, whatever our addictions, it comes down to each of us, individually, to have the strength to stop the cycle and get well. I know, because I did it. What about you?

Return to Top

From The Heart

The rough, russet carpet of the front room of our tiny apartment was threadbare. My brother John, age 7, and I, age 9, scooted and ran around this space, unaware that we lived below the poverty line. Our father had recently deceased and my mother was desperately trying to support the two of us by working long hours as a hairdresser. Her good intentions were seriously impaired by the onset of alcoholism. In order to survive in our family, which was experiencing great emotional pain and stress, we developed maladaptive, compulsive behavior. Both John and I were neurotic and did a variety of unbalanced acts to get our needs met. The saving grace of these desperate years of my youth was the amazing community in which we lived, Clayton, Missouri.

Clayton is an affluent suburb of St. Louis. To this day, the public schools are highly rated, some of the best in the state. Children, who are fortunate to attend, grow up prepared for college. Most citizens of Clayton are healthy, contributing, members of society. My family was on the fringe of this Mecca for professionals and connoisseurs. An act of kindness permitted us to enjoy this opportunity for a superb education. At the time my father died in 1950 his distant cousin owned our apartment building. He continued to rent to my mother at a substantial reduction. I was told many times that without this gift we would be close to living in the street. I never took that loving gesture for granted.

True giving comes from the heart without expectations. To have compassion for another and then act upon it is a deed of love. When this far-removed relative rented us a unit at a reduced price, he had no idea how his goodwill would alter my life. I had many friends and they welcomed me into their homes. I was able to share experiences with talented and well- balanced people. This gave me the chance for some sanity outside my own immediate dysfunctional environment. Although I didn't know it at the time, I was learning morals from these fine families. I was forging roots that would nourish me for many troubled years during my 20's and 30's.

Another gift to me was my mother's sister and her husband Aunt Letha and Uncle Wally. They were sweet, caring, and better balanced than any of the rest of our kin, but they were fairly naïve and didn't recognize the emotional abuse my brother and I were experiencing. My aunt would often rub the deep scowl line between my eyes and comment, "Why do you always frown, Kay? You must stop. This will become a permanent fixture on your face." She was unaware of the significant turmoil that we lived with each day. My aunt and uncle didn't have children. They deliberately gave John and me an abundance of love and attention, filling in the void in our lives.

I cherish several memories of beauty, which are ingrained in my soul. Famous-Barr, a large department store in St. Louis, housed a lovely tearoom. Several Saturdays a year my aunt would invite me to accompany her on the bus for the trip downtown to lunch. I remember we transferred several times passing unique neighborhoods along the way. We both wore white gloves, my long fingers resting in hers. Such a simple gesture as holding hands, walking with her to the cozy restaurant, enjoying a wonderful luncheon and then combing through "sale" merchandise on the basement level; I was in heaven. Aunt Letha knew I loved to dress up; I had only one outfit, which I wore proudly for each outing. Although we rarely purchased anything on our travels I'll always remember how secure I felt being with her, just the two of us hanging out together.

The same was true of my uncle. He would escort me in his blue De Soto to Steak and Shake, the local drive-in, for cheeseburgers, once a week. We barely spoke sitting high atop the uncomfortable black leather stools, but I just loved being in his presence. What a kind man he was! Often when my friends and I would go to the movies on Friday night, we would need a ride home. I would call Uncle Wally and he would get out of bed, dress, drive three towns to the cinema, and pick all of us up, and take each girl to her home. He never complained or refused to do this, it was a loving gesture in affection for his niece.

The two of them gave freely of their time and their money. Each birthday I was given ballet, tap, and jazz lessons for the whole year. They paid for all my dancing shoes and recital costumes. Without their generosity I would never have studied dance. I went on to teaching at the local theater where dance and choreography contributed a large part to my survival during the 1950's and 1960's.

Valentine's Day has always been special to me. I can remember as far back as elementary school thinking about my classmates and carefully deciding which rhyme was best suited for each friend. The verse was important; I didn't dare use the word "love" for a boy. My daughter, now 9 years old, is just as discerning when picking her choices from the collective bag of 32 purchased at the drug store. She and I have taken the day seriously. For several years we made our own cards for as many as 50 friends and family. We used watercolors, acrylics, doilies, old-fashioned stickers, glitter and glue. We would top off each design with an appropriate poem. This project would begin early in January, as each layer needed time to dry. What fun we have had with the symbolism of February 14th, a great time to honor our loved ones with sentiment from the heart.

My husband Bryan and I had only been together a few months when St. Valentine's Day approached in 1986. I was still healing from years of sickness as a codependent woman. This was the first time that I was able to give something romantic to a man without feeling needy and trying to control the gift exchange. I didn't have much money at the time but that didn't stop me from creating a valued gift. I decided to present him with a basket containing items to stir his five senses: sight, sound, smell, taste and touch. I found an inexpensive woven container at Cost Plus and lined it with pink and red tissue paper: For sight, I created a collage filled with a variety of colored hearts; A tape, "Love Songs Are Back Again" by Band of Gold for sound (this wasn't his taste in music but it is the thought that counts), Men's cologne for smell (I found out later he didn't wear cologne), For taste, home-made brownies that I learned right away were his favorite, and Soap on a Rope for touch. To this day, I feel "Soap on a Rope" is an odd phenomena. It isn't comfortable to use but it looks practical. I still have one hanging in my shower. These five items completed my presentation.

What I didn't know was that Bryan had a surprise of his own. A new confectionary had recently opened on 16th Street in our San Francisco neighborhood. An industrious couple that made the most delicious chocolate leased this small space. They displayed gorgeous velvet heart boxes filled with their trademark truffles. I would walk by there on my way to the trolley and admiringly dream of receiving a beautiful burgundy box. Of course I didn't dare mention this to Bryan because our relationship was new. He too passed this store and purchased a box for me, presenting his gift accompanied with a bouquet of flowers. I was deeply touched because I had never before received a heart shaped box of chocolate from a beau. This year is the 20th anniversary of Joseph Schmidt the owner of the confectionary. They are now known all over the world. I have received many heart boxes purchased from their outlet in San Francisco but none quite as precious as that first one.

I am sentimental. Bryan also had another gift, one that blew me away. From his pocket he pulled out what looked like a heap of metal wire. I didn't know what to say because I wasn't sure what it was. As I looked more closely and unraveled the cluster, I saw that he had fashioned a hanging heart wire sculpture. This piece of original art has rusted over time but it continues 19 years later to hang in our kitchen as a reminder of the great guy I married. He has always told me he wasn't creative. I beg to differ with him. I was filled with as much joy from that moving design as the luscious burgundy velvet box stuffed with Joseph Schmidt truffles.

Gifts from the Heart

Are you stumped when it comes to giving gifts? I want to share some creative ideas to arouse your imagination. When you acknowledge another person with a thoughtful gesture, you will be fulfilled as well. It feels good to see someone smile. Don't be shy, try one of these today.

Purchase disposable bread pans with lids (they often come 3 to a package.) Bake your favorite bread mix and then wrap it with a beautiful bow. If you can't tie a bow, no worries, they are sold ready-made in bags.

Take pictures of your family and friends doing ordinary, everyday activities, outside and around the house. Have duplicates made of the pictures (often the second set is free.) Purchase small inexpensive albums, found at camera shops and large drugstores, with slots for 12-24 pictures. Give these to people you love. Parents and grandparents treasure these tiny albums.

If you have a digital camera, take the time to e-mail friends and family on your mailing list with current pictures. Keep the camera with you to catch unexpected events.

On index cards or colored construction paper make a series of coupons wrapped together with a ribbon or stapled into a small booklet.

Be imaginative with these coupons. For adults: a home-cooked meal, an evening at the theater, a night out dancing, babysitting for the kids at no charge, a weekend getaway, a day at the beach, and on and on. Think about this one. What would the person really want and need, that you are able to give? I have done this so many times. It is really fun! You can do the same for children: A day at an amusement park, swimming at the beach, a professional baseball game or other sports, books or videos of their choice. Just be sure with the children's coupons you are prepared to do what you offer. Be specific as to how often they can be used or give them one at time.

Support your friends and loved ones by calling them on the phone or stopping by their house to listen from your heart. Ask questions about how they are feeling. Often when our elderly relatives begin to repeat themselves we tune out. Make an effort to really listen and be there for them.

Paint a picture with words. Describe how special the gift is and how you plan to use it.

Write a letter to a friend who has lost a loved one. After a few weeks, when Always send a thank you card when someone gives you a gift. the loneliness really sets in, call them on the phone and let them talk about their loss.

If you are one of those rare people who find cleaning and organizing therapeutic, offer your service in a card or coupon. A couple did this for me once. It was amazing. They did a spring cleaning in my apartment as a birthday gift. Wow!

Take a friend or loved one to a concert or a sports event, even if it isn't your taste. Make sure they are available that night and then surprise them with tickets. You can really make this special by also taking them out to dinner.

If you are a couple, include a single person with you for a night out. I have talked with many divorced and widowed people who feel lost and alone. They appreciate being included for an evening of fun.

Offer to drive an elderly person without transportation to do his or her daily chores. Sometimes people are debilitated and need help with their shopping. If they are incapacitated you could do their errands for them.

Bake a variety of cookies and place them in a decorative tin or basket. Use cellophane to wrap the package and then tie it with a beautiful ribbon and hanging gift card. Sign your note with a gel pen and remember to draw a heart whenever you sign your name.

Love, affection, tenderness, empathy, understanding, and friendship all radiate from the center most vital part of our being. From heart to heart, soul to soul we infuse energy into our consciousness. For each of us on the road to healing it is the best way to come to life. I am going to give of myself today. What about you?

Return to Top

My First Signs of Codependence

The pink slip read, "Kay, come to the principal's office." I was sixteen, a senior in high school and had never before been asked to see Mr. Ober. With the glass doors straight ahead, I was visibly shaking as I walked down the rambling corridor. When I entered the room three faces were peering at me. The principal extended his hand and said, "Kay, congratulations for an amazing job with the dancing in the school musical. I have never before seen such an impressive performance of choreography and costumes. You are indeed a talented young lady. We are proud of you." I was embarrassed and hung my head. I felt unworthy of his compliment and at the same time felt ashamed that I had cut so many classes before the production to accomplish my goals. What should have been a glowing moment was confusing and not what I had anticipated. I had hoped someone other than Mr. Ober would recognize all my efforts for the past four months.

As early as the 9th grade I had been creating dances for our high school musicals. I loved to dance and found I was a "natural" at teaching my fellow classmates intricate routines which I arranged to music. The script, music and choreography were all original and quite special because it was written and produced by the senior class students. I knew this was my chance to finally get the attention I wanted from one person, my mother. I set out on a campaign to influence her to take notice of me. It couldn't be just an ordinary showing of ability. I was convinced I had to "go over the top" in order for Mother to acknowledge me.

I chose twenty dancers which comprised the ensemble to showcase the eight dances I had choreographed. We rehearsed several days a week in the school theater. I systematically controlled the rehearsals. I cracked the whip and I had rules:

NEVER BE LATE. If a student did come late I didn't have the guts to do anything. I was such a "people pleaser" that I would kid around and let them know how important this show was and I would tell them to try not to do it again.

DANCE TILL YOU DROP. I was running completely on neurotic energy. I put all my faith in these students to present my "art" to the community. They couldn't make a mistake for then I would look "bad." We did the routines repeatedly, to the point of fatigue.

DON'T OFFER SUGGESTIONS. This was my choreography; I didn't need help with the arrangement of the dances. I saw myself as completely unselfish for; after all, if the dances were perfect then each kid would look good. Never mind that they didn't have the compulsive drive that I had. I really didn't want their opinions about the work because I was afraid I would value their thoughts more than my own. I was "acting" like I knew what I was doing. In reality I was one step ahead of each idea and had absolutely no confidence. I was masking my efforts to control my friends as "being helpful" by teaching them dances that would show off their talent. I saw myself as a serious artist developing her team. I called my dances, "Designs in Motion" and became obsessed with their creation.

When the topic of costumes was broached I was panicked that someone else would get the job. I was afraid another student would design garments that would be unflattering to the dancers and consequently would affect my "works of art." I rushed home after that rehearsal and began sketching outfits for every dance. I stayed up all night creating costumes for the Calypso, Blues, Bohemian, Modern, Irish, French and Japanese dances; a total of thirty-two. The next day when I showed the co-directors my ideas they were so blown away that of course they said I could have the position. Their next question was, "How do we get these made?" "No problem," I said, "I'll make them!"

Each night after the rehearsal I would work frantically on my grandmother's Singer treadle sewing machine dating to the early 1900's. I made my own patterns and sewed intricate layers of tulle, feathers, satin and felt. The fabric engulfed the dining room and for three months our apartment became a colorful costume shop. Parents generously contributed money to support this project. On one occasion a mother offered to help me sew the costumes but, I refused. Somehow I felt if I relinquished any responsibility I couldn't take the credit, it wouldn't be mine. After all, I was on a mission. I was in complete denial that I was overwhelmed and exhausted by this undertaking. I just kept pushing ahead like a Trojan martyr. Nothing felt good enough.

As the weeks went by I became more and more resentful that I had to do all this myself. I became extremely nervous and cranky. I could barely stay awake in school and began skipping classes to get my work done. One Saturday, a few weeks away from the show, I caved in. The co-directors announced that the length of the musical was too long and they needed to cut some scenes. The Beat-Nik dance was out! I lost it and began sobbing profusely. At the same time I was crying I was terribly embarrassed. But I couldn't stop. By taking away one of my dances it felt like they didn't like me and I was being punished. When they saw my unreasonable display of emotion they changed their minds and returned the dance to the show. I was relieved.

All this pent-up emotion was building inside of me as we approached the weekend of our musical, "Good Intentions." Most of my friend's parents were planning to attend both Friday and Saturday nights. Many were arranging to take their children out for ice cream or a treat at the end of the show. My mother said, "One night is enough for me," and didn't offer any special after-the-show reward. I accepted her announcement and felt grateful that she was going to see our production at least once.

The big night arrived. I felt confident that I was going to impress Mother because of the good reviews the Friday night performance had received. I danced my heart out and was beaming with pride for my accomplishments. She and I hadn't driven together so when I arrived home after the show I bounded into the apartment anxious to hear her comments. I just knew after all the work I had done she would be proud of me. "What did you think" I said. "Well," she grumbled, "Judy's mother asked me where I got such a talented daughter. What nerve. She doesn't think it could come from me. Oh, the show, it was lovely dear."

I felt deflated. I had done all this to earn my mother's love. This was the best I could do at sixteen years of age and it wasn't good enough. This experience marked the beginning of twenty five years of reacting to life from the emotional wounds and attitudes from my childhood, living with alcoholism.

Robert Burney, in his profound book, "CODEPENDENCE, THE DANCE of WOUNDED SOULS, A Cosmic Perspective of Codependence and the Human Condition" writes, "Codependence is a form of Delayed Stress Syndrome. Instead of blood and death (although some do experience blood and death literally), what happened to us as children was spiritual death and emotional maiming, mental torture and physical violation. We were forced to grow up denying the reality of what was happening in our homes. We were forced to deny our feelings about what we were experiencing and seeing and sensing. We were forced to deny our selves."

