THE OTHER SIDE OF EDEN: LIFE WITH JOHN STEINBECK
It was now midway into 1984, and Orwell's predictions were coming true. Ever since reading this book in college, I felt something prophetic about that year. Sensing danger if Newspeak and Big Brother ever became reality, it would be an indication we were crossing over into a bankrupt lifestyle that would endanger the planet. A collective surrender of individual power would doom the spirit, the artist, and the lover.
Having been abroad for a year, I was more sensitive to Western speed, complaisance, and somnambulism. The signs were eerily familiar. The smokey wisps of thoughts that had arisen in my twenties were converging into the eye of a gathering hurricane, fueled by the ecological predictions of ancient prophecies -- Aztec, Hopi, Hippie, Aboriginal, and Marian.
Ten years prior, during the winter of 1974 in British Columbia, I devoured Doris Lessing while the kids slept. Paul was working on the railroad, often gone for days. Imprisoned by blizzards, I melted snow for drinking water, bathing, and washing dishes; fed the woodstove with huge arm loads of firewood; and periodically shot at a chicken hawk to protect our hens. Whenever Megan and Michael would go down for a nap, or sleep at night, I'd curl up with The Four-Gated City or The Golden Notebook and when I put down the books, the visions would come.
I saw a time when adolescent gangsters terrorized society. Driven by tribal instincts, they marauded the cities. I saw the graffiti and guns. I experienced a deep sense of their rage and numbness about the breakdown of a culture where greed and selfishness twisted traditional values. I foresaw a bleakness so horrible that no amount of gentrification or police could stop the spread of their slash-and-burn mentality.
When Megan and Michael woke, I returned to the mundane tasks of baking bread, sewing on the ancient Red Bird treadle machine, carding and spinning raw wool. Dying the skeins with golden onionskins, brown walnut husks, and orange madder root in the glacial waters of Kootenay Lake, I wove blankets to keep us warm under the heavy lead skies.
I had apocalyptic visions of hurricanes, floods, and earthquakes. I kept asking why, and the answer was always the same. It is the only way to wake people up to the planet's destruction and the severing of their spirit. Haunted by those visions, I prayed that when the time came, I would be surrounded by a tribe of strong and trustworthy friends.
I dwelt in two worlds that winter and never came out of them. I can cross the bridge between the visionary and the ordinary, but I will never abandon one for the other. I have never married for money, never made a decision solely based on security. Living on the edge of choicelessness, I take things to the limit until a way out appears. You have to know this about me to understand what I went through for the next four years with John's drinking. Beyond the unconditional love, beyond the abject codependent flip side, much of my stick-to-it-iveness boiled down to Johnny's "shit happens" attitude, rock solid in the face of adversity. I wanted him there for the coming rites of passage, the death of my father, the kids' adolescence, watching Rinpoche kill himself with alcohol. As a friend once said, "John had more clarity and creativity in his little finger, drunk or sober, than most people have in lifetimes."
John was in a panic over the cancer prognosis. Since he couldn't drink himself to death at our house, he checked into the Boulderado. When he failed to show up for his scheduled liver biopsy, the hospital called me. I found him in his hotel room, bleary, reeking, and disoriented. He let me convince him to keep his appointment. If that smacks of enabling, I don't care. God knows when he'll find the courage to face this on his own. When we have the results of the biopsy, he can get treatment. If he's going to die, I'll quit fighting for his life and figure out what to do with the rest of mine.
This was the start of my bottom. I had failed to convince John to stay sober, and now it looked like death was going to solve that problem for both of us. Outraged in the face of this final abandonment, I was turning another corner, cold as ice, clinical, and dispassionate. As the biopsy needle probed John's liver, I saw the work that lay ahead. I had attracted abusive people, typical of an incest survivor. Al-Anon was teaching me to leave them in the dust if they didn't earn my loyalty, and John might be one of them.
After the biopsy, he came home and soberly waited three days for the result, docile and considerate of my anxiety. Whenever the dust settled between us, John tried to cover all the bases. Mr. Hyde, doing whatever he damned well pleased, gave way to tenderness and nurturing. I felt like a snake charmer, waiting for music to lull the viper.
"You must have been a great yak herder in a previous lifetime," he teased. "You know just how much rope I need to hang myself."
The initial scan had shown a black spot on John's liver that the doctors thought was a cancerous tumor. When the biopsy report came back, it took us a couple of days to recover from the shock, and then we laughed at the results. Fecal matter inexplicably had shown up in the CAT scan.
"It was a piece of shit! They put me through all that anxiety over a lousy piece of shit!" he groused, half humorously. So much for his tumor and imminent death. They did have a diagnosis, however. They called it hemochromatosis, a genetic condition in which the body absorbs too much iron, leading to potentially fatal complications by damaging tissue and organs. Amazingly, the iron deposits can cause cirrhosis of the liver without any alcohol abuse. The doctors bandied about life expectancies, a 60 percent chance to live five years and 30 percent to live ten. The treatment was laughably primitive, a series of phlebotomies.
"Bloodletting! We might as well go back to Nepal and live among the leeches," John quipped with tremendous relief. In order for new blood to replace the old, he would give a unit of blood at least twice a month. Finally we understood why he had turned such a peculiar shade of greenish bronze in Nepal. Iron stores in his heart, liver, and other organs had effected his pigmentation.
Later studies of hemochromatosis would attribute John's bizarre behavior to iron overload. Disorientation, mood swings, and other personality changes, such as severe depression and anger, are now considered symptoms of what they used to call "bronze diabetes." While the drugs exacerbated the dementia, his mood swings convinced me something else was to blame, although I fought my intuition with self-deprecating admonishments about my codependency. Ashamed that I had stood by him, I considered it was a measure of my low self-esteem. When the research recently confirmed my instincts, I forgave myself for saving his life. I knew if I left him in Asia or Europe, he would surely die. I have come through the eye of a terrible codependent paradox, and the experience has left me with little patience for people who give black and white advice.
"Why didn't you just leave him in the Kathmandu hospital?" my Al-Anon sponsor asked condescendingly when she heard the story.
"It didn't feel right."
"You are addicted to him. You can't live without him."
Remembering that Al-Anon sponsors are not supposed to give advice, I challenged her. "Look, the doctors have just diagnosed my husband with a terminal illness. We've got two children who love him deeply. I can't just throw him out. I may be in total denial, as you say, but I have to answer to myself. I can't take your advice on blind faith."
"Nancy, I cannot support you if you stay with him."
