Photographs From the Edge

Memory Lane isn’t for the Faint of Heart.

I am not sure when the last time I opened these boxes was; over a decade for sure.  They have traveled from a broken marriage in Seattle to Portland for a job then to Palm Springs for another job and to Florida for another… through many more states, apartments, homes, rooms and finally to this garage… for the last 5 years.

There had to be some part of me *afraid* of opening these boxes; especially the part of me that has been sober and living a VERY different life than the decades before.  The life that was in between my carefree childhood and 8 years ago.  The life that I can now look at with sober, seasoned, adult eyes… although sometimes teary ones.

So,  I opened them.  Full of dust and dirt despite the duct taped snapping lids.  I opened the box with my childhood notebooks and citizenship award and even the speech I gave as the Mayor of Walnut Grove City… who knew?!?!.  I opened the boxes that contained all the pictures of the soccer teams, the swim teams and the articles my parents collected over my golf career.  All of these made me smile.  I laughed out loud many times at pictures my longest friend took of me in a shower cap and full braces… and in my nightgown.  Do you remember this, Carin?  Ha!  I took pictures of the pictures and sent them to my  friends so that we could all laugh together.  Facebook, when used for the right reasons, is an amazing tool that has re-connected important relationships.

Then,  I got to my report cards and pictures of my junior prom. I felt as if someone kicked me in the chest.  This is when the unraveling started; the loathing, the shape shifting.  It’s when I stopped asking for help and built barrier after barrier and façade after façade trying to convince you (and me) that all was ok and that I had it ALL figured out.  Incredibly, so far from the truth.

I found the acceptance letter to the UW.  Articles on my accepting a scholarship for athletics.  Notes from my Mom and Dad; ones that they had sent me and notes that I had sent them.  So incredibly sweet all of the things they kept.  I found notes warning me of academic probation; from the coach, from the sorority.  I remember distinctly being so pissed… my bad grades were THEIR fault.  I mean, REALLLLLLY!  I remember going to the bar rather than the library.  I remember being in a panic every quarter.  I remember not going to class because I was doing so bad anyway.  I remember denying, at every turn, that I needed help, that I was drowning, that I  had NO idea what I was doing.  I remember thinking that not only were my grades bad but my performance on the course was awful, as well.   It was a sinking ship and I chose to drown rather than reach or ask for a life raft.

I found pictures of sorority events and having very clear memories of VERY BAD things happening.  I sat and opened more and more folders of pictures and me drinking and acting out.  From the outside, it probably looked pretty benign, pretty “normal” for college.  But I knew then and know now that wasn’t the case.

Then, the guilt and the shame set in.  I haven’t felt this in a very long time.  Guilt and shame of time and opportunity wasted.  Guilt and shame of relationships torched and bridges burned.  My poor husband walked in on me sobbing and there were truly no words.  He has no idea of that girl.  This is a very good thing and sometimes proves to be difficult.

I am 7+ years sober.  I look at the period of my life between 17 and 38 as an experience not an identity.  This was not always the case.  The first 6 years of my sobriety, I spent a lot of time in a 12- step program.  I found myself, a design for living and loving relationships.  I found out how to communicate and ask for help.  I found out how to forgive and to make an amends.

As I went through the boxes, I become less sad and more grateful for my family.  Grateful for ALL that they gave me and how much love I felt going through the boxes and the care that was taken to preserve those moments.

There is forgiveness and Grace.  It, more often than not, does not happen on our time table.  Time not only serves as a buffer to our past but also a natural scab builder so that we can go back and look at things when it is not as raw, not as fresh and with eyes that are less wounded and full of shame and guilt.

It took me two weekends and about 7 hours to go through the boxes.  I did a lot of starts and stops and reflecting.  I did a lot of starts, stops and reflecting.  I recognized when I was overhwelmed or sad and took a step back.  I shared with my son and husband all that has happened and most of what was recorded digitally or otherwise.

It is, sometimes, said that you “shouldn’t look back as you are not going that way”.  For me, it was important to look back, to give that girl some Grace, to marvel at a live lived and accomplishments earned.

A college team mate and I were talking and I mentioned to her that some of the images made me sad and that I was sure that I owed her an apology.  She assured me that an apology wasn’t necessary and additionally said something so lovely and wise.

Well, Jen.  Life is definitely a learning curve and we all have to figure out our relationship with alcohol, sooner or later.

My wish for you, in this New Year, is that you figure out your relationship with drugs/alcohol/sugar/porn/gambling/shopping.  Be kind and gentle with yourself as you move through the process.  Progress and presence over perfection.