I know now my obsessive-compulsive behavior those four months in 1959 was just the beginning of a twenty five year struggle with this insidious, misunderstood, social disease of Codependence. We live in a dysfunctional world where Codependency has run amuck. I am not going to accept it anymore. I have documented my intense experience in the DVD, "I Survived: One Woman's Journey of Self-Healing and Transformation."

Each day, in every way, I continue to visualize peace, harmony, joy and balance. I honor each experience as growth on my path to wellness. What about you?

Return to Top


I had never seen a nude model. Naked was the reality but in art school they don't call it naked model, they use the more polite description. This drawing class was a requirement for a B.S. in Art Education. There was no getting out of it, I had to sit at my easel, along with twelve other students, and await the models arrival. Candice was late for the first session. I think all the girls were secretly hoping she wouldn't show. I can only guess what the male students were thinking. When she finally walked through the door I was surprised at her demeanor. She ascended the platform with confidence, casually disrobed, and lowered her faded kimono gently to the floor. I was stunned at her physical appearance. This female model must have weighed 350 lbs. All I could see were rolls of flesh billowing over pillows where she assumed her pose. I wondered, "How does she have the guts to sit for us being so big!" I didn't dare let on what I was thinking and feeling. I looked straight ahead in fear of meeting someone else's eyes. "Oh, this is going to be a challenge," I thought. Jaw bones, hip bones, leg bones connected to knee bones, there weren't any bones, at least none which were visible. Drawing was hard enough, now I had to "imagine" her anatomy under pounds of fat.

My position in art school was precarious. I had originally planned to get a degree in Elementary Education. About half way through the required courses, I enrolled in a Beginning Art class to fulfill the Fine Arts requirement for a B.S. in Education. After just a few projects, the instructor approached me and said, "Kay, have you ever considered majoring in art? You have talent." I was flabbergasted because, although I had always loved creating abstract forms and designing colorful costumes, I couldn't draw realistic figures and objects. I didn't feel I was a "true" artist. He said, "You can learn to draw. It is a skill that takes time, patience, and practice. It will help you in your career and in your life." I am not sure I believed him but I did know I loved being around the art department. I felt at home with artist's tools and the more creative aspects of education. With the teacher's support, I changed my major to Art Education.

I struggled through the Life Drawing class. After that first day of shock at seeing a naked fat woman, I was able to start focusing on my renderings. They weren't good, in fact, they were awful! I couldn't draw what I saw before me and I didn't know how to sketch figures from memory either. I was panicked! I had changed my major to Art and my confidence was slowly being eroded because of my poor drawing skills. I was also frustrated because just as I would get "into the drawing" and barely mark the whole figure on the page, the teacher would ask the model to change her pose. This rapid-fire changing of positions happened every ten minutes. It was driving me crazy. My drawings looked like monkeys, fat monkeys. It was embarrassing. I managed to get a C as a final grade, probably because I showed up on time to every class and it was obvious I was making a serious effort to do the work.

In the Ceramics, Design, and Painting classes I excelled. I made nothing lower than an A for four semesters. As my graduation approached, I realized I was just beginning to understand art and needed more schooling. I was accepted to Graduate School at the University of Missouri on probation, with the full knowledge that this art school expected their graduate students to be able to draw, and draw well. C's were not acceptable and grad students needed to make A's with a scattering of B's. I decided to "go for it" and would face the drawing situation later. Little did I know what was in store for me and it had nothing to do with charcoal and paper.

I skated through the first semester at the top of my class avoiding drawing. Soon, I had to face the music. I enrolled in Mr. Bill Klapp's Drawing class. Bill was one of the most amazing artists I had ever known. His drawings were breathtaking and his craftsmanship was superior. Mr. Klapp would set up displays with various shapes and textures and leave them up for an hour. He encouraged us to take our time observing the objects closely before we began to draw. He also allowed the nude models to stay in one pose for the whole period taking rest breaks periodically. This helped; I had more time to concentrate without the worry of being rushed. But, my drawings still weren't up to par. I repeated the problems of my earlier classes with just a slight improvement. Bill called me to his studio one day and came right to the point. "Kay, you need to do several drawings for extra credit. Start with elemental principles, drawing the basics like cubes, cones, and spheres. If you don't improve I am going to have to give you a D."

Terror seized my soul. There were six weeks left in the semester and I was still on probation in the art department working toward an advanced degree. I went home and prayed. I was talking and reflecting out loud, "I need help."

I am not sure I was open to believing that God would answer me, but I did hear the words in my head. "Take your time."

It felt like I was moving methodically in slow motion. One step at a time I arranged two blocks, two eggs, and a lemon on a table. I glued them down so nothing in the display would move or change. I shut the blinds and angled a spot-light to create strong shadows to accentuate the forms. I marked the spot where I chose to sit and prepared to study the Still Life. I didn't care how long it took, I was determined, on my own, by myself, to learn to draw.

I chose pencils which were supple with a soft lead instead of charcoal. I felt I had more control with a tighter, finer line. The paper was heavy weight and top quality. I knew I needed proper tools to enhance the picture. I didn't have an easel at home so I used a drawing board propped up against a chair. I nervously sat and waited. It was important just to "plow into it" but my hand was frozen. I didn't know where to begin. "What do I put down first?" I thought. I wasn't able to make the commitment to draw the likeness of my arrangement on the table. I had succumbed to fear.

I watched myself go into a panic. My hands were slippery with sweat and I could feel the pounding of my heart. Two hours must have gone by without being able to lift a finger. My eye sight was blurred from staring so intently at the objects, which exacerbated the dread. Finally I was able to begin measuring the relationship of the eggs to the cube and approximate their size. With a straight, out-stretched arm I used my thumb, as I had seen many artists do, as a measuring device. I lightly sketched an outline covering ¾ths of my drawing paper. My breathing became less labored and I felt I had made a particle of progress. I expended this same type of energy every day for a week. I was exhausted. I asked for guidance from God, the universe, my higher power, whoever was listening. Again, I heard words, "Don't just look, SEE!"

Within a few short minutes I began to have the "experience" of seeing the Still Life. It seemed as though a veil was lifted exposing three dimensional forms pulsating with energy. The interplay of light and shadow bounced off the table. I saw, I really saw, the beauty inherent in those inanimate objects. The details literally came to life. It felt like I had been shown the next step to awareness. The process was illuminated. I no longer was going to focus on worry and from that day forward I let go of the fear of drawing.

For the next few weeks I put pencil to paper and created amazing realistic drawings. It was as if I had been doing it all my life. I finished the Still Life and did another in pen and ink. Several of my friends agreed to pose for me while they studied for finals. I took my time, was patient, and practiced my newfound skill. Using a variety of media, I was able to put together an impressive body of work before the deadline.

The day came to present my drawings to Mr. Klapp. I anxiously approached his studio eager to show him my improvement. It was as though I was returning from a secret mission ready to share my discovery. I carried the art gingerly through his office door and unwrapped each piece spreading them out on the floor. I had managed to complete twelve drawings. My feelings were genuine; I was proud of myself.

Bill Klapp quietly and systematically examined the work. He was speechless. After what seemed an eternity, he looked up at me and said, "What happened? How did you do this? I never would have believed this Kay, that all these are yours, except I recognize your style of drawing. You can't plagiarize art. You have just gone from a D to an A in six weeks. Congratulations."

"I learned how to see!"

My new ability of SEEING enabled me to appreciate the human body with all of its imperfections. I had the opportunity of drawing Candice, the model, many times before I graduated with a Masters Degree. I grew to love the fluid lines of her figure and some of the best drawings I ever did were of her. She inspired me to study the Renaissance artists in depth.

The lesson I learned that day I have applied many times in my life. When I yielded to fear I was swallowed by quick sand, unable to function. Now I allow myself to believe it is possible, whatever my goal. I take the time to examine the details, watch, and experience. I am grateful I saw the light. What about you?

Return to Top

Life and Death

When does the spirit inhabit the body? Millions of people strongly believe that it is at the time of conception. Metaphysicians have written that a soul chooses the exact time of birth to enter the body, its vehicle of expression, hence, the importance of the astrological configuration which is a map of the current incarnation. Until recently the consensus was, "We are our bodies, not our spirit." It has been a common belief that when our physical being dies, we are gone forever. This has placed great stress on families struggling with the moral issues of keeping their loved ones alive with mechanical devices and/or feeding tubes when the person has been declared brain dead, yet the heart beats on. When does the soul depart? I have had a few remarkable experiences which have answered these questions for me.

In the autumn of 1991 my dear friend Debra was due to deliver her second child the end of September. Because she and I were extremely close, she included me in much of the excitement surrounding the birth of her baby, as she had with the arrival of her daughter three years earlier. Debra and her husband invited me to wait with her parents while she was in the delivery room. They said they would call me when they were ready to leave for the hospital at the first signs of labor.

When the due date approached I realized I didn't have directions to the hospital which was over an hour away and I hadn't heard from Debra in a few days. I called her house and was told by her mother, who was there baby-sitting, that she was at the hospital and had been in labor for several hours. Just as I hung up the receiver, the telephone rang. "If you are coming, you had better leave quickly to avoid the rush hour traffic on the Bay Bridge," said her husband. I looked down at the pile of mail I had just brought in moments earlier and was relieved to see, right on top, an envelop from Debra with directions to the hospital. I grabbed the map, called my husband Bryan and said, "Debra is about to give birth. I won't be home for dinner."

I remember talking to myself as I drove the 40 miles to my destination in Vallejo. "Calm down, think clearly, drive carefully." I was "beside myself" with anticipation. "Will I get there in time to see the baby's father carry his son to his family in the waiting room?" I was picturing what would happen from several movies I had seen. I had no trouble with the directions and arrived safely. I ran across the parking lot, charged the elevator and pressed the button leading to the maturity floor.

As I stepped out of the elevator, directly ahead of me, I saw the nurse's station. A woman dressed in a colorful uniform said, "May I help you?"

"I am here to wait while my girlfriend gives birth."

"What is her name?"

I happened to see her name on the white board and pointed to it with a shaky finger.

"Go into that room to the left."

To my surprise she had guided me into the labor room. The atmosphere was surreal. One small lamp illuminated the tight space where Debra lay panting. My friend had decided to give birth naturally without drugs. She and her husband had practiced Lamaze. Everything seemed to be in slow motion. There were no words spoken, just an electric energy which pulsated with sound and color. I wasn't hallucinating. I actually heard a gentle crackling and observed a pale pink hue which permeated the room. I looked up and saw a large round clock which read 5:00. I blurted, "The baby will come at 7:00." That comment came out of nowhere.

I seemed to know exactly what to do; how to assist Debra. She made it clear she didn't want any small talk or fussing with her body. Both her husband and I began to coach Debra with words of encouragement and she seemed to be appreciative of the cool wet cloths I dabbed on her brow. I was in awe of her strength and determination as she diligently exerted the power from within to liberate her unborn child. There was an astounding sense of peace and calm as each contraction accelerated.

Soon it was time to move next door to the delivery room. The stocky female physician greeted the three of us politely. She didn't ask who I was, nor did she seem to care. It felt natural, as though we all were going to be a part of something extraordinary. The doctor motioned for me to stand near Debra's feet. The anticipation intensified as the baby's head began to crown. It felt as though I was in a magnificent dream, the whole experience had an ethereal quality. The gentle crackling sound, that was still present, grew to a more energetic buzz and the color of the atmosphere was now a deep rose. After several minutes of rhythmical pushing, the doctor pulled the baby from Debra's birth canal. As she placed the magnificent newborn on Debra's stomach the highly charged energy in the room coalesced. It seemed as though the universal life force was hovering like a halo over the infant. At the moment the umbilical cord was severed, with a swish, the atmospheric cloud clearly funneled into the body of Debra's son. I was witness to a sensory phenomenon and profound spiritual experience; the miracle of birth. The time was 7:00 pm.

The same month Debra's son entered the world to begin his cycle of life, my dear Aunt Letha, who was like a mother to me, began to decline in health. She was 86 years old and of sound mind, but I noticed she appeared frail and sluggish. She said to me, "It is odd Kay, I feel as alive in spirit as I ever have, but the body parts are wearing out." It was becoming increasingly difficult for her to manipulate the "walker" she had used for many years.

My aunt and I had a strong bond. For the next few weeks and during the holiday season we attempted to converse as deeply as we could about death and dying. She spoke honestly about her wishes for cremation. We had no unfinished business; our moments together were poignant and meaningful.

Early in February, 1992 I got a call from her retirement home that they had taken her to the hospital. I rushed to see her and her words were, "I tried to walk and my legs just wouldn't carry me." There was no talk about trying to "fix" anything. We both knew it was time for her transition. Aunt Letha wanted only my company and told her friends not to visit. She began to lose control of all her bodily functions, but that didn't stop us from having heartfelt communication, revisiting many of our shared experiences. We enjoyed going back in time often laughing at ourselves. I found it amazing we weren't crying. Although I did plenty of that with my husband, she and I were content just to be together. She said to me, "I am not afraid of dying but I don't want to leave you alone."

"I'm not alone Aunt Letha. For the first time I am in a balanced relationship and have a loving husband. I am happy and healthy. I'll be okay." This must have satisfied her because it wasn't long before she began sleeping more and talking less. The doctor informed me she had just a few days to go.

As her breathing became more labored I asked for a cot to sleep in her room. Late in the afternoon as the nurses were attending her, they pulled back the covers, and I was shocked to see how wasted her body had become. Her entire torso was misshapen and filled with fluid. The change was dramatic. It seemed to be in a state of decay and she had only been in the hospital six days. I knew her death was imminent.

I was looking out the hospital window into the distance as the sun was setting .I had a sense of the vastness of the universe. I knew my aunt and I were both a part of the continuing spectrum of life. I would walk out of the hospital with my coat (body) on while she would leave hers behind. But neither of us would truly "die;" our essence would survive forever. I felt an overwhelming sensation of peace.

Slowly the energy of the room began to change. What had been overcast and gloomy was "alive" with the "sound" of heat. The space tingled with a warm rosy glow. Again, I was aware of the presence of a universal life force. This time the power was guiding my Aunt Letha home. Several times during the night she would call out to me. Repeatedly I coached her, "All your loved ones are awaiting your arrival. You'll be fine. Enjoy the ride."

The finale to this "thing" called death was astonishing. I was watching her chest expand and contract. With each breath my aunt was fading in time. All at once the energy in the room began to swirl like a cyclone and was sucked down into her body. The sensation arose from her heart transformed as a magnificent golden light of love. She had taken her last breath and her spirit had left her body.

I do not fear death. I have chosen to "live" my life as if each day could be the last. When it is time for me to go I will say, "I have no regrets." What about you?

Return to Top

How Much is Too Much?

I have always been a list maker. As far back as I can remember it has been routine for me to systemize my life with layers of words shaping the next day's activities, work, communication, reports and generally anything that has been my responsibility. I started this habit as a child and to this day you will find from one to several lists planted around my house. Is this a compulsion? Am I neurotic? I am a Virgo, born in September, and one prominent quality of this sign is the need to organize.

This practice has taken a variety of forms. In high school each plan involved school activities and was embellished with colorful drawings. I coordinated these daily arrangements in a large notebook which I carried with me from class to class. I would never cross anything off the list for I thought it ruined the artistic design but I needed the security of the pages to remind me of what I had to do. I was afraid I would forget an assignment or special activity if I didn't write it down. With all the chaos in my life, I didn't trust my brain to remember. I definitely was becoming dependent on my catalogue of personal business.

