I grew up Catholic. I went to C.C.D. at the church. Don’t ask me what C.C.D. stands for. It was a weekly Bible study. My mother was a teacher there. I remember hearing the stories of Noah’s Ark, the Nativity story and so on being taught as if they were factual historical events. As I grew older, because of the hum drum nature of the Catholic church, it became less and less a priority in our lives. By the time I was a teenager, we had ceased our involvement. I never received the last sacrament of “Confirmation,” which occurs in eighth grade. It’s where the church decides that the child officially recognizes that a child knows right from wrong. Perhaps if I had gotten confirmed, I’d have made less mistakes in my adult life? That's a stretch.
In my early twenties, my uncles and grandmother were deeply devoted to TV evangelists like Jerry Falwell and Jim Baker. I was living on my grandmother’s property in a trailer and I found myself and my young son hanging out with her quite a lot. My uncles were always goofy, but I did love my gram. She eventually convinced me to join her at a full gospel, Pentecostal church one Sunday.
Expecting it to be like Catholic church, I brought snacks and small toys for my son. I knew he and I would be bored. Upon arrival, I could hear tambourines from the parking lot and voices crying or yelling. I remember hesitating and my gram pulling me by the arm, smiling.
The church was a small, white building, more modern than the Gothic, cathedral looking Catholic church. It had a cross hanging just like in the Catholic church and there were pews. Unlike the Catholics, the Pentecostal church goers were jumping around, singing, and some were laying on the floor. I covered my mouth to conceal my amusement and surprise.
My son’s little fingers tightly gripped a wad of my shirt sleeve. An old lady came to our pew to introduce herself.
“We have a day care downstairs, honey. I’m Delores,” she said with a wild smile. My son, two, wrapped his arms around me like a Koala.
“No thanks. My son behaves in church,” I said politely.
The music was rockish, with an antiseptic feel. I didn’t recognize the songs. They were not usual church hymns.
The crowd calmed itself when the preacher began his fire-breathing sermon. The feedback from the microphone while he yelled was deafening. He quieted himself long enough for the sound team people to fix the mic.
I can’t remember what he said. I just remember thinking Why is he yelling when he has a mic?
I thought it was rude that the crowd reacted to just about every sentence from the preacher with an emphatic AMEN, and then my grandmother’s arms went up as if a cop just told her to FREEZE. My uncle sauntered out into the aisle bouncing around as if he had ants in his pants. I put my head down, embarrassed. It felt like my son were glued to my body.
My ears were numb by the time the two-hour service was winding down. The preacher did an “altar call.” This is when people who feel they are not “saved by the blood of Jesus” go up and commit themselves to Him. If they do it, the person is considered “saved” and will not have to burn in the fiery pits of hell.
My gram elbowed me to go to the altar. Wide-eyed, I looked at her and shook my head no. Then the preacher came to our aisle. I felt like a heathen and found myself wandering down the aisle to the altar. The preacher yelled some words and then asked me if I believed Jesus died for my sins. I shook my head yes and the crowd broke out in weird babbling and an onslaught of amens.
A lady came up behind me, whispering in an unknown language. She shook her head violently and then laid down on the floor. I stood there terrified, staring at the red exit sign. After they were done, we left.
In the car my grandmother said she was proud of me for getting saved. I was horrified and embarrassed for my family.
“Why do people fall on the floor and babble and yell?” I asked.
My uncle barked, “It’s called Slain in the Spirit! That’s the hand of God!”
I rolled my eyes and he shot me a dirty look in the rear-view mirror.
I went to that church for a few months, just to make my gram happy. My uncles preached at me daily. I remember them sending money to a TV preacher to plant seeds.
Almost every Sunday, I’d leave church and find money in my purse that was not there before the service. I think it was the old lady Delores or my gram. Once I asked my gram who could be doing it and she said,
“Don’t question it. It’s from God.”
The mysterious money I found in my purse every Sunday was incentive to keep going. Then my uncles told me I should give twenty percent of my income as a “tithe” to the church. I told them I was only getting public assistance for myself and son and couldn’t afford to do it.
With a raised eyebrow, my uncle said,
“The Bible says to tithe. If you give, you will receive ten-fold from Jesus.”
Since I made money just by showing up, I thought I could make double the dough if God saw that I was putting a couple bucks in the collection plate.
My son’s father and I were not married and were broken up when I started going to the Pentecostal church. I decided that I would rekindle my relationship with him. Because I lived on the same property as my gram and uncles, they knew who came and went from my trailer. It only took two visits from my son’s father before they used the Bible against me.
When the knock on the door came, I knew I had to decide. The three came into the trailer, armed with the Word of God. They showed me the commandment, “Thou shalt not commit adultery.”
“I’m not committing adultery because I’m not married,” I argued.
“Yes, you are cheating on your future husband,” my gram said.
“What if the man I am with is the man I will marry?”
“It doesn’t matter. You’re not married. It’s a sin. He is not the man God has for you,” my uncle said.
“How do you know he is not the one for me?”
“It’s obvious. Look at his behavior. He is not a Christian,” my gram said.
Within a few weeks of sneaking my son’s father into the trailer late at night, I decided to move out. My family never forgave me. I eventually did marry that man and had four more children with him.
I progressed through my twenties forgetting about God.
In my thirties, I got involved with a non-denominational Christian church. I had become addicted to drug and alcohol and had just gotten sober. To maintain sobriety, the recovery program I was a member of demanded that you have a higher power. Jesus was the only one I knew. He became my new best friend.