"Okay," I thought for a moment. "Then you know what? I'm firing you. I may not be very far into my recovery, but I have to take Al-Anon literally. Your insistence that I leave him goes against the program's traditions, and I cannot accept that." I hung up the phone and felt terribly alone, yet confident that I had done the right thing. This was my introduction to the syndrome of Al-Anon Abuse. Through the years, I earned a black belt fighting it.
John was weak and exhausted from the hemochromatosis. My strength was waning; caring for an invalid is a twin dilemma to anxiety over the alcoholic. Although we were no longer facing liver cancer and the prospect of imminent death, we still moved through grief, shock, and anger, to a point of bargaining with this new disease. Then depression descended. The ceilings got lower and lights grew dimmer as we adjusted to the unfamiliar presence of death in five to ten.
It wasn't just the prediction about his life expectancy. Hemochromatosis causes testicular atrophication. One day, when I saw how much his genitals had shrunk, I waited till I was alone in the house and screamed into a pillow in terror. Like the night Johnny ate his glasses and the huge spider appeared in Kathmandu, I felt like Job. Would we ever escape the genetic curses descending upon us? If it effected me that strongly, imagine how that devastated John's sense of manhood.
My ex-husband agreed to let the children live with him and his new wife, Jo. It broke my heart to see them go, but I hoped Michael and Megan would deepen their relationship with their father. Unfortunately, they had a rough time at Paul's. He was doing his usual emotional starvation routine with his wife. After his third marriage, he confided, "You know how I am. I'm great till I get married and then I withdraw."
Jo was already miserable. Just as with me, he spent all day and night at the car lot. She took her five-year-old daughter out for dinner most evenings, leaving Megan and Michael to fend for themselves, Cinderella-style. When they repeatedly complained that they were alone in the house with nothing to eat, we moved them back home. Forgetting that kids need food and attention, self-centered Paul felt abandoned. They changed their last names to Steinbeck later that year. They considered John to be their real father because he nurtured and loved them.
Johnny and I clung to each other in desperation, expressing our fears and sadness. Why is our life filled with swells of pain and the undertow of sorrow? If I lay next to him or go everywhere with him, I can keep death away. If he dies, I'll be so bored. If he dies, I'll have lots of friends but no one so brilliant. I'll just muck around pretending I'm living. I'll do everything they tell you to do to carry on but it will be so bleak. I'll just be waiting for my own death.
Weeks of tenderness would pass. Then John would go on a binge and turn monstrous. One night he reached in his pocket and pulled out a stiletto-thin Italian fruit knife we had bought in Rome. He pointed it at me and chuckled sadistically. I called the police and they charged him with felony menacing.
Boulder police are experts in domestic violence. If I didn't press charges, they would. When John drunkenly attacked me before we left for Nepal, a friend insisted my doctor record the assault, which involved a perfect set of teeth marks on my shoulder. Because of that evidence, John was put on probation. If he ever physically abused me again, the judge said he would send him to the federal penitentiary. That ended the violence between us.
We needed more support. Al-Anon friends recommended that I see a woman therapist, Tanya Zucker, at the county-funded Alcohol Recovery Center. John started seeing her partner, Don Roth, gifted in working with vets. Sometimes the four of us would meet together. Privately, Don and Tanya told me my recovery was extremely threatening to John. Because he could no longer control me, I was disturbing the family's unhealthy equilibrium. In Al-Anon terms, King Baby was feeling abandoned because I wouldn't be his caretaker anymore. He had been accusing me of trying to capture his elusive free spirit, and now my independence was frightening him.
Using the Al-Anon slogan Don't accept unacceptable behavior, Don and Tanya taught me to define abuse. While John was often infuriated that they were privy to the bizarre aspects of our relationship, I began to feel safe. His cover was blown, but I finally had a place to talk about my despair. The process exposed his monstrous excesses and screaming rages; things I'd kept secret from even my closest friends. At last, someone else knew of his drunken, late-night propensity to smash all the eggs on the refrigerator door, leaving them dripping until morning. Someone else knew he fired his gun into the rafters while I slept beside him. The fact that everything got reported to our therapists made him think twice. John could no longer criticize my Al-Anon meetings, massages, writing, cooking, not cooking, or spending time with the door closed.
"How can I work on people pleasing if you are constantly demanding I submit to your whims?" I asked. "From now on, I am focusing on my needs. You can take care of yours."
I wanted him to stop driving me crazy. Seeking instant gratification, I wasn't always rational. I often lacked the patience to practice communication skills. After the fear of death sobered John, he desperately wanted to change the qualities in him that created illness and insanity. The frozen feelings from our repressed childhoods were thawing. We made a pact to support the process.
Later that summer, they asked John to put on a fireworks display at Rocky Mountain Dharma Center for the yearly encampment, a gathering of Rinpoche's guards. People wore military uniforms and slept in tents, played mock war games. There was marching and whimsical calisthenics such as lying on your back and doing push-ups to the sky.
We arrived with a trunk full of fireworks at dusk. They ushered us to the front of the crowd Rinpoche was addressing. We had not seen him for almost a year. What we saw shocked us both. He was so drunk, two guards had to hold him up. His speech was unintelligible. This man will drink himself to death and the community will be torn asunder. Three years later, that's exactly what happened. When I went back to college for my degree in chemical dependency, I learned Rinpoche had passed over into chronic late- stage alcoholism during our year abroad. Soon after, he developed Korsakoff's syndrome, commonly known as "wet brain," and two years later he died of esophageal varicies.
The shock of his deterioration hit me hard that night. As John set off the fireworks, I sat alone on a hillside, watching the members interact. Coming from the warm, close-knit communal culture of Nepal, I saw white upper-middle-class adults behaving as if they were at a cocktail party. Little clusters would mingle and part, touching superficially, satiated bees on drained flowers. I can't do this anymore. There's no spark, no depth of communion, just emotional distance. Are John and I the only ones who see through this charade? Isn't anyone else concerned about Rinpoche's drinking?
We lingered till midnight, chatting in uneasy shallowness. I felt as if the skin were being peeled off my body. The shock of Rinpoche's deterioration had sent my grief process cascading. Raw and shaken, I was silent as we drove back to our hotel. Falling into a bewildered sleep, I awoke despondent and poured out my feelings to John. As he validated my horror, he lessened my feelings of alienation. When I studied the disease model, I realized I had seen five hundred people in denial about the drunken elephant in the living room. The brightness in their eyes, the glint of Don't you dare mention it, the brave attempt to carry on despite the guru's intoxication were poison to me. Like babies playing in a toxic waste dump, the community was oblivious to the time bomb's tick.