By the time I entered college in the 1960's I had created a "mini daily notebook," 3 ½" by 5", filled with several colored insert pages depicting all the categories of my world, i.e. friends, classes, stuff to do, addresses, phone numbers, supplies, wish list, tomorrow, next week, next month. A few of my classmates thought I was nuts and played a trick on me. They stole the "precious planner." I went crazy! The adrenalin was pumping; I was furious with these girls. It felt like I had lost my purpose, I wasn't aware that this habitual recording of tasks was such an intrinsic part of my being. It was embarrassing. I decided to pretend it didn't matter and said nothing. Instead, I created another one, this time bigger and better and under lock and key.

As my life became more complicated in my late 20's, this habit escalated to an addiction. Several times each day I needed to check my lists, which by now had become a detailed card catalogue. I used 5 by 7 index cards, color-coded by type of activity. If the card became too messy with lines drawn through completed tasks, I would copy what was "left to do" on another card, starting a whole new list. The wooden box which held my "memory" was too bulky to carry with me so I would take only the cards I needed for the day. Sometimes in the middle of the afternoon I would check these descriptive details just to be sure I hadn't forgotten something. At the time it didn't matter to me that this was obsessive-compulsive behavior because I was totally dependent on my "paper brain" and couldn't function without it. Besides, I kept my "index madness" secret and therefore didn't need to discuss it with anyone. This was one of the many ways I tried to gain control over my life.

When I became involved with Joey, my ex-husband of 12 years, "I," my sickness gushed out of control. I attempted to organize the man, his daily activities and his personal affairs. I was convinced he would fall apart if I didn't. I began recording for two. I have an incredible list story to share with you that will illustrate how warped my thinking had become.

Joey's mother was quite ill and he hadn't visited her in Boston for a few years. I had only briefly met his parents before we moved to California. I knew how much he missed his family and how important it was for him to take the trip back east. We had several garage sales with goods and pottery to pay for his ticket. For weeks I scoured sales at department stores buying clothes so that he would have the proper attire. I purchased a suitcase as large as a trunk for the one week journey. Then I proceeded to list the items that I was planning to pack for him with instructions on "what to wear with what." This meant spreading out the articles all over the apartment and methodically counting and coordinating each item. The process took many hours of concentrated work.

Please, promise me you will read all these original pages carefully, as tedious as they might be, for I want you to see the excessiveness of my codependency and the need to control another person's life. I discovered theses sheets of paper hidden in my dresser years after I had begun recovery. I am sure Joey never read the list. Who, in their right mind, would ever read something like this, let alone use it? It is not understandable. This may be one of the most unbalanced acts of my addictive personality. It is absolutely insane.

Click each list to expand for full view in a new window. Make sure the new window is at full screen to read each list.

As I read over these lists today I am filled with a sense of pity for my former self. This speaks volumes to how I spent my time obsessing over my alcoholic man. I thank God for my recovery. An example of my good health is the form of list making I do today. I have one list for myself and my 9 year old daughter that I keep in our luggage. When I am ready to pack I check off necessities using the same list each time. Only after years of use, when it is tattered, do I make a new one. I consider this to be practical, not neurotic. As for my husband Bryan, he does his own packing.

Recently I took a trip East and packed the whole suitcase without looking at the list. When I arrived I discovered I had forgotten my favorite blow dryer comb. Did I freak? No. I considered it an opportunity to be inventive and create a new hairdo. It worked. I do believe planning saves time and organizational tools such as Palm Pilots and Franklin Covey Systems are helpful but I most enjoy a small tablet listing daily chores. This is no longer obsessive, just a reminder of "what's up" in my busy world. What about you?

Return to Top

Psychic Energy

I entered this world with an understanding that there was more to life than what we experience with our five senses. As a child I couldn't put it into words, but as confused as my home life was, I knew there were other realities. When I heard talk of fairies, I believed they lived in a space of their own, another dimension. I didn't dare discuss this with anyone for I felt they would think I was crazed. It seemed as though my intuition was heightened; I would dream events before they happened.

In my twenties, I was in great anguish because of a difficult divorce. I took to the bed, as had been my pattern for many years when facing troubles. There had never been a divorce in our family; I was young, embarrassed, and ashamed of my failure. Having grown up in an alcoholic family, I was used to denying pain. I would lie on the bed or the sofa for days; unaware of my surroundings, unable to put one thought in front of the other and was generally comatose. I didn't know it then, but I was seriously depressed.

One hazy, humid, summer afternoon, after I had been in this prone position for hours, I felt a strange sensation; it felt as if my body were floating in air. I opened my eyes to see the brilliance of the sun radiating through the leaded glass windows pervading the room. It seemed as if I were suspended in an energetic vibration. I experienced peace and oneness with the universe. This might have been called an out-of-body experience. I emerged from this state-of-being stronger and aware that I was open to knowledge beyond my ordinary belief system.

This epiphany occurred in the late 1960's when I was teaching college in Columbia, Missouri. There weren't any metaphysical bookstores in this Midwestern town where I lived. The only books about extrasensory perception were those of Jeanne Dixon. They were small paper back books telling of her psychic predictions. I found it fascinating reading about this clairvoyant. I knew her ability to see the past, present and future was a gift. At the time I wasn't aware that many people have this talent. They just don't trust what they feel nor do they believe it is happening to them. I did accept that I was attuned to mystical energy albeit underdeveloped.

Having spent my youth in Missouri, I felt it was time for me to move to either coast, San Francisco, CA or Boston, MA. I flipped a coin and it was tails, Boston. I set out on my journey to a new life the summer of 1969. All the way across country I sought psychics, tarot card readers, and any person claiming to be a fortune teller. I was obsessed, just like I always had been, and the codependent was seeking control of her own future. I wanted to be told what it was going to be! Pure and simple. The past had been so mottled I needed answers and I was convinced the spiritualists could give them to me. I must have had at least 7 readings that summer and many more the first year I was in Massachusetts. Some of the psychics were amazing in their accuracy of my past, which only fueled my beliefs that what I was being told about the future must be true. I was too afraid to let events happen naturally, I wanted to be prepared for everything that was going to take place in my life.

Of course I took accurate notes at every psychic session or the reader would be kind enough to put the information on tape. I played them over and over and compared facts to see if anything lined up. That year 1969-1970 many details repeated themselves. Each seer would have a different style but the same theme was reoccurring: I was going to meet, marry, and have an artistic life with a man with the initial J. We would move to California to pursue our career together. Since I was on a mission to create my own family (and distance myself from my immediate relatives) this news was exciting! About this same time I had one of my prophetic dreams.

These dreams were different than the ordinary type of dreams one usually has. I would awaken with a feeling that this was knowledge of a future event. It was a knowing, feeling experience, as certain as knowing the time of day when you look at a clock. I just knew it was real, although I wasn’t always clear about the symbolism. This confident emotion would last several hours in the morning and I would have fleeting memories of the dream during the day. I dreamt I was holding hands with a light-haired young man, we were walking around the world (globe) and bottles of alcohol were being emptied into the ocean. As the liquid would hit the water, it would dissipate and a golden light of love would take its place. On this journey, as he and I walked, we were joined by thousands of people who were rejoicing in this brilliant radiant light. I wasn't sure, but I thought we were engaged in some type of partnership that involved masses of people. There was an umbilical cord attached between each of our solar plexus.

It wasn't long before Joey Haudel entered my life. We did marry, move to California and were ceramicists together. We were embroiled in a 12 year liaison which I have written about on several occasions. In spite of the difficulties that an alcoholic, unbalanced relationship can bring, we had a powerful spiritual connection. We knew we had a job to do and it was more than just art. We traveled together in physical space to better understand the insidiousness of Codependency. Although deceased, Joey died from alcoholism at the age of 42, he surrounds me in spirit and continues to guide my work in every way.

During my time with Joey I didn't go to psychics or even read anything metaphysical. I was too busy living a sick, codependent existence and keeping it under wraps. For most of those 12 years it took all of my energy to attempt to control our lives. I don't think I wanted to hear about the future, afraid my bubble would burst. After all, wasn't this what I had always wanted; a husband and a great career? Especially, since he and I lived and worked together 24-7? I didn't remember many of my dreams and I certainly didn't have any that were visionary.

Near the beginning of my recovery, after I reached bottom and Joey and I had separated, I began to seek out the word of psychics once again. Here I was, just like before, dependent on the word of an outside source. Rather than look within, (I wasn't ready yet,) I spent my time scouting for "spiritual advisors." The Bay Area, CA, was rich with every type of "reader" imaginable. I saw a famous psychic on a television show and the host mentioned she was from California. I was eager to locate her, regardless of the cost, because she was well known all over the country. I saved my money, $300, yes, shocking at the time but I wanted the word of an authority. I found her in a nearby coastal town and eagerly drove two hours to hear my fate. What I heard that day was incredible: She said excitedly, "You are going to meet a man 6 weeks or 6 months from today's date. He has sandy hair and blue eyes. He is going to be your life partner; you have been together before in another lifetime." Keep in mind I was just beginning Al-Anon and individual therapy. I certainly wasn't a healthy woman and I believed her as if she were speaking the word of God. I took a picture out of my pocket of an actor/model I carried with me to visualize the type of man I wanted to meet. She commented, "That man is Tom Selleck. You will marry him or someone who looks just like him." I almost croaked. The picture I showed her was Tom Selleck (before the success of Magnum, P.I. when he was a fashion model,) although the photographer had changed his hair and eye color for the layout. In the shot I had with me, his hair was sandy and his eyes were blue. She went on to say, the week before a supporting actor from his TV show had been to see her. She called this serendipity.

I am still embarrassed by my actions, but I feel it is important to share my bizarre behavior with you so that you can see just how disturbed I was: I chased up the coast, not even stopping to see the breathtaking scenery, and ran to the nearest art store to buy the largest poster board I could find. I bought two panels; each was 3' by 3' backed with foam core. I went home and equipped with glue and scissors I began the first of two visualization posters. I had been making posters for years, "The Art of Visualization," and was ready to create a magnificent collage using all the photos I had saved of handsome men to inspire this "husband to be" to come into my life. To my astonishment when I searched my art files for portraits, all the men's pictures were of Tom Selleck. (As an artist it is common to collect pictures from magazines for future use i.e. animals, faces, bodies, houses, gardens, etc.) I plastered these photos on both boards, filling every space with visions of this actor. On the back of one of the boards, I listed 101 qualities I wanted in a man. When I was finished I propped them up on my dresser, two feet from my bed, where my subconscious would soak in these images and what I believed would create my objective, to marry Tom Selleck or someone who looked just like him. Again, this was all I knew to do, to try to control the situation and make it happen.

For months I lived with these posters. If I went away for the weekend, I even brought them along. One day in the spring, after an audition in San Francisco, a woman I knew from my acting career asked for a ride home. We stopped at my house first for she had never been to my cottage in the city. As she passed my bedroom she gasped, "What are those? Kay, you are not letting any other man into your life if all the pictures are of Tom Selleck." When she saw the 101 character traits on the back, she said, "What are you trying to do, bake a man?" I told her of the psychic's prediction and asked her, "Do you know anyone who looks like Tom Selleck?" She didn’t hesitate, "Yes, my brother Richard. In fact, my brother lives here now but while he was living in Hawaii he actually worked as a double for Tom Selleck on the Magnum P.I. TV show. I am going to call him and see if I can fix you two up." Six months to the day from the reading of the famous psychic, I met her brother Richard.

I was shaking as we met for the first time in the lobby of a spectacular local hotel. I noticed he didn't ask me for lunch, dinner or even coffee but I didn't care. I just knew our "meeting" was meant-to-be. When I saw him it felt like I had known him forever. It was familiar. We made a date for the following Saturday to drive down the coast. What a strange day. We held hands and talked all afternoon like a couple who had been together forever but there wasn't anything romantic about the excursion. It seemed as though we had been married for 30 years, but we had just met. When he dropped me off later that evening, he said he would call me the next day. I never heard from him again. I did receive a postcard a few weeks later telling me how much it had meant to him to meet me.

My conduct became dramatic and "way over the top." I refused to believe this wasn't the man of my dreams, after all, hadn't I been told of this meeting, and to the very day 6 months earlier. I made cards, wrote letters, built a sculpture and mailed one a day for three weeks to his P.O. Box. After one month of not hearing from him, all the letters and cards came back in a large bundle with the words printed boldly; Occupant Unknown. Looking back on this escapade I am humiliated and see a pathetic woman desperate for love and attention. It almost had the look of "Fatal Attraction." I'm sure I must have scared him. Thank God, I was able to look at myself and get help with my shortcomings. It was at this point I began working diligently on my recovery. A few years later I sent this man an apology to the same address. It wasn't returned.

I still do believe in visualizing my goals and dreams. It is the obsessive-compulsive actions and denying the truth that is so sick. In retrospect, I probably have been with Richard in a past life; that is why he felt so familiar. I do believe some metaphysicians can see the past, present and future. I also feel psychics can be skilled to see through all the layers of co-existing realities. But, do I need to hear about it and possibly be confused. This is a choice we make when we decide to have a reading with a seer. I feel if you want to have fun and take the information lightly, then "go for it." Remember, they are human, information can change, and they aren't always right. Since that incident many years ago I have seen very few psychics. The ones I have seen have not been fortune-tellers but have been women who have given me sound advice about my career, not predictions.

As to my own growth as an intuitive, I had an amazing experience three years ago: My girlfriend Helena and I were in my kitchen. I was at the sink looking out the window when she said, "Kay, I smell alcohol, lots and lots of alcohol." I turned around to see a quizzical look on her face. Just as she said that, my cat Reebok jumped on the table, which he had never done, and began sniffing the air, chirping weirdly, while rolling his head in a peculiar fashion. The room filled with a heavy mist that looked like fog. I went to the window and deliberately closed it because I wanted to make sure vapor wasn’t coming in from outside. Just as I did that, the heavy mist coagulated, swirled around like a cyclone, and left the room. The cat followed it out. I knew, without a doubt, that Joey was trying to reach me. That night I had a wonderful dream: Joey and Debra, "Suicide: In Memory," joined by thousands of people, were pouring alcohol in the oceans and rivers. As the liquid evaporated it was transformed into a magnificent golden light. This radiance shone over the entire world. Fairies were dancing in fields of orange poppies. Joey spoke to me, "Kay, you are being helped by millions of souls on this side. We have been at this for a long time. It is time for the earth to heal. Your mission is to tell the truth."

We have spirit guides and guardian angels. All we have to do is ask and they are there for us. I am open to the spiritual connection from all our guidance. What about you?

Return to Top

Codependence Day

Boston was hot and humid the summer of '72. With searing temperatures, I methodically packed over 50 boxes filled with antiques, junk and old stuff that Joey and I were planning to sell at auction once we arrived to San Francisco. For several months we had traveled about New England picking treasures from shops anywhere we could find them. In those days you could buy unique items for practically nothing and then sell them for much more in the west. We had little money; this was our only form of investment to begin our new life in California. Our choice to leave Massachusetts was made for us; Joey was "on the run" as a parole violator, having been recently released from prison, and I was pregnant, a fact I had kept secret from most of my peers.

