Sadly, I need to update this post to include Robin Williams on the roster of people who had experienced long-term sobriety and killed themselves. There are others who you don't know and never will. It is a sad fact of life for those of us who live in this strange world of suspended animation known as recovery - attempting each day to live rather than die. Robin Williams also had other issues, but addiction was one of them, so sadly his death, another loss of someone too young, who gave us so much, is added to this post from last February, which was written when Philip Seymour Hoffman died.
(original post 2/9/14)
There were two things I had in common with David Foster Wallace and Philip Seymour Hoffman before they died - both tragically - in their 40s: like them I got clean and sober in my 20s and in my professional life use my middle name. (Unlike them, I have not been burdened with fame, though that hasn't been for lack of trying - not so much for fame as much for recognition as an artist that can lead to a sustainable living as same...which I think is what DFW and PSH wanted, too, neither seeming very happy in the Fame Light - because like who Would? It must be terrifying, especially in this country.)
What is scary to me - and to anyone else with long-term sobriety who also spends a lot of time thinking, creating and putting themselves out there in the world - is that these two men who spent so many years clean and sober in such a dedicated way both ended their lives prematurely. One on purpose (DFW committed suicide by hanging himself and left a note) and one whose death is still being examined, though it appears to be a drug overdose, most likely accidental. However, as anyone who has been sober a long time knows, any use of drink or drugs by an addict or alcoholic is, generally, a form of short or long-form suicide.
The reason this is scary is because as much as I would like to think I have it down, or am somehow immune to the disease of alcoholism or addiction, the sorry fact is I'm not. Not only that it confirms that nothing in terms of recognition, talent, intelligence, general goodness or wisdom, love from a partner or children - nothing external can keep me clean and sober if I decide to go out and drink, use or off myself in some other way.
To give you an example of how slippery this slope can be, here's a personal story. When I hadn't had a drink or a drug for 23 years, my father died. I 'dealt with it well' - did all the right things, showed up, felt forgiveness, acted well, felt my feelings, grieved real grief...etc. Then after all that, there is this voice in my head (which I have named the disease as double-agent CIA guy - who sounds ohhhh, so reasonable at the time...so suave and calm...so intelligent) "Hey, you know you dealt with your father's death so well. You've obviously healed so many wounds from your past. You know, that emptiness, that void you were filling with alcohol when you were younger. It's not there anymore. You could probably drink now...oh, I'm not saying you should drink, but you could...and of course if it scares you, then don't...but you could."
For real. That voice. And that voice will kill you dead...or at least make you drink, especially if, like me - and of course this voice is designed for me - any talk of me being afraid is a red rag to the bull of my alcoholism. My throat starts getting dry and I feel thirsty.
After Philip Seymour Hoffman died last week, my throat felt parched. My tongue felt swollen. That combined with the anniversary of my alcoholic grandmother's death (about whom I am reading and writing)...was horrendous. Part of it was fear, part of it thirst. As George Bataille once wrote "a wound desires nothing more than another wound." The siren call of death.
So seductive, so scary....but here, my friends, is the irony of all ironies. I am so embarrassed to ever be called out as afraid and yet it is my fear that is my friend. Without my fear, I would probably go out and drink again, thinking, "yeah, I can handle it." And that would be death for me. I know it. Which is why indeed I am afraid. Thank God/dess.
For those of us with long-term sobriety the final irony is: it doesn't get any easier. In fact, there is some element of the whole enterprise that is not unlike Wiley E. Coyote having run off the cliff before looking down. We are in some sense defying gravity. So, after many years, one's arms can get tired and it's hard not to look down...to strain this metaphor to death...
I attribute my long-term sobriety to one thing only: grace. I don't deserve it any more or less than anyone else. I certainly don't deserve it any more than Philip Seymour Hoffman, David Foster Wallace or some very close friends and relatives who have died of this disease. I have taken some suggestions. I pray and meditate every day, do attempt to be as honest with myself as possible, try to help another person suffering, etc. But so do a lot of people. And so did PSH & DFW in their time.
The fact is the desire to stay sober and stay alive is also a gift.