Back in Boulder, at my Al-Anon meeting, I developed a friendship with a fellow Buddhist. We dared to call Rinpoche "the A-word," like two naughty children who had been cast out from their garden of illusion. Slowly, we began to draw others into our fragile web through mutual education about the disease that was destroying our families, our church, and our spiritual leader. We learned how to give people the litmus test of nurturing. If you feel energized after an interaction, that is the sign of a healthy person. If you feel drained, run for your life, because that's the disease and it will kill you.
More Buddhist women started attending meetings. As we shared our insights, wisdom and strength began to dawn. Within the bonds of sisterhood, and as the men joined soon after, in fellowship, we formed a lifeline by sharing experience, strength, and hope from the perspective of our confused and denial-ridden spiritual community.
An article had appeared that summer in our Buddhist newspaper, the Shambhala Sun, about Dhyani Ywahoo, a female of Cherokee lineage who combined Native American teachings with Buddhism. Sensing an instant familiarity, I wrote her a letter about the need for female teachers to balance the steady stream of visiting male lamas. When she came to Boulder to address her Peacekeeper organization, I invited her to meet with our community, hoping to strengthen the link between the two traditions.
Dhyani's then-husband, Golden True, called a few days later and said she would be willing to give a short talk. I could tell from his deep voice, Texas accent, and kick-ass way of speaking that he and John would sniff each other out and find comfort in each other's maleness. "You know how to do that," John told me. "It's like walking behind a horse's rump. You make the clicking noise that tells a man he can relax."
We fell in love with Dhyani's beauty. As a Vietnam vet, Golden had Post Traumatic Stress Disorder written all over him, so he and John clicked. Instantly, we became family. Their rowdy two-year-old adored Michael. Feeling a spark of recognition, like coming home, we swapped many war stories about our lives.
I discovered Golden had witnessed one of those incredible magic moments in my life. It happened the year we moved to Boulder. Paul was selling shoes at Kinney's. The kids and I had gone to the mall with our dear Tibetan lama friend, Karma Thinley Rinpoche, to pick Paul up from work. We found the salesmen struggling with the huge door that slides to lock up the store. It simply would not budge. Afraid Paul would have to guard the store all night, I looked helplessly at Karma Thinley. He made a pass with his hand and muttered a mantra under his breath. "Now try," he said. The door slid shut like butter.
Golden passed by the store just as that happened. He saw the family with two small children squirreling around the shoe displays and the red-robed monk murmuring incantations at the door. "It blew my mind! I wondered who the heck y'all were." When we went out for dinner that night, Paul took me for a spin on the dance floor. When I returned to the table, Karma Thinley announced very enthusiastically, "Oh, you have besty body for dancing!" When I told Johnny that story, he nicknamed me "Best-y Body." He called me that a lot; it cracked him up.
The recovering members of the community attended Dhyani's talk. The next morning, over breakfast, she probed the issues of Rinpoche's health and the community's morale. John and I told her everything. Our loyalty was to the truth of the situation, not protecting the Emperor's New Clothes.
"Rinpoche has drunk so much that he has holes in his brain," she explained. "That is how the Native Americans describe the effects of alcohol destroying brain cells. He needs physical attention. You must gather people together and see if something can be done. It would be good if he would take a sweat with Wallace Black Elk, who knows how to cure those holes. Go to the nuns in your community. They are the most pure and they are concerned. Also, seek out the elders, who can see more in their maturity and wisdom."
"I don't want to be the target of criticism," I protested.
"In the entire community, you are the one who knows most about these things. You have no choice. Otherwise, he will die."
I called for a meeting with the nuns and elders. We asked Roger La Borde, a member of Wallace Black Elk's adopted family, to address the situation from his intuitive point of view. Roger was aware of the confusion and pain caused by Rinpoche's behavior. Although there was still clarity in Rinpoche's consciousness, Roger said damage to his brain cells had left him disoriented.
"Rinpoche cannot decide if he wants to stay alive. Those with clarity of heart and mind must learn to stand on their own two feet. If the conditions continue, Rinpoche will die. Your community is suffering from the same masculine imbalance as the rest of the planet, along with the suppression of the feminine. The women must unite in truth. You will not accomplish any healing by challenging the male-dominated hierarchy. You must all assume responsibility for having relinquished your hearts, your power, and your intuition." Roger went on to say that the Buddhist teachings could not flourish in a form that suppressed honesty. He accurately predicted that tension would be created by increased jockeying for influential positions in the hierarchy.
Roger had confirmed our deepest intuitions. We called another meeting for all the recovering women. Twenty of us gathered at our house in confidentiality. This was the first time students could ask questions without fear of rejection and scorn. Apart from Rinpoche's physical health, another concern was the fact that he was in the process of marrying six other women. They were to assume positions above the board of directors. While the party line claimed this was Rinpoche's way of empowering the feminine, we believed it was his way of getting his sex poodles to jump through their hoops. We viewed them as opportunistic airheads, simultaneously smug and confused about exactly what it was that made them so special. The weddings were secret; only inner sanctum-ites knew of them. The women were subjected to a rigorous examination about the Buddhist teachings. Rinpoche drunkenly nodded in and out of the ceremonies, and his wife never objected. If this were empowering the feminine, we'd eat our meditation cushions.
We discussed the arrogance and closed mindedness of the community, the blatant chauvinism that proclaimed ours is the only way. We met their doubts and concerns with kindness instead of censure. Emerging from denial about our own erratic behavior or a loved one's, it was time to acknowledge that we had more clarity than the flock of untreated codependents. Feeling tremendous sadness about the confusion, we also felt freedom as we moved from the role of victim to warrior, searching for clarity and truth.
I had rented a carriage house near the mountains to escape from John's illness and write. We gathered there every Tuesday at noon under the guise of a Women's Buddhist Al-Anon meeting. Wives of the community's most powerful men timidly discussed their domestic problems. When they started practicing the principles of Al-Anon, change invariably followed, and we celebrated each other's growth. As we revealed family secrets, from the microcosm of our homes to the cocaine debauchery at Rinpoche's court, we grew in mutual strength and support. This infuriated the hierarchy, who objected with derision and scorn. They said we were missing the point, that the crazy wisdom lineage gave Rinpoche license to do whatever was needed in the name of "teaching." As a result, we lost superficial friendships but gained a depth of intimacy we had never known. A large extended family formed, not to replicate the harmonics of our abusive childhoods, but one that was loving and full of joy. We learned how to play, to celebrate our success, share pain, become supportable, and speak from our hearts. These skills would save our lives, but not the life of our teacher.
Immediately after returning from Nepal, I started to experience flashbacks of my father sexually abusing me as a young child. The woman he had planned to marry after my mother died left him when she realized how neurotic he was. During a visit to San Francisco, he vented his bitterness on Megan and Michael. He started by teasing them and it got out of hand. When confronted, he lashed out at me with all the pain of his loneliness and failure. The monster who had tortured me during my mother's death had returned. While my brother remained predictably mute, my father spoke to his lawyer about disowning me.