For the previous trimester I was nauseated almost all day, everyday. I had mixed feelings about being pregnant with a man I had met only eight months before and to whom I was not married. My sickness was both hormonal and emotional. Although Joey was obviously alcoholic, I was inexplicably drawn to him; it was almost an umbilical cord tug and pull. I secretly fantasized that having his baby would bring us closer together. I dreamed that if I got him away from his "cronies," and moved out of state, we could have a normal life. A few years earlier I had flipped a coin to decide whether I should move to Boston or California. It landed on Boston; now I thought it was time to try the west coast. We both were in denial as to the reality of our relationship and the repercussions that would ensue. We were focused on one thing; we had to get out of there!

Ford Pinto Summer 1972

We nervously rented a 24 ft. truck from the company called One Way Ryder to transport all the goods we had collected. There was no way I could drive such a large van; Joey was going to be in the driver's seat but I used my driver's license for identification. Because Joey had committed a felony his privilege of having a license was revoked. Our plan was to hitch our dark green Ford Pinto to the larger vehicle so that we could sit together in the cab of the truck. It seemed exciting for us to be able to hang together for the long trip and talk about our future business strategies and the birth of our child.

Although One Way Ryder was closed on Sunday, it was the only day of the week we could leave because of the location of our downtown high-rise apartment building on Boylston and Tremont. The alley in back was narrow and traffic during the week would have made it impossible to maneuver a large truck hauling a car. We had already paid our fee and received the keys, so early Sunday morning, the first week in July, we drove to the car rental lot on the outskirts of Boston to pick up the van. Two teenage boys, sons of one of Joey's unlawful connections, met us back at the building to help with the loading of stored furniture and multitudinous boxes. They complained a lot and sweated copiously after making many trips downstairs from our 6th floor apartment.

I had taken my retirement money early so that we could make this trip across country. We knew we needed first and last month's rent for an apartment when we reached our destination and also cash for gas, food and lodging for the week. We didn't have enough money. I wasn't sure we were going to make it. I cooked a roast because I thought if we kept it in the cooler we could make sandwiches instead of buying meals at restaurants. We threw our sleeping bags in the car hoping to camp out instead of renting a motel each night. I knew this wouldn't be comfortable since I was pregnant but I felt we had no choice.

A sweet woman from down the hall, one of the few people I had told I was going to have a baby, gave me a special gift the night before we were leaving. It was a soft, cuddly, white teddy bear. When she came to our door and presented me with the tiny stuffed animal I was overwhelmed with emotion. The symbolism was layered in my psyche. I was aware it was a present for my unborn child but I, Kay, had just been gifted with kindness and caring. Up until that moment, there had been very few gifts in my life or tender moments. It was my first teddy bear.

After weeks of preparation, I was exhausted but I didn't dare let that thought come to mind. We had to go, that's all there was to it! Joey paid the boys cash and thanked them for their help. We were leaving the empty apartment clean and were within minutes of departing. I remarked, "I'm going to wash my hands and face and then I'll be ready. Wait for me downstairs." I went into the bathroom to use the toilet. Whenever I was nervous I needed to go often. I sat down and was overcome by fear. Oh no, no, no! It can't be happening! Why me, why now? Oh, God help. I was watching the water in the bowl turn a deep crimson. It kept coming and coming. The pressure from backed up tears was burning my eyelids, but they wouldn't flow. They were stuck! My heart was pounding and my head was on fire! It felt like I was being held in a vice, being depleted of life force energy. I couldn't move. I was scared shitless. At 4 ½ months pregnant, I was having a miscarriage.

I sat for what seemed like an eternity. When I didn't go to the car to meet Joey, he finally came back to the apartment. The look of profound sadness washed over his face when I told him what was happening. I was thinking, I need to go to the hospital, and what came out was, "Would you please go to the drugstore and get me some Kotex? I'll need several boxes." After all what were we to do? We barely had enough money for the week, I didn't have insurance, and the truck had to be out of the alleyway before rush hour Monday morning. We had to go, we had to leave! I stuffed my panties with paper towels, picked up the white teddy bear off the terrazzo floor and walked with Joey outside.

The last thing we had to do before we left was to hitch the car to the back of the large truck. In a daze, I sat in the cab of the van while Joey was attaching the Pinto to One Way Ryder. It was stifling! I was sad, drained and pathetic. I don't want to go! But, I was resigned to the fact it was much too late to have thoughts like that. Just then Joey came bolting around the truck cursing loudly, "God damn it, those Mother Fuckers! The hitch is broken! You are going to have to follow me in the car!" Like a robot, I got out of the truck, put my teddy bear in the front seat, and sat behind the wheel. This is really going to be something! I hope I can make this 3000 mile trek!

I followed Joey in the One Way Ryder truck. We agreed to stop and make a plan when we were approximately 50 miles outside the city limits. Our schedule had changed because I hadn't expected to be driving the car. We needed to be specific about getting gas, eating lunch, and/or stopping since we both were driving different vehicles. I didn't take my eyes off the One Way Ryder sign and couldn't wait until we made our first stop to discuss the trip. There were no cell phones then, we had no one to call in case of an emergency and we would be in big trouble if we were separated from each other. I was relieved to see Joey pull into a clean rest-stop about an hour after we had left. I needed to talk with him desperately and take care of the untidiness between my legs. The fear of getting lost from Joey seemed to keep my mind off losing the baby.

The first two days seemed to go smoothly. We managed to hook up every few hours for rest and nourishment, eating only food from the storage cooler to save money. I am not sure why, but I wasn't having any pain. I was bleeding quite a bit, and did so for the whole trip, but I only had a few cramps. Since we weren't driving together, I had no idea what was going on in Joey's mind. When we did stop in the evening we were both beat and fell right to sleep in the car. I thought this isn't so bad.

On the third day, passing through a small town in Illinois, Joey signaled for me to pull over. His attitude was serious when he walked up to the car. "The brakes just went out." Terror permeated my body. We did not have any charge cards and our cash was limited. How much is this going to cost and where do we go to get it fixed? Oh, God, what do we do now? Is this huge truck going to glide right into another car and cause an accident? He managed to drive to a garage to see if they could help us. Nope! Not a chance! They said they were too busy to look at it and the first day they had time would be Thursday. I saw something in Joey that I would see many times in the years that followed. He had a built-in reserve of knowledge that seemed to come from the universe. He was not a mechanic, had never worked on cars, yet he got under that 24ft. truck, (in the parking lot of the service garage,) and after a few hours, miraculously fixed the brakes on the van. I was impressed. This was the type of gesture that made me forget Joey's behavior when he was under the influence of alcohol. I was convinced he was a genius, and he was "all mine."

About the time we reached Colorado, I was really tired of driving behind the truck. My car could go faster than the van and I was bored staring at One Way Ryder. We agreed that I could go ahead and meet Joey at various state rest-stops. I was getting quite weak from losing so much blood. It helped to be able to lie down while I waited for him to catch up. We used our map to chart our course and did this successfully many times. That is, until sundown of July 4th. What a mess!

I am not sure exactly what happened, but the rest-stop I used was up on a hill. Although it was marked the same as the other state park stops, I had never seen one up so high. I drove in, as I had done many times, and stretched out to wait for Joey to meet me. Hours went by and he didn't show up. I was getting terribly worried and didn't know what to do. I could see the highway from the elevated vantage point. I began looking for One Way Ryder trucks. Do you have any idea how popular that company was, and maybe still is? There were hundreds of trucks and none of them were pulling into the rest-stop. At this point I was weak, tired, scared, worried, and thought I wasn't going to make it. I noticed it was beginning to get dark. In the distance I could see fireworks. It was Independence Day and all I could think of was, "How can I live without Joey?"

I just started to doze off when he came charging up the hill. Apparently he had missed the stop and had driven 100 miles down the road before he turned around to come back to find me. We were both so angry we began screaming, not caring who was listening. I just couldn't believe I had gotten myself into such a chaotic situation. I didn't want to go! I wanted to go home, but I didn't have a home! I wanted my mother, but my mother wasn't there for me! Joey opened the door of the truck and began throwing all the antiques out on the dirt at the rest-stop. I was in such denial in those days, he probably stopped for a drink and the hours got away from him. I don't know, but it was awful. We finally calmed down; both of us, realizing we only had each other, (Oh God.) Slowly we put everything back in the truck and drove several hundred more miles late into the night.

At this point in the trip I was in a fog. I keep worrying and wondering how long a dead fetus could stay in my body without causing a serious infection. I wasn't able to think and was barely surviving.

It was either in Arizona or Nevada when we both noticed a blockade on the highway directing every car to stop. There was a weigh station in the vicinity and police wanted each driver to get out, go inside the building and show their license. I thought major securities check, they must be looking for someone. This had never happened before in any other state. I panicked! I was absolutely terrified! I knew they would get him now! Oh dear God, help us! We had no choice but to get out and walk inside like everyone else. Joey always "kept his cool." He was a con man; I knew nothing of that world. I was so sick at this point I can't imagine what I looked like. The most amazing thing happened once we were inside the building: Two long lines had formed and officers were walking down the middle of the rows asking to see identification. When they came to us, we were together; they asked for my ID and completely overlooked Joey. I couldn't believe it. He did it again. As we walked outside, away from the law, he said, "I told you not to worry, it would be all right." Whew, divine intervention.

Throughout the whole journey I did notice something unusual; police were always looking at Joey. Every time a highway patrol officer would pass the truck they watched him. It was peculiar. He was the one who told me to start observing and I did. Maybe when someone is running from the law they put out a guilty vibe. It was just one more worry on my mind, but we were so close to our target, I got over it.

We knew we needed to pull into a motel that wasn't located in the center of San Francisco. We found a place in Daly City that conveniently had a lot big enough for the large van. Our money was slowing eroding. We arrived Saturday evening and spent all day Sunday looking for an apartment. No one would rent to us because we didn't have references and neither of us was employed. After eight hours of searching we got one man on the phone that was willing to give us a chance. His unit was located at the foot of Nob Hill. I had always heard it was lovely there. It was definitely the heel of Nob Hill, not the foot. But, again, we had no choice. We paid the first and last month's rent and was given the keys that night. But, it was too dark to move in. To save money we parked the van in front of the building and slept on the floor of the apartment. The next day Joey and I unloaded the One Way Ryder, returned it to the rental agency and came back to the apartment to crash.

First thing Monday morning I found the name of the general hospital where I thought I could get medical help without insurance. I drove myself to San Francisco General and was admitted for a surgical D&C. I'll never know what really happened but, the anesthesia caused me to have horrible nightmares and hallucinations. I awakened to find five interns surrounding my bed. One was holding my hand. They looked thankful and relieved when I opened my eyes. They just kept staring at me as if something had gone wrong during the operation. One said, "It was a boy." Any hope of a normal life was washed away with the loss of the baby. I was truly sad I hadn't died on the table.

Joseph Michael Haudel July 24, 1946 - February 10, 1989

This was just the beginning of a dramatic, chaotic, and troubled existence I shared with Joey. What we experienced together was profoundly life altering for both of us. I worked extremely hard on myself to get well. Joey unfortunately died from alcoholism at the age of 42. Please see We continue to work together, he from the other side and I on the physical plane, to help guide people to their own healing. It is time for all of us to live healthy, happy lives. Here is an example of balance and harmony:

Let's fast forward to the summer of 2005.

The last week of June my husband Bryan rented a SUV Jeep for us to drive to Central Oregon for a week. Our SUV is over ten years old and he felt it would be wiser to rent a vehicle. There was no fuss made, he just went on the internet and figured out what he wanted. I drove him to the airport the morning we were leaving; we picked up the nice looking car and parked it right in front of our house where there was plenty of room on the street. It was new, clean, and the perfect size for our entire luggage. For this trip we had the pleasant addition of one of my daughter's friends who flew from Texas to join us for the holiday. For the past 15 years we have traveled to a fabulous resort, Eagle Crest, once to three times a year, for a vacation.

Packing wasn't difficult because we have a routine. It does take time but there isn't heavy stress involved because I used a master list which includes all the items we need. Bryan did his own clothes packing and my daughter, who is almost 10 years old, helped me. We brought a small cooler that held drinks for the day and a bag of snacks mostly for the girls. When it was time to load the car Bryan lifted all the heavy items and Mariah and her friend helped with the smaller goods. Since we have done this so many times we have developed a system of loading that works well. We were fortunate to have fabulous weather. No one was sweating. Mariah and her friend each brought their favorite stuffed animal and supplies such as music, books, writing materials, and their Gameboy.

You can make it to Central Oregon from our house in the Bay Area in 8 - 10 hours. Instead of driving straight through, we chose to enjoy ourselves and stay all night at a wonderful motel, Sis-Q-Inn, in Weed, CA, driving 4 ½ - 6 hours a day. For a reasonable fee, the inn offered a suite where the girls had their own room. The second morning on the road we stopped at our favorite restaurant, The Hi-Lo Café. Since cooking is not my forte, I think my husband really looked forward to their home-cooked style of breakfast. We had such a delicious meal, but none of us could clean our plate, not even come close.

The views of Mt. Shasta were breathtaking and the entire ride to Oregon was beautiful. We didn't talk much, I think because there was so much natural beauty to enjoy. Mariah and her friend loved all the different types of farm animals grazing in the pastures. As we got closer to Oregon, I especially liked the heavily wooded forests. Because Bryan did all the driving, I was able to work on a book proposal and listen to music as the hours passed contentedly. It was heavenly.

Mariah Riding Disco the Pinto Summer 2005

At the resort we stayed in a gorgeous condominium which overlooked the Deschutes River. Our unit was decorated magnificently and was equipped with all the amenities of home and then some. The activities offered were plentiful with several swimming pools, (both indoor and outdoor,) bike riding, craft classes, three golf courses, video game nights, and hiking. Nearby, down the road, was Diane's Riding Place where Mariah rode her favorite horse, Disco, the Pinto. There was so much to do we didn't need to leave the area, although many times in the past we have. It is one of the best family resorts in the country. We are blessed to own a time-share at Eagle Crest.

Central Oregon Summer 2005

Bryan, Mariah and I love Oregon! Three years ago we purchased property high atop a canyon with views of the entire Cascade Mountain Range. We are planning to build a home there in the near future. We, of course, visited our property while we were there last June. Mariah and her friend looked for owl pellets while Bryan and I enjoyed the stunning view. The peace I felt, when standing at the edge of the cliff with my husband and daughter nearby, is beyond words. Thirty years ago peace was not in my vocabulary.

When I planned the trip initially I was a tad disappointed because check-out day was Monday, July 4th. This meant we would be on the road for the Independence Day Holiday. When the time came to pack up and return home I hoped the girls' vacation was so memorable that they wouldn't notice we weren't celebrating the day with a barbeque or festive event. They didn't seem to say anything until we stopped at Red Bluff where we were staying for the night. At the restaurant, where we were enjoying fabulous ribs, a waitress asked us what we were doing for the holiday. Both their eyes got big! When I said we were traveling and hadn't made any plans, she pointed toward the river and said, "Why the fireworks are right here. You can see them outside." Wow, we were all excited.

We went back to the hotel and at 9:30 p.m. the girls and I went down to the pool to pick out a spot with a "birds eye view." Mariah said, "We need to cut down that tree. It is right in the way." A few blazes had gone off and she was right, the tree blocked our view. Just then Bryan came down and said, "You can see the whole show from our room on the 3rd floor." We all made a "beeline" up the steps and down the hall to our air-conditioned room. The temperature registered 106 degrees. We ran inside, threw back the curtains, opened the large glass sliding window, and were entertained with the most spectacular fireworks for almost half an hour. What a joyful experience that turned out to be.

