1983

Friends, it’s been a while since my last post. I needed a social media vacation. I recommend doing this now and then to focus on real life. Catch up on chores and projects. Yesterday I sorted through my treasure chest. Yes, I have a treasure chest. It is a hand-carved wooden chest from Malaysia and it was my grandmother’s. It was one of Grandma’s most prized possessions and I so loved it as a child that she promised to leave it to me. It’s now one of my most cherished objects: if the house was burning I might well try to save it.

In it, I keep all my old photos, a collection of mementos, and some other odds and ends that have meaning for me. I have an envelope containing a few examples of creative writing I did in high school, including this poem:

1983 poem
Poem written by me in 1983

I might have just glanced at it and set it aside, but it was accompanied by a handwritten journal page:

1983 journal page
My journal, July 16, 1983

I remember sitting on the floor of my bedroom listening to music and writing the poem. I also remember holding a bottle of pills and crying. I imagine now, looking back, that these memories are contemporaneous. I was more at risk than I had remembered. There was so much going on in our family and none of us were coping well. Mom was depressed, Dad was drinking heavily, and my younger sister Tara was making herself small and quiet.

I discovered binge drinking and blackouts that year. It was the summer between grades nine and ten. I was dating an older boy who had graduated that year. I was rebellious and my parents had neither the parenting skill or the energy to try and rein me in. I was fourteen and yet I was allowed to stay out all night with my boyfriend at his grad party.

Before you judge my parents too harshly (well, my father might deserve it), I’m going to share what was happening for our family around that time. I’ve written about some of this before (I was 13 and They Looked at Me With Wolf Eyes), so I’m going to be very brief. My Dad lost his father in 1978, his brother in 1980, came close to dying after a risky spinal surgery in 1982 and had experienced two heart attacks by 1983. My Mom lost her sister to a rare blood cancer in 1981 and in 1983 was herself diagnosed with breast cancer.

1983 yearbook photo
My 1983 yearbook photo

My journaling has always been sporadic, so I have to piece things together. I know the first time I got blind drunk was when Dad almost died. I was home alone at the farm and one of mom’s friends showed up at the house to tell me that things were really bad and he might not make it. I declined her invitation to come home with her, found a bottle of white wine in the fridge and chugged it. Thankfully, it came back up.

In the summer of 1983, prior to the writing of the poem I believe, I took a couple of Gravol pills and drank a mickey (Canadian slang for a 12-ounce bottle) of vodka straight on the way to a field party. I didn’t want to vomit and Gravol was my insurance against it. I don’t think I even knew that it would potentiate the effects of the vodka. I kind of remember arriving at the party but I blacked out for about 12-16 hours.

I’m not sharing this for bragging rights or to shock you. I’m processing things. Finding patterns, looking for the reasons why. I could have died in 1983 of suicide or alcohol poisoning and I have to acknowledge that part of me did want to die that year. I’ve compiled the evidence and this seems undeniable and understandable.

The more important question is why not. Not the spiritual question, but the practical one. Why didn’t I take the pills? Is it the stubborn nature I inherited from my Grandma along with the hand-carved chest? Is it my anxious over-thinking brain that stops me from irreparable harm? Is it my strong sense of empathy?

I’m not certain, but I feel it’s likely a combination and if there are life lessons here, they are: don’t give up, think things through, don’t hurt others.

Peace & progress,
Colleen

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