The first flashback hit me in the hotel bed, cuddling with John. I saw myself as a tiny baby. My mother was bathing me but something felt wrong. A man was looking at my body in a sexual manner. I realized it was my father. Frozen and confused, I knew that confronting him would be foolish. Anxious to escape his presence, we packed hastily and drove down to Carmel to visit Thom.
John, Michael, and Megan felt the turmoil as strongly as I did. Calling upon every ounce of dignity and skillful means that Rinpoche had taught me, I struggled to keep my balance. Determined that my father would never attack me again, I held my head high, but my heart was broken.
Thom had been living quietly for the past two years with a woman named Joanna off the coast road south of Carmel. The brothers met for the first time without fisticuffs or hysterical midnight harangues. It was touching to both Joanna and me to see John and Thom interact calmly and lovingly. We formed an instant support group, "Women Who Love Steinbecks." Comparing notes and finding out how much they were alike was great fun.
"When he can't find something, does he expect you to drop everything and look for it?"
"Do people always ask how you tamed the beast?"
Back in Boulder, our lives were a three-ring circus. The drama of John's health and our recovery was the focus of our daily existence. Now that John was ready to talk about his childhood, we faced our sexual abuse issues together. While mine was more blatant, John became aware of the degraded atmosphere in which he'd been raised, where Gwyn's friends had drunkenly fondled him as they removed their coats from the pile on his bed. Memories of finding his mother in various states of disarray brought up emotions ranging from embarrassment to shame.
Then we had the ongoing tragedy of Rinpoche's alcohol and drug addiction. Johnny and I had our own tightropes to walk but we chose at times to make death-defying leaps into each other's arms. We were learning to create a support net for each other. A deeper tenderness grew as we recognized the similarity of our individual wounds. When John realized what my father had done to me, he stopped feeling so misunderstood about his own miserable childhood.
Tanya sent me to a therapist who specialized in sexual abuse. Under hypnosis, I saw my father molest me repeatedly as an infant. It continued up to age three. I had very few memories, but my therapist claimed that feelings were the evidence, not the concrete recollections. Surprisingly, my brother supplied the missing pieces. "When I was nine," he said, "you accused me of doing something sexually inappropriate and I got punished. I remember thinking you couldn't have made it up, because there was no way a three-year-old would imagine something that explicit." Blaming my brother had been safer than blaming my father.
Although it was excruciating, I went straight to the heart of the abuse. After a session with my therapist, I would cry into my pillow until the kids came home from school. Johnny was at his supportive best, fascinated by the process. He wanted to hear everything; he never judged me, and I was grateful for that, because sometimes I felt so dirty. [LC-1]
In the fall of 1984, John and I took Michael and Megan to Wallace Black Elk's sweat lodge, on a farm east of Denver. We arrived at the farmhouse at sunset and waited for the stones to heat. The house was one of those places where everything is functional. They devoted one table to cherries, pitted by a little hand-cranked machine. Another table held apples for pressing. The house was filled with old magazines, newspapers, rakes, hoes, brooms, shotguns. People who can live in clutter fascinate me. It seems to be a peculiarly American trait not to disguise domestic functions. Asian homes take pride in a tidiness that could welcome the Buddha. We had shrines in every room, even one by the kitchen sink where a Kachina doll named Soot Boy, given to us by a Hopi elder, guarded us from fire. I have always envied people who could live in such disarray. I have to tidy the house every morning, straighten pillows, wash dishes, and sweep the floors. It's like clearing the stage so more creativity can blossom.
At dusk, we wandered down to the tepees. A dozen young Sioux men, with their wives, babies, and some elders, watched rocks heating in a fire pit. We were the only white people on the land besides the farmer and his family. They told us that Michael might be uncomfortable with the intensity of the heat, but he was willing to risk it. Dhyani had warned that if a person left early, he might carry negativity with him. Grandfather Wallace said he'd keep an eye on the boy. When it came time, we were summoned to the door of the tent and smudged ourselves with sage to purify our bodies and minds. Cupping handfuls of smoke from smoldering sage twigs, I brought it toward my face and then the rest of my body, inhaling deeply. Then we entered the lodge, a structure made of bent tree limbs covered with blankets.
Wallace is renowned for the relentless heat of his sweats. That's why they work. Not for the squeamish, they were nothing like the mild sweats we did as hippies on the shores of Kootenay Lake in British Columbia. While I entered the tent with trepidation, John was totally game, intrigued by the energies of the other men. They told him to remove the small gold Buddha that hung from a chain around his neck because it would get too hot against his skin. We were packed in tight; there was barely room to sit cross-legged. Megan and I wore swimming suits under kimonos, which were quickly drenched with sweat and made gritty from sitting on the earth.
It was completely dark in the tent; you couldn't see anyone. They placed Michael close to the door, just in case he couldn't make it. He lasted about forty-five minutes and then asked if he could be excused. Wallace told him he'd be fine and he bolted through the flap. Several men outside tended the heating of the rocks that were added when the ones in the lodge cooled. As an attendant poured sizzling water over the hot rocks, the steam drove the temperature to 130 degrees. Wallace had people pray out loud, taking turns around the circle, supplicating the spirits for aid in all manner of tribulation. Everyone else spoke Sioux, pouring out their hearts. John asked for release from his addictions. I asked for deliverance from anger. Megan was the best. She sat in perfect meditation posture, as if there were no heat, no discomfort, a graceful princess perfectly at ease among the boiling stones.
Three hours later, when it was over, I crawled weakly through the tent flap on my belly like a snake. Wallace provided hoses to bathe away the sweat and then invited us to join in a feast. We ate the simple food, hot dogs, Kool-Aid, macaroni and cheese, under bright stars, as one being. There was only sharing and community, even though we were strangers, in that way that native people include you. Not with all the phoney smiles and missionary posturing at which our culture is so adept. People just looked at you, with no overlay of expression. Those are the times when John and I felt most at home.
Wallace spoke about the Star People coming down to aid the planet when they would be most needed. "It will blow the White Man's mind, but we will welcome them because we always knew they were coming. Then there will be great changes and the native people will finally reclaim what was stolen from them." Michael and Megan said it sounded like Bob Dylan's song about when the ship comes in.
We didn't get back to Boulder till dawn. Driving along the deserted farm roads, I wondered what effect the sweat would have on each of us. In the morning, John discovered he'd forgotten to put his gold Buddha back on, and when he went to look for it in his jeans pocket, it was gone. He called the farmer and asked them to look in the dirt around the lodge, but it didn't turn up. He'd worn that little Buddha since Vietnam as protection.