Our trip to Oregon may not have had as much high drama or be as intriguing as the experience I had with Joey over 30 years ago, but I wouldn't trade the life I have now for anything in the world. Independence Day will always remind me of how fortunate I am to have liberated myself from the bondage of addiction. I am overwhelming grateful I will never again have to live a Codependence Day. What about you?

Return to Top


I was returning from a trip to San Diego where I had gone to comfort my dear Aunt Letha. My mother's recent death had left her devastated. I chose to fly down south without Joey because his condition was deteriorating rapidly. With a labored bearing I slowly ascended the terrazzo stairs that wound their way to the entrance of our inner-city, San Francisco, dwelling. A shadowy cloud surrounded me and the house we lived in, as I made my way to the front door. With each step I ached with fear, for I had the feeling of impending doom.

This ominous ambiance was precipitated by a week long struggle with Joey and his paranoid, psychotic behavior. All week, almost hourly, while I was visiting my aunt, Joey would call on the telephone convinced he was God, Jesus, the Messiah, Buddha, and a plethora of saints. Vehemently he ranted into the telephone, expressing deep seated anger with me. He was especially upset that I didn't invite him to go along. I hadn't dared to take him because the last trip he had disappeared with my mother's legal papers when we arrived at the airport and was gone for over a week. At this point in our life together we had struggled with alcoholism and codependency for ten years. Unfortunately, because I had kept our insidious illnesses secret, my aunt had no idea what was happening to Joey. As she wrung her hands she kept repeating, "What is wrong with him; why is he doing this?" Needless to say the week was difficult and I knew coming back to San Francisco would be complicated. What I didn't know was the severity of this home coming and what it would mean for my future.

As I reached the front door, and put my sweaty palm on the knob, I was frozen with trepidation. I just knew this was the beginning of the end. I slowly turned the key in the lock pushing on the door at the same time. It wouldn't budge. I pressed harder only to have my efforts blocked by an incredible force. Finally I used my whole body to wedge myself between the door jamb and the hallway. With tremendous energy I was able to shift the sofa that had been turned on its side to prevent me from entering. I squeezed through the narrow opening and was horrified at what I saw.

The floor was knee deep in debris. As I looked more closely I saw that all the books, furniture, photo albums, bills, letters, writing materials, kitchen goods, clothing, food, antiques, paint brushes, cosmetic and bathroom items, cooking utensils, framed photos, pillows, blankets, tools, and basically all that we possessed, was strewn all over the house. What formerly had filled the bedroom was now displaced and sprayed with flour from the kitchen. The furniture was shredded and their innards erupting. Canvases were on the floor destroyed with sticky goop. There was vomit everywhere and cat poop hidden under the rubble. A man-made hurricane had descended upon my home.

Where were my cats? As I made my way through the destruction, all I could think of were my precious felines. I found them alive, but very hungry, frightened, and cowering in a closet. This is what it had come to! After years of hiding, lying, chaos, confusion, drunkenness, fear, pain, suffering, neuroses, neediness, anger and denial, I was at the bottom. I couldn't live the nightmare any longer.

I searched the house for way to kill myself. We didn't have any guns and strangely all the knives were missing in the clutter. I went to the medicine cabinet, which was hanging off its hinges, and found only empty bottles. I remember clearly that my body felt like steel and it was on fire. The pain of blocked tears pulsated in my head which felt like it was about to explode. My limbs were lifeless; I was a living corpse.

Somehow I was guided to the telephone. I dialed the operator and she connected me with the Suicide Prevention line. Once I heard a man's voice I began to cry, and cry, and cry. I don't even know what he said to me, all I knew is that he stayed on the line and comforted me for over an hour. I was so wet from weeping I could have wrung out my blouse. Water was purifying my soul. When I finally stopped crying I felt a tremendous sense of cleansing, as if toxins were being released from my body. I knew at that moment there was hope.

Would you stop and reflect right now, as agonizing as it might be, what your bottom felt like. Each of us has had a different kind of experience. Take your time; see all the details, live it again. Horrible isn't it. Now multiply that times 500,000 and you can imagine what these poor souls, victims of Hurricane Katrina, are going through right now. Only their bottom is bottomless. The pain is beyond thinkable.

Thousands of these people lived in poverty before the devastation. For many, the average wage for a family of four was $12,000 per year. If we were birds looking down on the U.S. we would see the imbalance clearly. Rapidly our middle class is eroding. We have the extremely wealthy on one side and a profusion of poor folks on the other. Poverty breeds poverty. It is toxic and it is just plain wrong. No one wants to be poor. I see this horrible catastrophe, first the hurricane and then the flooding, as a chance for souls to stop denying, face the truth, and begin to heal the inequities of our world.

I believe the abundance of water that washed up on our soil, are the tears of God, within, without, and all about. We are destroying ourselves and our planet. Right now, we have the opportunity to give, share, and love our sisters and brothers of Hurricane Katrina. Collectively, let's continue to give money, housing, therapy, and most of all hope. Visualize each and every soul surrounded by the white light of protection. Everyday, say a prayer and hold them in your heart. We can't stop until we are satisfied that all of these fine people have started a new and better life. Please go deep into your soul and you will feel the benevolence of humanity. Not the color of our skin, not the flavors of our food, need to divide us. We are all one, the children of God.

As a nation, and a world we are donating millions of dollars to help these people have a decent life. I am going to visualize that it is spread fairly. This will begin to ease their suffering and hopefully allow them to rise from the unending pit as you and I have. I shall continue to pray for them to have courage, be safe and most of all accept the love of God. What about you?

Return to Top


“Will you stop it?” I nervously repeated to my brother John. “Stop it; I just want to get home before someone sees us.” We were schlepping a huge wire shopping cart filled with a big bird, a big dead bird, and all the accoutrements for the next day’s Thanksgiving dinner. The sign on the cart read, “DO NOT REMOVE FROM PARKING LOT.” I was 13 years old and my sibling 11. John was driving me crazy by jumping on the over-stuffed cart, watching him slip and slide down the icy sidewalks on the way back to our apartment. We had been ordered by our mother to make this mile long trek to the super market because we had just experienced our first winter storm and she didn’t want to drive there with my step-father’s car. She didn’t own her own vehicle. We may have been poor but one thing my mother did try to do was have delicious meals on the table. But, they came with a price, always! The beginning of today’s outlay was; we were frozen to the bone as we pushed the cart through the snow dodging any kids playing outside who might go to our local elementary school. We were both humiliated for not following the rules, (my brother less so than I) and for taking the cart. We didn’t want to be seen by any of our peers, and we were dreading the trip back. Oh yes, we did have to return the empty cart and then walk home again.

In our house meal time was a huge production, even everyday meals. Holiday dinners were especially dramatic. We had purchased everything on the list and didn’t dare sneak any treats for ourselves because once my brother had stolen a candy bar from the drugstore and my mother made him return it and apologize to the druggist. I, too, had taken some colored cotton balls from a friend’s bathroom and was reprimanded severely. Neither one of us wanted to face my mother’s wrath so we made sure we only brought back what she requested. By the time we returned home, the final trip, it was cocktail hour. She and my stepfather “Cee” had just begun to warm up from the bitter cold outside. John and I unpacked the groceries eyeing everything that was needed for the Thanksgiving dinner. We were starving. Actually we were hungry most of the time. The reason being; there were NO snacks allowed in our house and by the time we would finally eat dinner each evening it would be around 8:00 – 9:00 pm. As we were putting away all the items in the refrigerator we spotted a box of Mavrakos Chocolate Turtles on the second shelf halfway to the back. It was new, for we hadn’t seen it earlier. What was distressing for two hungry kids was the sign that read, “PRIVATE PROPERTY, DO NOT TOUCH.”

Wow, this fueled our anger and we began plotting how we could get some of those turtles. We knew Cee had planned to offer chocolate to his guests and that it was hands off for us. We were never allowed the same delicacies as he. Cee had a lot more money than we did and he didn’t like to share. My brother and I were called “It” and “Ut” and were in the way of his codependent relationship with our mother. The food for the Thanksgiving meal was a different story. Because it was a holiday and my dear Aunt Letha and Uncle Wally were invited, we knew we would be fed. But that wasn’t until the next day. We couldn’t stop thinking about the box of candy. We wanted to taste the gooey, rich, caramel and pecan chocolates. So began our scheme.

John said, “I will get the chocolates from the refrigerator but I need to wait until they have had more to drink.” It was about 4:00 pm and both my mother and Cee were glued to the kitchen where they had easy access to the fresh turkey and the liquor cabinet. My stepfather had been sitting at the end of the table all day and was happy to direct my mother’s culinary skills. She was the chef but he insisted on acting like he was contributing to the cooking. That evening, before the big day, I was asked to make sandwiches because they were busy cleaning the bird, and preparing special stuffing, vegetables and sweet potato dishes. I did this gladly because my brother and I were so hungry and it meant we wouldn’t have to wait until 8:00 or 9:00 pm to eat. As I was making the tuna salad I was eagerly observing their every move. I noticed with each dish they created, the box of turtles was slipping further to the back of the refrigerator, almost out of sight. My brother would feign interest in their progress, peeking into the icebox. He too wanted to make sure the chocolates were still there. We all ate our sandwiches at 7:00 pm and the two adults finished their work around 10:00 pm. Of course each endeavor was preceded by a cocktail. By the time they were ready for bed they were both pretty crocked.

Phase One was over, they were asleep. We now were ready for Phase Two: retrieving the box of candy from the refrigerator, taking our share, and returning the turtles without being caught. John and I agreed to meet in the hall and from there we tiptoed into the kitchen. We were fearful of turning on any lights so we felt our way to the icebox. We opened it carefully using the inside light as our guide. Our first hurdle was the turkey that weighed 20 lbs.; not easy to move quietly. I held the door open with my back while each of us used both our arms to lift it out. We were careful not to scrap the pan as we dragged it from its position. What we didn’t do was agree on where to put it while we worked. It was dark in the kitchen and we couldn’t see each others eyes, so for a few seconds we were left holding the bird midway in the air. I was frustrated because I was afraid of speaking at all. Finally I whispered, “Move it to the table.” With a loud clunking sound it landed on the metal surface. We both froze for a few seconds thinking we had been heard. When nothing happened we preceded to move the other dishes out of the way. We knew we had to work quickly and chose to leave all the food on the table. John grabbed the Mavrakos and we tiptoed to my bedroom where I had hidden a flashlight earlier in the day.

The brown and white chocolate box was wrapped in a layer of cellophane. There was a folded flap on both ends of the candy. I took a nail file from my mother’s manicure set (she always left it in my room hoping the some day I would care for my nails the way she cared for hers) and cautiously wiggled the file under the fold. It was tedious. I knew I couldn’t tear the paper and take the chance of being found out. I also was afraid Cee would awaken. Vacillating between patience and apprehension, I opened one end of the clear plastic covering. With my right hand I gingerly pushed the box through until I could pull it out without disturbing the surface. It worked! We were “In like Flynn.” John and I were both so excited we could barely contain our emotions. Inside were three layers of luscious cocoa brown turtles just waiting to be eaten? We pigged out! I must have eaten six by myself. I didn’t count how many my brother ate. When our cravings were satisfied, we were down to one layer. Uh oh! What to do now? I carefully folded the two pieces of parchment which had separated the layers and put them in my pocket. To fill the space I lined the chocolates neatly in rows. We then returned the Mavrakos to its plastic cover. We were lucky, it slid right in. I licked the flap and miraculously it re-stuck. Feeling quite smug we retraced our steps and returned first the chocolates then the rest of the food to the refrigerator. We each went to our individual bed and fell asleep feeling proud of ourselves.

The next morning everyone in the household was up early. Cee was already perched on his throne, the heavy metal chair at the end of the kitchen table. There was an empty shot glass next to his coffee cup. These days he spent most of his time grunting and grumbling under his breath about the two “Things,” (my brother and I) he was forced to have in his life. Warily he made a list of the appetizers, entrée, side dishes and desserts without ever making eye contact with either John or me. He had organized the menu in outline form. With great effort I tried to read what was on Cee’s tablet as I was concocting the cranberry salad. I was especially interested in the last section: D for Desserts. There it was the last item on this lengthy bill of fare, Mavrakos Chocolate Turtles! As he always said, “Save the best for last!” This was before the days of fancy truffles when turtles were the finest offering for a special occasion. Oh dear! I was worried.

What I enjoyed the most about holidays at our house was decorating the dining room table. My mother didn’t feel confident with design and it since it was evident to everyone that I was the artist she left this part of the celebration to me. She was the gourmet and she wanted her food to be shown as beautifully as possible. This always went well because no one else wanted the job and I actually loved it.

I started with the table. We had an old, worn, heavy, mahogany, monstrosity when opened up held twelve people. Unfortunately I needed Cee’s help putting in the leaves. He managed to pull himself from his seat in the kitchen because I think he enjoyed what I did with the decorations. From the closet in our apartment that held linens I chose a beautiful beige crocheted cloth that my Aunt Letha had made. My Aunt had generously brought over her silverware earlier in the week which we always appreciated. For the centerpiece; I hollowed a pumpkin, zigzagged the edge, and filled it with miniature papier-mâché gourds which I had made ahead of time. Each cloth napkin was rolled and tied with an earth colored ribbon and topped with a twisted ribbon rose. I drew the name of each guest in calligraphy on colored paper placards. Burnt orange tapers, wrapped in tissue paper from the year before, went into my mother’s silver candle sticks. (We never burned candles; they were only for decoration, which made it possible to reuse them several times before they faded.) I wished setting a table and beautifying the dining room could go on all day. I much preferred this to being in the crowded kitchen where the atmosphere was progressively deteriorating the more my mother and Cee had to drink. Usually cocktail hour started at 4:00 pm but on a holiday it began as the meal was being prepared. In other words, it went on all day.

“KAY! KAY! KAYEEEEEEEE,” my mother shrieked. “COME IN HERE! You were supposed to make a pie! A pumpkin pie!

“You never told me that!” I said and I started getting a stomach ache. (I had so many stomach aches in my youth I wished I could wear a heating pad under my clothes.)

“Why do you think I had you buy all the ingredients for a pumpkin pie if you weren’t going to make it? I don’t do pies! I do cakes!” My mother had already prepared a sumptuous chocolate up-side-down cake. I was true, her cakes were amazing, but I knew nothing of pie baking and was totally taken aback with her request. “Get busy, you still have time. Use the ready-made crust in the freezer.” Oh dear, I wasn’t a cook and didn’t feel comfortable in their kitchen. When I read the recipe I was a relieved to see that this pie would miraculously solidify in the refrigerator. It didn’t have to be baked.

“But do I have enough time?” I thought. Our guests were due to arrive in three hours. “Oh well, I’d better go for it.” Fortunately this seemed like an easy method to make a dessert. I carefully got out all the ingredients I needed, plus the proper utensils, and lined them up on the kitchen counter. I had to pile a few items on top of each other because my mother was using most of the counter space. I had learned in school to take my time and carefully read the measurements: 1 can pumpkin (15 oz.,) 4 oz. PHILADELPHIA Cream Cheese (softened,) 1 Tbsp. milk, 1 Tbsp. sugar, 1 tub (8 oz.) COOL WHIP Whipped Topping, and so on. The instructions were very clear but I was a nervous wreck. I did the best I could under the circumstances. When I was finished, I hesitantly balanced the pie plate and put it in the cold refrigerator nearby the turtles.