So, this post is a long way of saying how grateful I am: to the gods and goddesses and forces of the universe and Whatever else for giving me this gift. I hope I help others sometimes - by example rather than advice (God help anyone who I begin to 'advise'). I hope my life on this earth means something to somebody. That I do something in terms of service, art, something that even begins to give back this undeserved gift to the world. I try pretty hard not to be a waste of space. I am trying to do this writing project about my grandmothers that sometimes feels like it is driving me close to crazy. I think I am doing this so that their voices, and the voices of women like them that have not been heard can be heard. Am I? Is it just ego? WTF knows...but I'm moving forward with it.
I do know there are powers greater than me at work, greater than you, greater than any of us. How they work, I don't know. I just know they do. I have felt them. I have seen them. I forget them a lot. When I remember them, I feel like I have a right relationship with life and - as a good friend never tires of telling me - "Your life is none of your business."
Gratitude to you all out there reading this, with a special shout out to my friends who spend time with me and others in uncomfortable chairs, under fluorescent lights in church basements and community halls. Stay alive, don't pick up and don't give up on yourself or anyone else before the miracle.
Welcome to my blog..
"We struggle with dream figures and our blows fall on living faces." Maurice Merleau-Ponty
When I started this blog in 2011, I was in a time of transition in my life between many identities - that of Artistic Director of a company (Apocryphal Theatre) to independent writer/director/artist/teacher and also between family identity, as I discover a new family that my grandfather's name change at the request of his boss in WWII hid from view - a huge Hungarian-Slovak contingent I met in 2011. Please note in light of this the irony of the name of my recently-disbanded theatre company. This particular transition probably began in the one month period (Dec. 9, 2009-Jan. 7, 2010) in which I received a PhD, my 20 year old cat died on my father's birthday and then my father, who I barely knew, died too. I was with him when he died and nothing has been the same since. This blog is tracing the more conscious elements of this journey and attempt to fill in the blanks. I'm also writing a book about my grandmothers that features too. I'd be delighted if you joined me. (Please note if you are joining mid-route, that I assume knowledge of earlier posts in later posts, so it may be better to start at the beginning for the all singing, all dancing fun-fair ride.) In October 2011, I moved back NYC after living in London for 8 years and separated from my now ex-husband, which means unless you want your life upended entirely don't start a blog called Somewhere in Transition. In November 2011, I adopted a rescue cat named Ugo. He is lovely. As of January 2012, I began teaching an acting class at Hunter College, which is where one of my grandmothers received a scholarship to study acting, but her parents would not let her go. All things come round…I began to think it may be time to stop thinking of my life in transition when in June 2012 my stepfather Tom suddenly died. Now back in the U.S. for a bit, I notice, too, my writing is more overtly political, no longer concerned about being an expat opining about a country not my own. I moved to my own apartment in August 2012 and am a very happy resident of Inwood on the top tip of Manhattan where the skunks and the egrets roam in the last old growth forest on the island.
I am now transitioning into being married again with a new surname (Barclay-Morton). John is transitioning from Canada to NYC and as of June 2014 has a green card. So transition continues, but now from sad to happy, from loss to love...from a sense of alienation to a sense of being at home in the world.
As of September 2013 I started teaching writing (composition and rhetoric) as an adjunct professor at Fordham University, which I have discovered I love with an almost irrational passion. So blessed for the opportunity and hope to find a more permanent job doing same.
I worked full time on the book thanks to a successful crowd-funding campaign in May 2014 and completed it at two residencies at Vermont Studio Center and Wisdom House in summer 2015. I have done some revisions and am shopping it around to agents and publishers now, along with having written a rough draft of a new book and some other projects.
Not sure when transition ends, if it ever does. As the saying goes, the only difference between a sad ending and a happy ending is where you stop rolling the film.
For professional information, publications, etc., go to my linked in profile and website for Barclay Morton Editorial & Design. My Twitter account is @wilhelminapitfa. You can find me on Facebook under my full name Julia Lee Barclay-Morton. More about my grandmothers' book: The Amazing True Imaginary Autobiography of Dick & Jani
Recently, I started a website Our Grandmothers, Our Selves, which has stories about many people's grandmothers. Please check it out. I will be blogging there, too, now.