"The Vietnamese clamp those Buddhas between their teeth when they charge into battle. They believe it can save them from being struck by a bullet."
Maybe it's a sign John is shedding his PTSD. Perhaps now he can stop viewing life as a series of firefights, and be a little easier in his skin. This fight-or-flight stuff is getting old. I loved that Buddha too, especially the sexy way it would fall on my breasts when we made love.
After meeting Dhyani and Wallace Black Elk, John and I continued to study with various Native American teachers, along with other members of our Tibetan Buddhist community. Both cultures had prophesied that modern technology would alienate people from the earth, resulting in its abuse and neglect. They foresaw a time when Native American and Tibetan Buddhist teachings would join in one voice to warn the people of perilous times ahead. The way to survive the predicted upheavals is by mindful action and right relationship with the earth and all beings. They place a strong emphasis on spiritual practices and rituals to give a depth of sacredness to life, which has been lost in the scramble of materialism.
As our friendship grew, Dhyani asked if I would write her biography. I stayed with her and Golden, and the boy, Tatanka, for ten days. We spent hours taping sessions about her childhood and her magical life. The energies were always wild around her, and she often asked if I could handle it, afraid I'd be blown away. I wasn't. It was a perfect segue, moving from John's intensity to the chaotic dance of a sky-traveling dakini. Although Dhyani eventually decided to write her own book, I treasured the hours we spent together exploring our inner and outer cosmos.
The following spring, Naropa's Anthropology Department asked me to help organize a Native American and Buddhist Women's Council. The Buddhist elders were represented by my mother's teacher, Dr. Rina Sircar, and a Polish nun. One of the Native representatives, Grandmother Carolyn, the elfin Hopi Corn Mother, who knows all the magic and natural fairy circles in the seen and unseen world, interrupted her planting season to attend. The Hopi warriors, as legend has it, gave up the lance for an ear of corn so that they could hold the law, the prophecy, and the records of all the creatures' journey from the stars through the swastika of the earth-walk migrations, back to the spiral of the stars again and again. The physical devastation of the Mother Earth compelled Carolyn to leave her little shack and corn rows so that she might plead with us two-leggeds to reconsider the way in which we are headed.
Johnny titled the Council "Nurturing in Times of Peril." He participated fully in the event. I was so grateful to have him there, clearly present and attentive to the elders, who stayed with us. It was a blessing to be around those people, and we felt a new dimension was added to the sacredness of our marriage. Because we agreed in our hearts with the basic family values they were laying out, we felt renewed appreciation for the spiritual path we were traveling together. It was a blessed time. I noticed the contrast between the Naropa Kerouac Festival, when all the flamboyant, male Beat heroes gathered at our house. Now we had a gathering of a different nature, a celebration of feminine wisdom and power, led by the strong grandmothers who held the fabric of hearth and home together with their matriarchal bonds. It was an affirmation that John and I were reaching the level of equanimity and balance we had long been seeking.
One night, Johnny told Dhyani he had been noticing his shadow did not move as fast as his body. A definite lag time was apparent. Without hesitation, she pierced the air. "It means you are deciding whether to live or die." When I heard these grave warnings from people who study signs, I was terrified. My fears proved to be well-founded when, a month later, in the summer of 1986, John ruptured a disc. Hemochromatosis had taken such a toll on his ravaged body that the doctors refused to operate. Afraid John's heart would not survive the anesthesia, they kept him in the hospital for weeks, drugged out of his mind on painkillers. He could barely hold his head up. No one felt sorry for him. Our recovering friends called it a junkie's wet dream.
The hospital's pain-control center diagnosed him as the type of addict who would always find a reason for using opiates. They did not recommend surgery because, even if it were successful, his body would invent another malaise. They suggested he manage his pain without an operation or the use of painkillers. Too far gone on the IV drugs the hospital had been giving him for weeks, they pronounced him ineligible for their pain-management program. Talk about a rock and a hard place.
Whether it was out of greed or compassion, John's doctors ignored the Pain Center's recommendation to take him off drugs. They released him from the hospital, with the assurance that they would monitor his heart to see when an operation might be possible. Incapacitated by Percodan, which the doctors continued to prescribe, John agreed to stay with a friend. If he needed anything from the house, he promised he would call first. Unfortunately, in his dementia, his first impulse upon being discharged from the hospital was to mark his territory at the house. I was still his touchstone; he came directly home.
When he walked in unannounced, I was standing in the kitchen. Marc, a friend whom he had asked for a ride, was right behind him. John's appearance was appalling. Barefoot, his clothes were filthy and he was staggering on a walker. He looked ancient, decrepit, like an animal on muscle relaxants. Fury erupted through my shock.
"We had an agreement that you would call first." It wasn't that I wanted a warning about him coming to the house as much as I wanted a warning about how horrible he looked. I ran to call one of my support-network friends. That wasn't enough; I called another. They came in seconds, just as Marc was screaming, "Quit being such a bitch. He has a right to be here. It's his house too."
My girlfriends never forgot Marc standing in my kitchen, yelling at me. Later, we awarded him the Primo Enabler Award for his knee-jerk, infantile rage at a woman refusing to shelter the beast. Mutt and Jeff left the house, misogynistic curses trailing behind them.
"I notice Marc's not taking him back to his house!" cracked one of my friends. I was in a rage because John had broken his promise to stay away. Behind the rage was horror.
Several nights later, I lay sleepless, overcome by unnameable terror. John called me early the next morning from the hospital. After wearing out his welcome at our friend's house, he had checked into the Boulderado the night before and fell asleep. Around midnight he woke up and could not move. He lay paralyzed for seven hours, screaming for help. Unable to reach the phone, he tried to send SOS signals with his bedside lamp, hoping someone across the street would see the light flashing on and off. The housekeepers discovered him in the morning and someone called an ambulance.
"I was terrified," he confessed. "I felt so alone. All I wanted was to come home to you. I'm really afraid for my life."
That same night, my father, recently diagnosed with liver cancer, was too weak to pull himself out of the bathtub. He lay there for forty-eight hours, screaming for help, just like John. Finally, a neighbor noticed he had not seen him for a couple of days and called the police.
The realization that both my husband and father had backed themselves into similar corners of isolation and despair was bone chilling. I felt no desire to help, only icy vindictiveness and very little compassion. I had recently found the courage to confront my father about the sexual abuse with a phone call.
"I want to say something without any feedback from you," I said with confidence. "I know what you did to me when I was a baby."
"What, you think I sexually abused you?" he yelled. His response said it all.