When our guests began arriving around 5:00 pm I happily served them hors d’oeuvres which consisted of cream cheese spread in celery, sprinkled with paprika, which I had made myself. At the time I thought that was a big deal and loved eating them as well. There was a five minute discourse as to the correct pronunciation of paprika. Was it “papreeka” or “papraka?” This drove me nuts. I couldn’t care less. Cee was in charge of the drinks which were mixed cocktails. The booze flowed freely and the noise level increased with each hour of the party. It was expected that my brother John and I would entertain the group of adults with our rehearsed vaudeville routine. There was a small space in the alcove between the living room and the dining room which we used as our stage. The two of us loved performing and this was our chance to get some attention from our family. What we didn’t expect was what we happened that night.

We put on our costumes and danced to jazzy music coming from our 78 record player. It was so much fun! I took myself quite seriously and thought I was the next Isadora Duncan. My brother wasn’t much of a dancer but he was called rubber legs for the way he could twist his torso like a pretzel. We always looked forward to these family recitals. All of a sudden Cee began mimicking what he had seen at Vaudevillians Theater: “Get off the stage,” he shouted. “You are done, you are a has-been.” At the same time he pretended to throw rotten eggs. “Take this you two. Take this!”

My mother at first looked surprised and then to my astonishment she too began shouting. “Here is a rotten tomato!” with a theatrical arm throwing gesture as if she were pitching a baseball. All the guests participated in this improvisation to our horror! We were devastated! Both John and I ran to our room crying while the group, slurring their words, practically in unison, called us spoiled sports. So much for partying and living it up with liquor!

Aunt Letha came to our room to try and patch things up. She didn’t participate in the drama but she was too afraid of my mother and Cee to support our feelings. “They were just playing and kidding around,” she said. “They didn’t mean any harm.” She was looking down at the chipped linoleum, kicking it with her foot, and she added, “Come back to the group. It is time for dinner.”

Neither John nor I wanted to look at any of these people we called relatives but we were hungry. We begrudgingly left our spot on the floor of our bedroom and took our place at the table. The turkey with all the trimmings looked spectacular on the colorful table. I felt a rush of excitement for the part I played in making the environment look so inviting. For a minute I felt like I was in another world; a world of beauty, balance and harmony. But it didn’t last long. One of the adults said, “Oh Letha, isn’t this the bedspread you made for Aunt Martha?” She was referring to the magnificent crocheted tablecloth I had chosen from the linen closet. Everyone looked down at the table and immediately let out a roar of laughter. I indeed had picked the bedspread which was thicker and bumpier than the more delicate tablecloth. I felt terrible. It wasn’t funny to me.

Most of the meal was spent with the sounds of silence, with the exception of the occasional lip smacking from Uncle Joe who claimed the louder the smacking, the better the food. I don’t remember Grace having been recited not do I remember giving thanks for anything. After dinner we paused for a least an hour for everyone to refill their high- ball glasses. My brother and I crouched in a corner fiddling with a deck of cards. We were dreaming of the desserts and couldn’t wait to take our pick. We knew we would have to wait for the adults to get inebriated before they wanted the sweets but it didn’t take long.

Soon someone said, “Where is that pumpkin pie I heard Kay made?” I was kind of excited myself because I had never made a pie before today. Cee piped up with, “We also have Jane’s delicious chocolate up-side-down cake and Mavrako’s Turtles.” I helped my Aunt carry in the choices and back to the table we went. In fact my mouth was almost watering. Everyone wanted the pie over my mother’s chocolate cake. I watched her carefully because I didn’t want her to feel my dessert was getting more attention than her up-side-down creation. She didn’t seem to mind and was anxious to taste the pie. My heart sank at the first slice of the knife. It was absolutely liquefied; it wasn’t in the solid state it was supposed to be. What happened? I’ll never know for sure. Did I measure wrong or wasn’t there enough time in the refrigerator? Everyone insisted on trying it. I couldn’t believe what happened next. The whole family exclaimed how delicious it was, some even saying it was the best pumpkin pie they had ever eaten. At the same time they were raving about the pie, Cee was opening the box of turtles. “Humph,” he said. “They certainly don’t give you very much for your money anymore. They are about the same as the price of gold. Enjoy, have a chocolate.” So much for partying and living it up with liquor!


I have come a long way from the days of my youth with the tension of holiday dinners. Since my recovery, everyday has become a celebration of the phenomenal existence I am leading. I awaken each day with gratitude for my healing. I am sharing my life with a wonderful man, my husband, Bryan and our lovely daughter Mariah. Each fall we travel to Oregon for the Thanksgiving holiday. This will be an especially fun year because Grandma Sharon and Grandpa Joe, along with cousin Harper, will be traveling to join us from their home near Chicago.

I am giving thanks from the bottom of my heart to a unique gentleman, Mr. Tom Sumner, the editor and publisher of Recovery Times. For years now Tom has lovingly given to the Recovery Community, tirelessly and thanklessly. He has created this amazing website where we can go for help, understanding, knowledge, hope, caring, sharing and love. He has done this without financial remuneration because he wants to give back to the world what God has given him. When Tom heard how I have struggled for 15 years to share my story of recovery he miraculously, with advanced technology, expanded my website to include the viewing of my DVD, I Survived, online. This took a great deal of time and effort on Tom’s part. I will be eternally grateful for this act of kindness. Because of his thoughtfulness hundreds of people are now hearing how I broke the cycle and survived the family disease of alcoholism. I know I am always inspired by success. What about you?

Return to Top

Miracle Makers

We had made it to Peter’s house just in time for Mariah’s weekly music lesson. Her composition satchel was overflowing because it was filled with her clarinet, recorder and loads of new music which she had played many times the week before. As she unpacked the folder of music, a piece of paper slipped to the floor. Both Mariah and her teacher read the heading out loud: Fruitvale Miracle Makers Sponsors Needed. She blurted, “What is this? Do you know where it came from Mommy?” I took the sheet of paper without giving it much thought and settled in the corner where I could listen to her session without being intrusive. After a few minutes I began reading the flyer. Apparently, Robert Limon, a man in our community of Oakland, CA. along with his mother, was making the effort to distribute gifts, clothes and food vouchers to less fortunate families in our county for the holidays. Many of these families live in shelters or share housing with other adults and children. His search was on for sponsors. The date I was reading the paper was Friday, December 16th. He was proposing a community party at the local De Colores Head Start the following Wednesday, December 21st where families, miracle makers and Santa could hang out and gift items would be distributed. I knew intuitively this wasn’t an accident. The information had landed in my daughter’s sheet music because it was meant for my eyes. I wanted to be a part of this munificent endeavor.

Head Start programs had made assessments from survey/needs. It was Robert’s hope that at least 40 families would be helped during the holiday season. After my initial call that evening I was assigned a family on Saturday. I had just a few days to plan my shopping and purchase gifts that I thought would be practical and also fun for the children. My ‘Family’ consisted of parents with two daughter’s ages 3 and 5. The minimum being asked was that we provide the kids with a wrapped gift and the family with groceries for a festive meal. We could play it bigger if we liked with hand me downs, more gift cards, blankets, shoes and coats. Since I had come into the program so late I decided I would commit to gift cards and presents for the two adults and two children. I planned on doing my shopping on Monday, December 19th.

I felt queasy as I spent the morning first at Safeway for the food gift card and then later at Long’s for the drugstore gift card. I began sneezing like crazy and was a bit irritated because I thought what a lousy time to be catching a cold right before the holidays. I carried a tissue box with me all day and by evening it was almost empty.

The next morning Tuesday I knew I needed to purchase the rest of the presents that day. I chose Target where I felt I could get more for my money and also satisfy the needs of adults and children. I was fortunate. As busy as the shopping season is at that time of the year, a young sales woman offered to help me with choices and sizes. She had two daughters who were exactly the same ages of the girls I was buying for. She had no idea how terrible I was feeling but she just took over anyway and guided me from one end of the store to another. When I was looking at baby dolls she advised me to buy two exactly the same. She said, “Siblings fight sometimes if the items are different.” This kind woman was the same age as the parents of my ‘Family’ and therefore she suggested comfortable sweat clothes for both the mom and dad. In just a few hours I had purchased: two baby dolls dressed in pink with moving eyelids, puzzles, books, games and outfits for the two adults. I was grateful for the sales woman’s help because at this point I was losing my ability to think clearly. When I looked around the store I didn’t notice anyone else getting such special attention which made me even more appreciative of her thoughtfulness.

When I got home all I wanted to do was go to bed, but I needed to wrap the gifts as was requested. My husband Bryan does the entire gift-wrapping in our house but I didn’t want to ask him as this was my project and he was already overloaded with work. I slowly and methodically began using decorative gift boxes and tried to write special notes to the small girls from Santa’s Helper. Just folding the paper around the items was difficult. Ordinarily I could zip through a task like this but this night I found myself lost in a fog. At 8:00 pm I took my temperature and it was 102. I rarely get fevers so this was high for me. I thought, “No wonder I feel so sick.” I took some Tylenol and went to sleep early.

The Miracle Makers were asked to deliver their gifts to the center the following morning between 9 and 10 am. The community party was planned from 10 am to 12 pm. I was looking forward to meeting my ‘Family’ and watching the children open unexpected gifts.

When I awakened Wednesday, December 21st, I was dizzy and felt ghastly. Bryan’s words to me as he left the house at 5:30 am were, “Stay in bed.”

I kept thinking, “How am going to drive to deliver these gifts?” I must have fallen asleep because when I opened my eyes and looked at the bedroom clock it read 6:20 am. I had a mission and was worried about my commitment. I thought, “My ‘Family’ will be disappointed and feel left out if they are the only ones not to receive gifts. I have to go!”

The next thing I knew I was staring at the kitchen ceiling fan, lying flat on my back on the cold tile floor. It took a few minutes to get my bearings. I remember thinking, “Why is it so chilly in here?” I was puzzled. I didn’t remember walking down the hall to the kitchen. I looked around slowly and put my hand to my head where there was a thumping ache. My hair was matted with blood. I slowly lifted myself up to my desk chair and saw a red puddle on the floor. “Oh, I must have fainted but I don’t remember anything about it.” The clock read 7:10 am. I reached for the telephone and called Bryan. “Will you please come home and deliver these gifts? I fell and hit my head on the kitchen floor.”

“Do you need stitches?” he said.

“I don’t know; I hope not. I don’t want to spend the day in the emergency room.” I know that head wounds bleed a lot and also because I take Coumadin there is probably more blood than usual.” (Coumadin is an anticoagulant.)

“Okay, I’ll be there as soon as I can.” Bryan drives his car to the Bart station and takes the subway to San Francisco. The trip home can take between one half hour and one hour, depending upon the time of the day.

There were four unwrapped presents on the kitchen table. I began stumbling around thinking I would wrap the gifts and have everything ready when he got home. By this time the wound had stopped gushing blood but I was still very weak. The fog from the night before had not lifted; it felt as though I was wallowing in a murky mist.

Just then I heard Mariah’s door open. When she entered the kitchen she said, “What happened?” She looked aghast at the blood on the floor.

“I must have fainted,” I replied.


“I don’t know.”

“That is scary!”

“Daddy is coming home to help me and also to deliver the gifts to the community center this morning.”

Mariah offered to wrap the remaining gifts and as we reached for them I noticed the edge of the butcher-block table, approximately eight feet from the spot where I had ‘come to’ on the floor, was covered in blood. It made no sense to me. I remembered nothing of the fall.

I went to my bedroom and lay down on the bed not caring about the blood staining my pillow. I was consumed with thoughts of being late with the delivery.

Bryan arrived home around 9:30 am. I instantly felt relief. My husband is such a stable, balanced, loving guy. He always knows what to do to make me feel safe. Actually, just his presence does that for me.

He looked at my head to evaluate the damage and said, “You are asking the wrong person to make a judgment as to your need for stitches. I can see an open wound but your hair is so tangled with blood it is difficult to see the size of the cut. We need to go to the hospital. First, will you try to rinse your hair so the wound will be visible?”

“All right, I will do that but I need your help because I am feeling so dizzy. Please go deliver the packages because the party starts at 10:00 am.”

“Kay, we need to go to the hospital now. Your lesion might start mending and it will be too late to stitch it properly.”

“I don’t care! I will be fine just lying here in bed until you get home. At least it isn’t gushing anymore.”

I know he didn’t approve of my decision but he also knows me well and he knew I wouldn’t budge until those gifts were delivered. He called Robert and said his wife was ill and that he would be a little late. But, he would be bringing the items as soon as possible. He went downstairs and helped Mariah finish the packages and then the two of them were on their way.

When they returned Bryan stood in the bathroom near the shower while I attempted to wash my hair. I was afraid I might fall again so he naturally agreed. I didn’t use much soap; I just wanted to rinse out the blood. When I was finished and dressed we left for the emergency room. I had to be content with a ‘wash and wear’ hairdo. Ugh! But I had no choice.

I took a deep breath and tried to relax as much as possible; I knew it would be a long afternoon. Bryan dropped me off at the entrance while he parked the car. After wandering the halls for several minutes I asked a gentleman the directions to the admitting desk. He pointed me to the right corridor. I was surprised to see the waiting room was not that busy and it seemed fairly organized. I actually didn’t have to wait long to see the admitting nurse, a beautiful, athletic looking woman. What transpired was a bit bizarre and set the tone for the day.

First there were the expected questions such as: My name, address, telephone number, insurance, etc. She was extremely businesslike and matter of fact. Because I had walked in without Bryan she asked, “Do you live alone.” I told her I didn’t; that my husband was parking the car. “Okay, tell me exactly what happened and how you passed out.” As she asked me this question and was typing away on her computer, she was also eyeing the group of people right in front of her through the glass window. I felt she was a multi-tasker.

I tried to be detailed and thorough. “I don’t know how I passed out. When I opened my eyes at 7:10 am I was on the cold tile floor of the kitchen staring at the ceiling fan.”

“Wait a minute!” she said dramatically. “Was your husband at home?”

“No,” I replied. “He leaves the house at 5:30 am for work.”

“What do you mean you awakened on the kitchen floor?” With a large gesture she swung her leg over her desk chair and said, “Did he just step over you and go on his way leaving you unconscious? I doubt that!”

I thought, “Oh this is going to be good. She is getting cross with me and all I am trying to do is tell her what happened.” In my hazy mental and physical condition I started the explanation over. “Okay, not when I got up for the first time, later when I fell in the kitchen. I don’t know how I fainted, I don’t remember anything. I don’t even remember walking down the hall. All I know is I opened my eyes and saw my desk chair and lamp askew. When I touched the throbbing ache on my head I felt a mass of matted, bloody hair. That’s it! That’s what happened.”

“People do not conk out without a reason. There is something else going on. I want you to go back to the waiting room and sit right in front of my window where I can watch you. After you go to that office over there, (she was pointing and gesturing vividly toward a nearby room) come back and sit in front of me again. Is that clear? No matter what they tell you, sit there! I need to be able to see you.”

As I took my seat right in front of her window Bryan came in and sat next to me. By this time the room was full of people. An attendant came up to all the folks blocking the large glass window view and asked them to move to the other side of the room. She spoke with a thick accent and to all these sick patients it didn’t make any sense. The more distant area was packed with patients and the area in front of the window was wide open with many available seats. Everyone just looked at each other blankly and then moved. I didn’t because I was told to stay put!