"I told you I am not going to discuss it." Quietly, I hung up and congratulated myself.
My father's reaction was to send a series of vicious letters condemning John and me. When he got no response, he tried to sell the house out from under us. When a real-estate agent called to schedule an inspection, I told her not to waste her time, that my father was delusional and my house was not for sale.
I cannot say that this was the worst part of my life. All those years were dreadful, but this was a new low. With my father dying, and my husband strung out on drugs, with both men enraged at me, I couldn't tell one from the other. Rinpoche was slowly dying as well. They hospitalized him the same week as my father and John. Father, guru, and husband, three separate basket cases, set to sail off on the ultimate abandonment trip. It was horrifying and it was fascinating, one-stop shopping for your grief. Freeway close, watch the three most important men in your life waste away simultaneously. You don't have to string this kind of torture out over years. They'll do it all in unison!
Thankfully, Johnny's miraculous sense of timing caused him to rally to my defense. Sensing I needed his support during my father's illness, he weaned himself off drugs. Suddenly, he was sober and eager to help, insisting that I let him stay with the children while I went to San Francisco. His stamina amazed me. In spite of all the confusion, the drugs, the pain, and his extreme denial, he was right there when I needed him. He took beautiful care of the children while I sat by my father's hospital bed for two weeks. We talked on the phone several times a day. He'd call me at the hotel before I went to the hospital. Then he would set a time for us to chat later, in case things got too heavy. We talked every night before I fell asleep. It was like nothing bad had ever passed between us. Strong and funny, he was everything you'd want in a husband while watching your father die.
He offered to stay there with me, but I was content being in San Francisco on my own. The hospital was close to Japan town. For lunch, I walked down to the sushi bar where the boats go around a little moat and you lift the dishes off the decks as they sail by. Often, I'd drive to the Presidio cliffs overlooking the ocean where high school boys took me to "watch the submarine races." I sat by the stone buddhas in the Japanese Tea Garden. I felt my mother's presence, I felt my impending orphanhood, and I had no idea what turn my life would take with these unstable men. Strangely, I also felt a growing sense of serenity, that no matter what numbers they pulled, I was going to be fine.
In the evenings, I meditated at the San Francisco Dharmadhatu, our Buddhist center. I noticed while getting the latest update on Rinpoche's health that no one ever talked about his dying from alcoholism. We spoke freely now in Boulder, expressing our anger and frustration. The San Francisco members were guarded, whispering seriously about the latest report from the doctors. Watching it all go down, I only cared about John. I would not miss my father's abusive insanity and I no longer felt a connection with Rinpoche, who was gone, beyond wet brain. His time was up, and my father only had a few days left as well.
All my prayers were for Johnny's health. My rage had disappeared in the face of his noble efforts to sustain me and the children. Just a little while ago he'd been a derelict, straddling a walker with a demented smile on his face. Now he was the tender husband and father, happily nurturing and protecting his family. All my hopes and fears went into the repository of my prayers. Please help him hold onto that strength upon which he is miraculously still able to draw.
My father died and I flew home, immensely richer, both spiritually and financially, from the experience. I had conducted myself with a dignity that did not jeopardize my inheritance. Feeling no love while I sat with him, or pity for his suffering, or sadness when he died, I was learning there are some things you simply don't need to forgive. We had not talked about the sexual abuse. I was kind to him, filling his room with flowers, sitting quietly by his side.
During those two weeks, my brother came down once from Sacramento for several hours. As we went through the house, I took only some books and several pieces of art. My father had gotten rid of all the furniture when his college sweetheart had moved in with hers. She left him with an empty house, rooms that echoed in bleakness. As my brother hurried off, anxious to beat the freeway traffic, he admitted he couldn't stand being around death. I wondered why everyone just assumed I would be the one to sit by my parents' sides as they died. No one ever asked about how the kids were doing, if they missed me, if they were all right.
Rude and short-tempered with his nurses, my father died alone and bitter, and I let him. I was sick of propping up these guys. Learning to detach, to let them wallow in self-pity and dark moods, I stopped tap-dancing to change their reality. My father chose to die in the desolate reality he had created for himself. I did not want his blessing; I wanted his death to release me into my new way of being, the mirror opposite of my family's misery. I was learning to create intimacy with dignity. One-dimensional, egocentric, cardboard men would no longer manipulate me.
Before leaving San Francisco, I bought an elegant, new wardrobe. As I shopped at Saks and Magnin's, I sensed my financial independence would bring further autonomy. I had paid my dues. I was forty years old, feeling a new sense of freedom and pride. No living punitive parent could chastise me and the ones in my head were fading. My father's death was extraordinarily liberating. He remains frozen in my memory, with never a thought of warmth. It's not like I'm angry. If I feel anything, it's a peculiar sense of victory. My lesson in setting healthy boundaries was learned well. I may suffer fools for a time, but they will never take me hostage again.
Ten days later, the doctors decided John could survive the back operation. Within hours of being released, he was into his addiction to pain pills. After several weeks and another intervention, he checked into his second rehab at St. Luke's in Denver. I drove him to the hospital, flying on Percodan. Although he gave it his best shot, considering the mental and physical state he was in, after a month of in-patient treatment, John stayed sober for six days, and then resumed his hell-bent spiral toward destruction.
In the dead of winter, braving blizzards and black ice, I shuttled the children back and forth to Denver for their second round of family week, where the patient's family is educated about the disease. I resented the inconvenience of being left to care for children and pets while once again John played at rehab. During this round we began to understand exactly how dangerous we were for each other. When they sensed the rage I was feeling about John's inability to stay sober, the counselors talked to us about separating. If we wanted to heal, we could not continue to live in such agony. When the rage subsided, heartbroken and terrified, we clung to each other and prayed, but the red flags of doom were flying everywhere.
When John soon relapsed after his second round of thirty-day treatment, we began our descent into the tragic destruction of our marriage. I marvel at commitment that eventually finds resolution in resurrection and healing. It felt at the time like I was being burned alive, but that was an illusion. We were really on the verge of witnessing a miracle.
My therapist urged me to seek codependent treatment at Sharon Wegsheider-Cruz's facility in South Dakota. That ten-day program solidified my determination to beat the odds. When I returned home, we decided to fulfill Megan's dream of attending boarding school. We chose Verde Valley School in Sedona, Arizona, for its curriculum in the arts. Michael and I flew down to register her and I fell in love with the breathtaking red-rock formations and the silent desert.
They say that Sedona intensifies whatever you bring to it. If you want to heal, Sedona will etch that possibility in its red rocks. If you want to abuse yourself the land will provide carte blanche room for indulgence. Sensing Boulder had become a dead end for our growth, I didn't want to leave that enchanted land. Early one morning, sitting by the pinon fire in my hotel room, I called John.