“You too Madame. You need to move to the other side of the room.”

I answered with, “The admitting nurse said I was not to move anywhere. I am to stay in her clear view.” I was wondering if she was going to make Bryan move across the room when he told me he needed to go and pick up Mariah from a special music lesson. He would be back as soon as possible. There seemed to be so much going on but nothing seemed to matter much. I felt out of it. The attendant checked with the admitting nurse and told me I didn’t have to move.

Surprisingly I was taken to a bed rather quickly. A tall, talkative nurse named Maggie led the way to a bed straight back from the waiting room. On the way she gave me blankets that were heated and I was grateful for that gesture because the emergency room was cold. She began speaking loudly, “When you faint there is a reason. You are SICK!” The way she said it bothered me. I was worried there was a problem, something other than a high fever or the flu. Immediately a male nurse dressed in all green began administrating an EKG. He too began telling me that when someone faints it can indicate a more severe difficulty and that was why I was admitted so quickly. He said, “Oh yea, all the people on this side of the ER have potentially serious problems.”

I thought, “Oh great!” I watched his face as he did his job bracing myself for news of my heart. He didn’t tell me anything for I had to wait for a doctor to interpret the results. Maggie approached the bed with all the paraphernalia to put an IV in my arm. I was puzzled. “Why do I need an IV?” I asked.

“As long as I am drawing blood for blood tests I might as well get the IV catheterin place just in case you need fluids. You might be dehydrated.” She quickly was ready to stick the back of my hand.

“Would you please put it in a vein where my arm bends? It hurts less that way.”

“Oh I have a technique. I am the BEST! But, I will put it wherever you like.”

She was right; she did it well and I didn’t feel a thing. Just as the blood was filling the long tube a voice from the other side of the drawn curtain was yelling loudly, “Maggie, Maggie, I need your help!”

“I am right in the middle of drawing blood! I can’t help you now.” She looked at me and said, “See, I told you I was the BEST. They all want me to do their work because I have a special skill.” She shook her head and said, “I am tired. I have to do everyone’s job around here.”

From the moment I lay down I heard a woman crying out, “I am hungry! Feed me. Where is my food?” She would repeat this every few minutes. “I want to eat. Where is my lunch? Get me something to eat!” It had been going on the whole time the nurses were doing their work. I couldn’t see her but only a light beige drape separated us so I was keenly aware of her frustration.

Maggie said, “Are you diabetic? Do you have any dietary concerns?” She kept asking her this over and over. The woman was babbling and never answered Maggie’s questions. This went on for at least 20 minutes and I am sure it had already been going on before I was admitted. Maggie answered irritatingly, “Oh pooh, forget it.”

Behind the beige veil I heard a man’s voice say, “Where is that sandwich I ordered over an hour ago?”

I remember thinking, “Get the woman some food so I can have some peace.”

The emergency room situation is unique. You are sharing a space with strangers but instantly become a part of the same energy because you can hear every conversation, all their pain, worries, aggravation and you are all there to get help.

All of a sudden the curtain flung back all the way around the curved U shape pole surrounding my bed. It happened fast. An elderly woman who must have been in her 90’s was leaning over me shouting in my ear. “Did you take my things? Where is my purse? Where did you put my stuff? Did you take my shoes? Where is everything?”

I answered, “No I didn’t. I am sure everything is okay. There is a bag under your bed. That is probably your stuff. The nurse will be back soon and can help you.” I didn’t have the energy to get up and pull the curtains so both of us were exposed to the long corridor where nurses and doctors dashed in and out of rooms doing their job. The woman continued to complain vacillating between wanting food and trying to locate her purse. It wasn’t too long after that someone brought her a sandwich and the curtain was drawn between us. I heard nothing again coming from that side of the drape.

I overheard a conversation between a very upset man and a hospital attendant. The man said an ambulance picked up his friend and that he followed the ambulance to this hospital. After he parked his car and came inside, the admissions desk had no record of the admitting his friend. He was angry! He was walking all over the corridors trying to locate the injured man. It was bizarre. I was beginning to think I was in ‘nut house’ rather than an emergency room.

Just then Bryan arrived and said that they almost didn’t let him in because they had no record of me. They asked him if I had dismissed myself from the waiting room. He said, “No, I saw her walk toward the back room to a bed.” They finally figured it out and told him where to go.

It was time for my next test, a CAT scan. I didn’t realize this but when a person takes Coumadin (anticoagulant) and they are bleeding on the outside they could be bleeding on the inside. It is important to see what is going on in one’s head. The trip to the CAT scan room was easy and the test painless. Nothing unusual happened. Bryan stayed in my cubicle until I returned. While I was gone he pulled the curtains back all around the pole. When I returned I could see clearly all the way down the hall to the waiting room. I asked him why he had done that. “The squeaky wheel gets the grease.” He was referring to my ‘90 year old neighbor.’ “She left while you were gone. Maybe if we keep the curtains open they won’t forget you are here.”

I don’t know if it helped or not but about that time the doctor arrived. He had a great sense of humor and tried to make the whole experience more enjoyable by teasing both Bryan and me. He really took the edge off my anxiety. After looking at all the results that turned out to be normal, he concluded that I had a viral infection called Vestibular Neuritis which causes dizziness due to an infection of the vestibular nerve. The vestibular nerve carries information from the inner ear about head movement. When one of the two vestibular nerves is infected, there is an imbalance between the two sides, and vertigo appears. He felt that was the cause of my fall. I had lost my balance from being dizzy, had dropped and hit my head going down. I then probably crawled to the spot where I awakened on the tile floor on my back. I also could have been dehydrated from the high fever. After giving me all that news I was still going to need the incision repaired. He gave me a choice: if he did stitches he needed to shave lots of hair and numb the area with a medicine that stings, or use staples and staple the gash together. He said, “The staples hurt but it is over and done with quickly.” I chose the staples. Wow, the first one pained so much I didn’t really feel the next three because I was still riding on the wave of soreness from the first one. I won’t tell you the expletives I used that Wednesday afternoon. I’m sure all my ‘neighbors’ got an ear full.

As soon as Maggie removed the IV Catheter we were free to leave the ER.

Tomorrow it will have been four weeks ago that I first got sick. Although I am definitely on the mend, I still have bouts with nausea and dizziness. They come like waves without any forewarning. I have spent much time in bed because I haven’t felt like doing anything else. I have used this time in reflection.

I’ve thought about the EKG and the CAT scan. Isn’t it remarkable that a doctor can see a picture of the inside of our body to determine if there is a major problem? I am grateful for that and call it a miracle. So many questions are answered in a matter of minutes. The combined knowledge of the ER is also phenomenal. One can crack their head open in the morning and be eating chicken soup with their family in the evening.

I just got an e-mail from Robert Limon and after tallying up the work we all did he was astounded. In just two weeks there were 70 Fruitvale Miracle Maker sponsors who made miracles happen for 49 families. I am so thrilled to have been a part of that shared experience. Next year I will be at the party.

An emergency is an unexpected event requiring help or relief. A miracle is superb or surpassing example of something: a wonder, a marvel. Let’s be open to giving of ourselves. There is always enough to share if we are willing to let go. I am going to continue to be a Miracle Maker and also allow miracles to come into my life. What about you?

Return to Top

Reebok and Hestia

When I married Bryan in 1986 I had five cats, Ethyl, Edgar, Tasha, Penny and Spotty. He wasn’t crazy about felines but it was easy to see how ensconced they were in my life. I must say he was a good sport and his only request was that the upstairs crew of three didn’t continue to sleep with us. He didn’t want them jumping over his head at night; antics that I had put up with for years. Bryan was a dog lover and I truly think he was going on the hope that because of their advanced age, which averaged 16, they wouldn’t be around long. He was right, they all died within the next three years, the last being Spotty who was traumatized by the 1989 San Francisco earthquake and passed-on a week later. I was devastated as these precious cats were a big part of my healing.

To my surprise Bryan immediately suggested that we get another cat, one we both could relate to. He was partial to gray and I was so grateful he was willing to start a new feline family I didn’t care what color it was. We called the Humane Society and combed the want-ads in preparation for our search.

Our first stop was the SPCA in San Francisco. As we walked up and down the aisle of metal cages we agreed we would go with our vibe to see if a cat would speak to us. In every enclosure playful kittens were meowing, vying for our attention. They were all adorable and I remember thinking it was going to be hard to choose. As we turned the corner of the long row of enclosures we both spotted a stunning, adult, full-bodied gray cat with jade green eyes staring at us. He wasn’t doing anything extraordinary, just watching us as we passed. He appeared regal, confident, and serene. We asked to be allowed to play with him in the bonding area. He jumped on Bryan’s lap begging for affection. ‘Sweet’ was the word and I wanted to take him home right then. I was a ‘cat lady’ and felt I could judge feline behavior well. Bryan wanted to check all of our options just to make sure we would make the right choice. I said, “What if he isn’t here when we come back?”

“Then it wasn’t meant to be.”

For two days we drove to Alameda, Napa and Marin Counties searching shelters and private ads. We kept thinking about the large gray cat at our first stop in San Francisco. At 3:00 pm on Sunday afternoon I panicked because I wanted a pet by the end of the day and we were stuck in traffic going back to the city across the Golden Gate Bridge. We reached the SPCA near closing time. We both dashed upstairs to see if our ‘boy’ had been adopted. Amazingly he was still there sitting in the same dignified position. I was thrilled. I wrote down his name, ‘Karma,’ an odd one I thought for a large male Tom cat. We walked to the front counter downstairs to put in our request and sign any necessary papers. As we approached the desk another family was requesting ‘our cat’ at the same time. The attendant knew only one thing to do: He asked each of us to write our name on a piece of paper, fold it up and he would pick the lucky owner. I wrote, Kay Karma Kopit. We proudly went home that night with a beautiful gray cat tinted with four white paws. We changed his name to Reebok. Karma indeed.

Reebok adapted easily to us and we to him. The only information we had was that he had lived with a large family for the first year of his life. I got such a kick out of watching him play in his water bowl. He batted more water on the floor than he drank. I never thought it would be possible to feel a connection with an adult cat so quickly for I had always started my relationships with cats when they were kittens. But Reebok made it easy because he was such a loving animal.

About one week after Reebok was in our home I drove to Half Moon Bay, on the coast, about 20 miles from San Francisco, to visit my girlfriend Debra. On the way I stopped for coffee. Next door in the park I noticed a young woman with a bulky box full of kittens. I didn’t even want to look but glancing over I noticed they were all gray tipped with white feet resembling Reebok. I knew what a softy I was when it came to cats but it seemed impossible to bring another one home. I felt lucky that Bryan was going to tolerate even one feline after having lived with my five seniors; although the thought did cross my mind that it would be wonderful for Reebok to have a little brother or sister who looked like him.

I was in the restaurant long enough to have breakfast. When I came outside a crowd of people were gathered around the woman cooing over the one kitten that was left. Apparently within the hour she had given away at least four gray babies. As I got closer to the group I noticed the kitten she was holding was jet black. Someone asked about this beautiful cat and she said, “Oh this one I am keeping for myself. She was to go to my girlfriend in San Francisco but her roommate has allergies so when she declined I thought it was an omen for me to keep her because she was the only black cat in a litter of six. I named her Hestia which means Goddess of the Hearth.” She then looked at me and said, “You can hold her if you want.” I felt a sigh of relief for I have always been a sucker for black cats and needn’t worry about adoption for she wasn’t available.

Hestia was hanging on her owner’s shoulders and as I began speaking she rolled her head in a 360 degree circle practically falling to the ground. She followed every word I said with her eyes no matter where I walked in the crowd. Everyone noticed this unusual behavior. A purring vibrated into song; she seemed to be serenading me in a feline falsetto. I had never heard anything like it. All the adults were mesmerized. I picked her up at that point and she immediately crawled under my sweater and snuggled next to my bosom. The young woman said to me, “She acts like she knows you. She is yours if you want her.”

I was torn emotionally. It felt so right but I was concerned what Bryan would think bringing another cat home so soon after Reebok. I said, “We are going on vacation to Oregon in three weeks and I don’t want to leave a small kitten with our cat sitter.” I thought that excuse would deter her.

“I will keep Hestia on our ranch in San Gregorio and when you return from your trip I’ll meet you back here and you can take her home.” (San Gregorio is approximately 43 miles from San Francisco.)

I called Bryan and hesitantly told him of my experience. He said, “Whatever you want. Reebok will love a partner.” I was shocked, for a guy who loved dogs and wasn’t crazy about cats, he was most generous.

This lovely woman agreed to keep Hestia for me for the next five weeks. She understood our situation and thought we belonged together.

I was excited to bring this stunning black kitty home. We were curious how Reebok, our large year old male would respond to another pet in the house. When I first put Hestia down near him she began prancing and bouncing, typical of kitten behavior. She started jumping and playing like she knew him. It was interesting to watch Reebok sitting with his belly on the ground, frozen in his spot, with his two front paws crossed in waiting, allowing her to do whatever she wished. He was mesmerized by this tiny creature. For the next 12 hours he didn’t move! He didn’t come to eat or drink and I don’t remember seeing him use the litter box. He remained alert and on guard protecting his new treasure; he seemed to be in love with her. Both Bryan and I were fascinated by this display of affection. From that day on they remained inseparable.

One day, a few weeks later, as I was leaving my house I met one of my neighbors Estelle, a lovely young dancer who lived a few doors down on our historic inner-city street. She yelled, “How is your new kitty?”

I replied, “Oh, she is doing great! Reebok loves her!”

“I was asking about Reebok, your beautiful gray Tom cat. Do you have two? When did you get another?”

“Several weeks ago I was in Half Moon Bay and noticed a woman in the park giving away kittens. I couldn’t resist the only black baby in a litter of six. Her name is Hestia; do you want to see her?”

At that point Estelle assertively ran toward me and said, “Is the woman who had the cats named Cindy?”

“How do you know that?” I answered.

With that Estelle started screaming, waving her hands frantically, and ran right into my living room. “Hestia is my kitty. She was born on my girlfriend’s ranch in San Gregorio. Cindy was saving her for me. But, the day my roommate Carol and I drove down the coast to pick her up Carol began sneezing abundantly and she insisted she didn’t want to live with a cat. I was broken-hearted. Here she is; Hestia, Goddess of the Hearth.”

I felt like crying for her. It indeed was an amazing story. 43 miles separated the San Gregorio Ranch and my home on Abbey Street. How could it be that I would have chosen the very cat that Estelle had visited and longed for? We both were stunned but not for long. Reebok and Hestia were intertwined playing and fighting with love. When Estelle saw them interact she felt much better. She said, “I just can’t believe that this is my little Hestia. I can see now she was meant to come to this street but not to me. She is meant to be with you and Reebok.”

I kept in touch with Estelle for many years giving her an update on the antics of our two beautiful cats Hestia and Reebok. They each lived for 16 years and gave us so much joy and happiness. I believe in the power of destiny. What about you?


When my mom comes to wake me up

I’m already awake

When I first wake up

Darkness fills my room

As I eat breakfast

The sun comes up

It fills the room with sunlight

I walk downstairs

And I see gray and orange bodies

The bodies of my cats

I watch them play gracefully

With each other

When I feed them

I watch them eat, and then walk away

I ask myself,

“How could you be unhappy with all this life around you?”

By: Mariah

Age: 10

Grade: 5

Return to Top

13 Drinks and Counting

“Hey Kay, ‘Pride and Joy’ is playing at the Great American Music Hall and the whole gang is coming to town, let’s party.” Bryan said this with great enthusiasm for he knew how much I loved the group and he also wanted to introduce me to some of his college friends who had moved away. I was ecstatic for it had been many years since I had allowed myself to go to a club where booze was the order of the day. It was 1986 and I had been recovering from a troubled codependent relationship with a man who died of alcoholism. I missed socializing and I missed dancing! I thought how fun it would be to be able to party with a man who didn’t drink. Bryan and I had been together three short months but I hadn’t seen any indication that he was interested in alcohol.

I went to great lengths to plan my outfit for the evening. I wanted to look as cool as possible, since I was so much older than Bryan, and wasn’t sure how his friends would take to me. I chose a white angora sweater with a form fitting black skirt slit up the right side. My heels were black, high and sexy. I concentrated on looking good, covering my fear of being in crowd of people smoking and drinking.

Seven couples planned to meet at the club and I was nervous. As we filed into the upper dance floor overlooking the band I was aware that all of his friends, guys and gals, were checking me out. I didn’t know what they were thinking but my imagination was running wild; ‘Is she really 19 years older than Bryan? Why would he be interested in someone so old?’ One by one I was introduced to the whole group. The women all gathered around me and we sat for awhile listening to the music and talking before we started to dance.

Shirley, the wife of one of Bryan’s classmates said to me, “I didn’t know what to expect meeting you. You are beautiful, a lovely woman.” I thanked her. I was shocked and relieved that she was helping my anxiety dissipate.

I had never danced with Bryan and was thrilled when he chose a slow ballad for our first dance. It was romantic and soothing. When the lead singer belted out the next song, which was much faster, one of his friends asked me to dance. I was thrilled because I could tell Bryan wasn’t comfortable on the polished wood floor with the more energetic sounds pounding from the band. I learned quickly that he didn’t really like to dance. Likewise, some of the gals didn’t like to dance either, so I was kept busy and happy dancing with many of his guy friends. An hour or so must have gone by and I didn’t even see Bryan. Dancing had always been one of my great loves and it had been at least 15 years since I had been to a club. This was fun!

I started sweating profusely and wished I had worn the sleeveless black silk top one of my first choices. It was time to find Bryan and connect with my beau. As I approached our table I noticed him holding a half empty glass of a drink I couldn’t identify. He was sitting with one of his friends and the table was filled with empty glasses and bottles of beer. My stomach muscles immediately tightened. I thought, ‘He told me he didn’t drink, it must be soda.’ I couldn’t help myself and said, “What are you drinking?” He looked at me strangely like a kid looks at his mother when caught doing something wrong.

“Tom Collins,” was his answer.

“Tom Collins, I thought you didn’t drink!”

“Why are you so bent out of shape Kay? I am just having a good time, aren’t you?

“I guess I thought when I asked you a few months ago if you drank and you said no, I assumed you would be drinking soda tonight, like I am.”

“When I told you I wasn’t a drinker I meant I wasn’t alcoholic,” he replied curtly.

I quickly ‘eyeballed’ the table and counted five empty highball glasses in front of him and four beer bottles belonging to his buddy. Just as I finished my inspection the waitress removed all the empty glasses and bottles on the table. I felt sick. I actually believed we could go to a club, dance, and have fun without drinking. I must have been crazy. Just at that moment Bryan took my hand and led me to the dance floor. My emotions were beginning to spin like the music, and panic was setting in. I had fallen in love with another alcoholic, I was sure of it!

For the rest of the evening I watched Bryan like a hawk. I found myself counting every drink he drank, feeling helpless and out of control. I did continue to dance with his friends but I lost all my passion. The combination of the loud music, the smell of smoke and my exaggerated fears began to ‘do me in.’ I thought to myself, ‘This man is living with me and I am going to go down the slippery path to hell again! What have I done? Oh God, I am scared!’

I counted 13 empty glasses and was convinced they all belonged to Bryan. Minutes faded and melted into hours. Around midnight I couldn’t stand it anymore. I walked outside without saying goodbye to him or anyone else and hailed a taxi to take me home. I was not going to drive with someone who was drunk! The ride across town was reminiscent of my ‘not to distant past.’ My feelings were frozen and locked inside my body but this time I didn’t shut down completely. I had enough Al-Anon and therapy to give me the strength to see the situation truthfully for what it was, or so I thought.

When I got inside I ran to the bathroom and vomited the few club sodas I had consumed. With my trusted heating pad, I took to the bed and dreaded Bryan’s return.

As soon as I heard his key in the door, I buried my head in my pillow. He came to the bedroom and wanted to know why I had walked out on him without letting anyone know where I had gone. He seemed truly puzzled and disappointed by my behavior. I chose not to discuss the situation until morning when I thought we both would have clearer heads.

When I awakened the next morning I felt deeply saddened by the whole experience. I asked that we have a talk in the kitchen. “Bryan, you know I have fallen in love with you but I just can’t live with another alcoholic. I truly believed you didn’t drink. I think it is best if you move out.”

“Kay, I am not alcoholic. If I didn’t know better I would think by your actions that you were alcoholic. You were the one throwing up, not I. What can I do to prove it to you? You are worth it to me and I really don’t want to move.”

“Can you go six months without taking a drink?”

“Yes I can. If that is what you want I will show you I am not allergic to alcohol and I am not alcoholic. I’ll go even longer if you wish.”

Bryan went over eight months without a drink and took his first drink at our wedding later that year. We are celebrating 20 healthy, happy years of marriage this December 2006. Because I lived 40 years immersed in the family disease of alcoholism I misjudged him. I learned a valuable lesson from that experience. Just because you drink doesn’t make you alcoholic. More importantly I realized that instead of paying attention to the consumption of booze of another person, I need to concern myself with my own needs, growth and happiness. What about you?

Return to Top

Victims of Hurricane Katrina

Dear Loving Souls,

As we are all the children of God, may I take the liberty of addressing you as relations?

What you are going through emotionally, physically, and spiritually is beyond our worst fears as human beings. Never in our life time could we have imagined such horror. I am sure for many of you it is hell at best. For some, you would rather die than awaken from this horrible nightmare. How could this have happened?

We are never going to be able to answer the why's of a natural disaster but we can come together as family and gather strength in unity. The entire world is holding you in their thoughts and prayers. Feel our support; know that you are not alone. Millions of us are contributing money; many people are donating their efforts in relief training, members of the medical community are ready to help and others pray and visualize around the clock for your recovery. Your suffering is our suffering; please recognize that you are loved.

Although I have never walked in your brand of shoes, I have reached bottom. Many years ago I was sick, desperate and severely depressed. I was about to give into suicide when I was saved by a compassionate voice on the telephone. This man was doing volunteer work on the night shift on the Suicide Prevention line. He hung in there with me and listened to my crying for over an hour. When there were no tears left, he slowly and tenderly guided me back from the limitless pit. I don't remember much of what he said to me but I clearly felt his thoughtfulness and concern. I hung on to that feeling for a long time. This is what I am asking you to do. Each day and in every way, we care.

I know this tragedy is still new and you are riddled with grief, but will you try something that helped me cope with the pain and confusion. Find one thing that comforts you: a smile on a child's face, a story of shared experiences, a hug from someone reaching out, or joy in reconnecting with a loved one. Focus on one positive element, even if for a few seconds, or a few minutes. Slowly, oh very slowly, these positive feelings will grow. In time you will heal.

Because of the magnitude of this catastrophe, I am sure you feel that any effort you make to sustain a good attitude is futile. When it comes to recovery, we need to dig deep into our soul and muster every bit of courage possible. You can do it! Our prayers are with you.

With Love and Light,

Kay Kopit

Return to Top

Marriage Equality

I am very happy in my marriage and consider myself quite fortunate that when my husband and I decided we wanted to be lawfully wed society acknowledged our commitment to each other. We could share in our joy by celebrating with family and friends and our contract was legal. It breaks my heart that my gay and lesbian friends have not had this privilege. I believe there are now seven states and the District of Columbia that honor same sex marriage. Halleluiah! But it has been much too slow.

I grew up in the 50’s in Missouri , the heart of the Bible Belt, although where I lived in the community of Clayton, folks were quite progressive. Although my mother was alcoholic and our home dysfunctional, I didn’t hear disparaging remarks about homosexuals. Actually I never hear the word homosexual, gay or lesbian. I remember my first experience with a couple of the same sex very well.

In the apartment building on Bryon Place lived Abby and Gladys. Abby’s hair was snow white. They were both what I thought of as grandmotherly types although I doubt they were actual grandmothers because I never saw any children or family members come to visit them.  They lived directly above us for the 14 years we lived in that complex.  As a very young child I would climb up the adjoining back stairs and would be welcome into their cozy kitchen filled with gadgets and knickknacks that were missing from my house. Abby seemed to be home when I got out of school and often she had made a batch of cookies just for me. Although they lived just a few feet above our apartment, it felt like a different world.

When Gladys would arrive she would hug Abby and then give me a gigantic bear hug as well. They both were a bit chunky and I loved their arms around me. Together we would have hot chocolate and/or milk and cookies but the best part was the attention they gave me. I savored those moments we shared. They truly seemed interested in me; my thoughts, my worries, my creative endeavors and best of all they helped me with my homework when I needed it. They were such wonderful role models of love, understanding, and caring for each other and life in general. I didn’t dare tell my mother how much I admired them for fear that she wouldn’t let me go back. As it turned out she was glad I had a place to go when our situation became intolerable when my father died at the age of 45.

The puzzling part was this; whenever I would mention Gladys or Abby to my mother or ask a question about them, she would answer in a whisper.  For instance I said, “Mom, are the two women upstairs sisters?”  She would quietly and slowly tell me, “Noooo, they are not.” Hesitantly she told me that they were homosexuals and then awkwardly she tried to explain that one of the partners acts like a woman and the other takes the role of a man. How strange! I wasn’t sure what that meant. Right before my eyes I saw two charming women who were good to each other, very sweet to me, had a beautiful life together and who laughed often. Hmmm, I had a mom and a dad and I didn’t have any of what these women had in the apartment above.

It would have been perfect if Abby and Gladys could have married and then I would have been an attendant in their wedding. They deserved the honor of being a properly married couple as well as all the millions of gay and lesbian couples today who wish that for themselves. I don’t believe it is fair for only heterosexual partners to have this freedom. I am going to visualize that the path to marriage equality all over this country widens quickly and that very soon this unjust issue will not even be a topic for discussion. I look forward to that day.

Return to Top

Older Woman Younger Man

My husband and I have been happily married for 17 years. What makes our relationship out of the ordinary is that Bryan was born in 1960 the year after I graduated high school. He is 19 years my junior; I am older than his mother. The secret of our success is a deeply committed love for one another. Ours is a passionate romance. Each of us is whole, happy and healthy. I wish what Bryan and I have could be bottled and sprinkled over the world like angel dust.

We met in 1985 during a rainy winter in San Francisco. We were neighbors on a tiny street near the historic Mission Dolores. The worst storm of the season was on its way and my roof was leaking profusely. I was in dire straits financially, having been newly divorced. I was preparing to fix it myself. Unfortunately my ladder wasn't tall enough. I needed help. None of the folks I knew were home that Saturday morning but I noticed an open door directly across from my house. I hurried upstairs to the second story flat in the azure painted duplex and walked down the long corridor to the living room. There on the sofa was a guy watching the football game on T.V. I introduced myself and then proceeded to ask for his assistance. He looked at me like I was crazy. The silence was deafening. How often does a stranger enter your apartment with a request for help with a major repair? I was flushed with embarrassment but was in too deep to recover. Fortunately he agreed to help me.

This uncommon beginning signaled the magic that lay before us. The sparks flew. We went on our first date within days of this meeting. Bryan's car was broken so we took the bus across the city to an authentic Moroccan restaurant where we sat on paisley cushions and ate with our fingers. I remember clearly how primitive this felt and how natural it was to be with him. He didn't seem the least bit concerned about my age. I, on the other hand, was more sensitive. I was healing from a codependent relationship of 12 years and had never experienced true intimacy. I wasn't sure it was the proper thing to do but I couldn't help myself; I was falling in love. I was scared because these feelings were coming so quickly.

Bryan moved in with me within weeks of our first meeting. I remember thinking if it didn't work out it would be easy to ask him to leave because all he owned was a T.V. For Valentine's Day he created a hanging wire mobile in the shape of intertwined hearts and presented it to me with flowers and chocolate. This type of thoughtful gesture is typical of Bryan. He has never missed a special occasion and has often surprised me with jewelry when he returns from a business trip.

One evening in the spring we were waiting to board a dinner train in Mendocino. A drunken man approached us and said, "How come you two are dressed up? Are you getting married?" Bryan looked at me and said, "Yes, we are aren't we?" That was his proposal. It was decided we would plan a wedding for later that year. But, first I needed to meet Bryan's mother.

Just the thought of it terrified me! Bryan and his mother, Sharon, have a truly special bond. He insisted he would not tell anyone about our engagement until she and I met. We drove to southern California where Sharon was visiting her sister, Bryan's aunt. I felt sick the entire trip. I knew in advance he was going to take his mother shopping the next morning alone to break the news to her. I couldn't sleep at all that night. What felt so "right" to Bryan and me was unusual, especially in the eyes of a parent. When they returned from their excursion Sharon looked like she had just come from a funeral. Fortunately, for me, Aunt Toby accepted the situation and eased the tension by giving me a white angel ornament. His mother is a wonderful woman. In spite of her disappointment, she welcomed me into their family. Over the years our relationship has evolved into a unique friendship, a cross between a peer and a sister.

December 7, 1986, dressed in an ivory colored Victorian gown, I was driven to our wedding in a horse drawn carriage. I remember the sensation well. As I heard the clip-pity clop of the hoofs hitting the pavement I felt it was the happiest day of my life. The ride was several miles long and I enjoyed cars honking loudly at every turn. When we arrived at the elegant Alamo Square Inn Bryan was waiting to escort me inside to the nuptials. It was a good thing he took my hand, for as I exited the carriage, my knees collapsed from shaking so hard. The day was spectacular marking a lifetime of love.

Both Bryan and I had always wanted kids. By the time we met my biological clock had run out. He told me he would rather marry a woman he loved deeply than to wait for someone to bear his children. For several years we were content to be a unit of two. After my dear Aunt Letha died in 1992 I longed for a child. I knew we would be good parents. Bryan agreed to adoption. It was an arduous experience requiring patience and resilience. We had several birthmothers who changed their minds for different reasons. This process took three years and a great deal of money. Ultimately we were blessed with a baby girl we named Mariah. Our daughter is now 8 years old and the light of our life.

Bryan continues to be my rock, strength and loving support. During our years together I have had many tragedies including: my brother John's suicide in 1988, my ex-husband Joey's death from alcoholism in 1989, and my girlfriend Debra's suicide in 2002. I was hospitalized with a potentially life threatening blood clot in my lungs in 1998. Bryan stood by me through all of these. I married a great guy! I am a fortunate woman to have found true love in the heart of a younger man.

Age is but a notch on the tree of life. Does it really matter that I have more than he. We are all on a spiritual path. We choose lovers, friends and family to mirror our soul's development. Partners of different ages can accelerate this growth. These diverse emotional experiences are opportunities of a lifetime. Let's enjoy them.

Return to Top