"The scenery is spectacular. I want you to see it. Let's move here for a few months and then decide what we want to do."
The idea intrigued John. "You think we're ready to leave the stranglehold of the Buddhist community? I could use a change. Besides, every cop in town knows my name. I can't walk down the street without one of them calling 'Hi, John!' over their loudspeaker."
He had been DUI'd twice more that winter. Desperately in need of a rest, I sighed. "I don't want to leave you, but I'm tired. There's no fight left in me. If you can't stay sober, I've got to figure out a way to live without you." It was my last-ditch effort at getting us out of the ditch.
When Michael and I returned home, there was another medical crisis to face. True to the Pain Center's diagnosis, John had developed excruciating gallstones, which demanded more drugs to kill the pain. The doctors were considering yet another operation. In February of 1987, they removed his gall bladder, which brought on another bout of Percodan addiction. We drove to Sedona ten days later with just enough luggage packed in our car to stay in a furnished condo. I begged John to throw away his stash before we left town, never really knowing how badly he was hooked. He complied and we drove off with John in heavy withdrawal and me in heavy denial, both hoping for the best.
We spent our wedding anniversary in a condo in Moab, Utah, where we stayed for several days. Discovering an alternate reality we never thought possible, we felt at peace there. The windows looked out on the simple streets where life felt so deliciously ordinary. We explored the land through bright blue-skied days, hypnotized by the fantastic red-rock formations and the willowy green trees. Fixing dinner at night, I would pretend that we lived there, that we had lost our shadow side, our diseases, any vestiges that set us apart from the unpretentious, wholesome life outside. Maybe we were schoolteachers, easily blending with the small-town simplicity. No one was famous, nor related to fame, nor going to be famous. Then we could have a life, instead of a myth, an opera, a Greek tragedy. If we could just quit being larger than life. Sick and tired of our terminal uniqueness, I prayed for humility.
The notion of an unencumbered life charmed Johnny, but an impetus was driving us like a hurricane. Although we didn't want to admit it, it was determined to drive us apart. I remember how the poplar trees waved outside the window when we had a clear view of the life we wanted. Perhaps we could cultivate the ability to experience a graceful flow instead of torturous rapids and labyrinthine roller coasters. As I daydreamed, watching the leaves shimmer in dappled sunlight, I had no idea Johnny's drowsiness was coming from a massive and dangerous withdrawal from Percodan. I thought he was just tired from his gall-bladder operation.
We settled into an easy rhythm in Sedona. Since Michael had stayed in Boulder with Paul to finish the semester, with Megan in boarding school down the street, we were without children. This was an important time for us, a chance to spend uninterrupted hours together for the first time in the eight years since we'd met. Our days consisted of long drives up to Flagstaff and on to the Grand Canyon, picnic lunches, lying in the sun, swimming at the condo, and working out at a marvelous spa down the street.
John was still weak from the operation. Since it was a fresh start, and he didn't know any doctors, he tried to get by without pain pills. He suffered from adhesions from the gall- bladder operation, and was often in agony. When the pain lessened, he swam dozens of laps every day, trying valiantly to create a health-oriented life.
I felt like a newborn baby, cut loose from all habitual patterns, trying to figure out what I wanted to do, instead of what I should be doing. Again, as in Kathmandu, I was freed from domesticity. We were in a comfortable condo, not a large house with lawns and gardens. I wanted desperately to do something creative, but I was too numb to come up with anything. The best times were late at night when we nestled in the hot tub and drank in the stars.
Two months later, Rinpoche finally died of acute late stage alcoholism. I saw a picture of him taken a few days before his death. He was bone-thin; his eyes had the haunted look of a madman. "I will never have another teacher in this lifetime," I swore to the silent red rocks at sunset. The ravens circled the valley, and I felt as though I had wasted every ounce of my practice and training with this maniacal Tibetan.
Anger erupted in both of us toward Rinpoche's henchmen, whom we felt had killed him. In their Emperor's-New-Clothes mentality, his guards had refused to face the reality of Rinpoche's addictions. It wasn't just alcohol. The truth leaked out about his $40,000-a- year coke habit and, the ultimate irony, an addiction to Seconal. Sleeping pills for the guru who advertised himself as a wake-up call to enlightenment. John and I felt duped, cheated, and outraged, especially toward the yes-men, who remained unaccountable for the deception inflicted upon our community. Rinpoche's enablers claimed that supplying him with drugs and alcohol was a measure of their devotion, while sneering at those of us who objected. In their sick denial, they couldn't see he was suiciding right before our eyes. John and I had fantasies about kidnapping Rinpoche and detoxing him ourselves, imagining what thirty days of sobriety would have done to his warped perceptions. In his last year, he'd become so deluded, he would summon his attendants and tell them he wanted to visit the Queen of Bhutan. They would put him in his Mercedes and drive around the block several times. As they led him back to the house, they laughingly asked how his visit went.
"Wonderful," he'd reply. "She was delightful."
And they called that magic. "He's so powerful," they'd whisper. It was pathetic.
Before Rinpoche's death, at a large community meeting, John asked the attendants why they hadn't refused to give him any more alcohol. They pompously claimed it was a mark of their devotion to give the guru what he asked for. "Whatever the teacher demands, all that I will give," was their vow. They believed that to break that vow, to refuse to administer the poison that was killing him, would literally send them to hell.
Johnny's question made everyone nervous. "Why do I have the feeling that we're pouring booze down his throat out of our own desire for comfort, which stems from greed? The guru's goose is being cooked, and we're all sitting by the oven, warming our hands, waiting for the feast." We shared common dreams about being ostracized by the community. If they knew how John and I were redefining our spirituality, they would have stoned us on the spot. Those nightmares were a reflection of the impending shunning, filled with hideous torture, staged in the sewers and cesspools of our incestuous community. Feeling uneasy about the vows we'd taken with Rinpoche, we didn't want our state of mind to be a reflection of his insanity. Dhyani suggested a releasing ceremony to give back his bad medicine. When John and I flew back to Boulder after Rinpoche's death, twelve of us gathered in a circle and proclaimed, "Rinpoche, we release any attachment to your behavior. We release our aversion to your self-destruction, for within that aversion is the seed of attraction. By returning your intoxication and arrogance, we affirm our relationship to enlightened mind and the development of compassion." A symbolic cup of sake was passed around but not imbibed. John then threw it out the window with a vow. "I will never again use Rinpoche's behavior to justify my own addictions."
Comments from other lamas about Rinpoche began to seep in. They finally admitted that for years they had feared for his sanity and thought he had been acting irresponsibly, but no one had spoken out. This news confirmed our discomfort, yet we still had no idea how much abuse was in store for the community in the coming years. As the true nature of corruption revealed itself, we were grateful that we'd participated in the ritual that severed us from the madness.
We attended Rinpoche's cremation ceremony in May of 1987 with Dhyani and her husband. I was glad to be there with them, safe in the VIP tent, away from the crowd of three thousand people in heavy denial. Sitting with visiting dignitaries from other religious traditions, John and I felt too raw to face the onslaught of frozen feelings. True to the community's stoic form, no emotions were shown. We might as well have been at a cocktail party. After the body was cremated, rainbows and traditional Tibetan symbols appeared as cloud formations in the sky, confirming Rinpoche's magical gifts. Why had he not used that magic on himself instead of drinking with such a vengeance? It is said that the guru manifests the most neurotic aspects of his students, so there was always the glib attitude that Rinpoche's addiction was a reflection of our proclivities. Did that mean it had to kill him? We were told he could vanquish any evil in the world. Did he just not want to fight anymore?
"He got caught in his own wringer," John said ironically.
The party line claimed Rinpoche's outrageous behavior was a powerful vehicle for awakening his students. If you viewed it as drunken unmanageabiiity, they said you were missing the point, throwing away a precious opportunity for spiritual growth. The people with the greatest awareness about addictions were shunned as being the most impossible to enlighten. We were told that we simply were not "man enough" to take the industrial strength of Rinpoche's selfless teachings. In the May 2000 issue of the Shambhala Sun, the organization's mouthpiece, Rinpoche's son stated: "My dad ... was a drinking madman! How much of a madman are you? How brave are you to really do things? He was a warrior. A warrior with the pen. A warrior with the word. A warrior with the drinking. If you don't like his drinking, he was a fool, he's dead. If you don't mind the drinking thing and think he may have had incredible enlightened wisdom, then you are an eligible candidate for his teachings."
After his death, a Buddhist teenager asked me, "Did you know that some guys used to pimp for Rinpoche? They'd find him new women to sleep with." She was talking about the sharks that sought out eager new females, either at Rinpoche's request, or on their own recognizance, hoping to win favor with him. We discussed the obvious oxymoron to which everyone turned a blind eye, that an impeccable warrior's path cannot incorporate a voracious and sloppy appetite for drugs, alcohol, and hundreds of sexual encounters. While everyone was busy honoring Rinpoche's courage for being so blatant about his massive indulgences, his henchmen constantly skimmed the various centers for new blood. Women were trained as "consorts." That meant they knew what to do when he threw up, shit in the bed, snorted coke till dawn, turned his attention to other women, and maybe even got in the mood for a threesome.
Our little band of recovering Buddhists began to ask people if they thought this flagrant behavior constituted religious or sexual abuse. The standard answer you get from the male good old boys who buy into the system because it means their coffers will also be full to feed their own addictions, is that they never, in all their pimping, heard any woman complain about sleeping with Rinpoche. (I use that term loosely, because for years he was alcoholically impotent and would devise little sexual games such as using a dildo known as "Mr. Happy" or insisting women masturbate in front of him.)
You don't ask people in denial for reality checks. You ask those who have crawled though the trenches into the light, those who have dealt head-on with their own abuse issues. They are the ones who will proclaim the truth fearlessly in the face of mocking ostracism and threats of eternal damnation. Many women, who felt they were no more than chattel, silently left the scene. Sleeping with Rinpoche was like sleeping with a rock star. You got elevated for about an hour until he moved on to the next new face. There were always eager young initiates who mistakenly thought it was a way of gaining status in the community. Because of the spiritual trappings, women forgot that groupies are always relegated to the sloppy seconds category after they've been had. Like a bunch of high school jocks, the male-dominated administration smirked behind the backs of Rinpoche's conquests. A woman with low self-esteem and no education about abuse will acquiesce to such degradation out of ignorance.
Thankful to be removed from the scene, 1 found sanctuary in Sedona. Ironically, I realized I was getting all the help I needed to make the break from the battlefield. In Boulder, the typical recovering codependent attitude was if a guy won't quit drinking, you should kick him out and move on to a healthy relationship. Most of the Sedona Al-Anon women were grandmothers; they'd been married to their alcoholics for half a century. Accepting alcoholism as a disease, not an inconvenience, they mastered the art of detaching with love and humor. These grandmothers knew that you cannot take a disease personally. It's not out to get YOU, it's only out to get its host. They practiced the Al-Anon slogan -- Love the person, hate the disease -- with a sense of compassion that I wanted to emulate. Eager to transmit their wisdom, they shared their experience, strength, and hope with me.
These women loved their husbands. Whether for economic reasons or out of family loyalty, they did not see them as disposable. If, at times, their situation appeared hopeless, they closed ranks and nurtured each other. I marveled at their lack of vindictiveness, which often ate away at me. When they saw that my marriage was losing its lifeblood, their implanted vision of freedom from fear and anger carried me through the chaos. It has years of practice, but it was there that I learned to be gentle about dealing with addictions, because harshness just turns around and bites you back. My Al-Anon sages managed to impart the profound notion of powerlessness to me. I am grateful that they entered my life at a time when I desperately needed their wisdom and nurturing.
With the grandmothers' help, I faced a phone call from Thom that caused the bottom to drop out of our marriage. He had broken up with Joanna and was staying with friends on a farm in upstate New York. Footloose and free to party, he wanted Johnny to join him. We all knew half of John was suffocating, thirsting for a drink. In his perverse, Cain-slaying- Abel mode, Thom wanted to rescue him from the other half that was desperately trying to heal.
I was terrified that I would lose John. I knew if he continued to drink, he would die, and die soon. He'd been cirrhotic for five years; if he went to New York, he would ignore his biweekly phlebotomies. Thom was oblivious to the fact that alcohol increases the iron deposits that were strangling John's liver and heart.
I wasn't being perverse when I told John to go. As much as I dreaded it, I was ready to be on my own. I could no longer walk point around his slow suicide. I let go and faced my worst nightmare as John, following his brother's fatal cue, began to drink himself to death with a vengeance.
[LC-1] That's it? That's all the proof she has of her supposed sexual abuse? One so-called "memory" she had as an infant of her father looking at her "sexually," and a few other so-called "memories" she had under "hypnosis" of being molested before the age of three? How does she know what he was thinking? Could she read minds when she was an infant? Has anyone ever read anyone else's mind? And how does she know it was sexual abuse? Maybe he was just wiping her baby ass! And what has accusing her brother of a sexual indiscretion towards her got to do with her father? And she calls this "blatant" sexual abuse? This woman is insane!