The church people were great in the beginning. But as the years went on, I got more and more involved and that was when I saw divisions in the fellowship. The church had to move to a smaller building due to financial issues, yet the pastor had a beautiful wardrobe, a closet full of shoes and a spacious home in the affluent part of town. The big donors of the church wanted to call the shots and wanted to choose the leadership. I had invested a few thousand dollars into an in-depth bible study because to really learn about Jesus, you had to fork out some cash. Within a year of my leaving the church, they closed. I vowed never to get deeply involved in a church again.
Recently, I made a trip to the gods graveyard. The trip began by studying the ancient Egyptians and their religion. They believed in supernatural gods. The Sumerians did as well. Then I studied the Hindu religion and they also believe in supernatural gods. In the gods graveyard, I found that archaeology disproves many biblical stories for example, the great flood. People were on Earth thousands of years before the biblical claim that the Earth is 6000 years old.
Being a Christian means that we must throw aside the religions of the past. Those people were all heathens. We are led to believe that cultures of yesterday confused the Christian God for someone or something else.
My trip through the graveyard could take a lifetime because if you include the Hindu Gods, several billion gods have been worshiped by humans in the past 75,000 years.
As I’ve gotten older, and wiser, I’ve realized that the church is not an inherently evil organization. There are good people there who mean well. I’ve also realized that Christianity has many holes in it. History and archaeology do not line up with it and most times, disprove it’s claims. There are many translations of the Bible and it was originally passed down by oral tradition. We all know how a story changes from person to person.
I do believe there is a supernatural being or beings that placed humans on Earth, but our existence was not adequately explained and, in my opinion, barely understood by the writers of the Bible.
The culmination of my failure at motherhood was when the police came pounding on our door. I had my six-month-old daughter in her baby chair while the drug dealer, my husband and I were smoking crack. I didn't mind the baby. She stayed quiet most days.
Paranoid, we ran and hid all the crack and paraphernalia while the law sounded like they were pounding through the door. I peered out of the side of the drapes and saw a bunch of police cars. I wanted to barf. The only fear I truly had was that they'd find our crack stash. I didn't put together that they were coming for my daughter.
They threatened to break down the door, so we relented.
A ruddy faced, corpulent CYS lady huffily tells the dad and I that we must give a urinalysis because they'd received calls that we were on drugs. We both fail miserably, and the cops search our house while the CYS lady took the baby. I felt a pang in my chest when she wouldn't tell me where the baby was going. I followed them outside into the flashing lights. I'll never forget the scowls on the neighbors' faces as I walked down the sidewalk. I felt like a victim. They looked at me like I was the perpetrator.
As soon as they left I went back in the house, found the stash and was grateful the cops hadn't found it. My husband went and got our dealer out of the attic and we all sat down at the kitchen table with the crack.
Yea, for me, it wasn't like what you see on TV. The dealers we bought our shit from were addicts themselves. Suffice to say they were just addicts with a stash.
This statement shows that I was not only 100% fully addicted, it shows that I viewed myself as a victim, as if he and the dealer should feel sorry for me because I failed a drug test and the government took my kid away.
Today, that daughter is 13 years old. I got custody back when she was five.
When I got clean I hadn't seen my kids in almost two years. I had the nerve to get attitude when their grandmother wouldn't let me talk to them on the phone when I called from the rehab center. For 18 months I wasn't permitted to speak to them directly. I left messages on the answering machine.
It was very difficult to become a full-time mom. When I got clean, it was all about me and doing what I needed to do to survive and stay clean. In 2010, a judge gave me back my responsibility of being a mother.
I realized how self-centered I truly was when I had to put my children first, above all else. At first, I did it out of a sense of responsibility and then I did it because I wanted them to have opportunities I never had and today I do it because I love them and want them to have the best chance possible.
They say that alcoholism and addictions are genetic. Sometimes I believe it and sometimes I do not. I see addictive behaviors in some of my kids. I see a desire to quit when things get rough. I see low self-esteem and personality oddities. In other words, I see myself in them.
My oldest son was already on drugs when I got custody of him. He was 16. I had no idea he was addicted. One day, I came home from a 12-step meeting and I saw him nodding out on the couch. (Nodding is the act of falling asleep sitting up, a symptom that a person is high on opiates). The son who had just come home to his momma two years prior had to be told he was to leave. His choice was rehab or to go and live with his father, who was also in recovery at the time. He chose to go to his father's house.
Thankfully, today, my son has 6 years clean. On tough days, when I want to escape from all the bullshit and get high, he keeps me from picking up that drug. I must show him that staying clean can be done. I have done it since 6-20-07.
Back in my using days, my husband and I spent a lot of time with another couple who had children the same age as ours. As we four progressed deeper and deeper into addict life, unfortunately our children went along for the ride.
My family got tired of my shit within a few years and called Children and Youth Services. I lost custody not very long after I stuck that needle in my arm. Yet, the other couple somehow kept custody of their kids.
I ran into the husband at the hair salon recently. As he spoke, I noticed his shifting eyes and rotted teeth. I kept my distance, protecting my purse. He talked about jail and rehab as if he were still the youthful guy he was when we were using buddies over a decade ago. He had his son with him. The son looked stressed and not all "there." When I left the salon, I was grateful that I had lost custody. I know my children are better today for not having had to be lost with me in addiction. Last month, I saw that guy and his son listed in the police beat. They were both busted for selling heroin and are incarcerated.
My youngest son, who is the same age as his son, is a senior in college.
Have I been blessed? Maybe. Lucky? Yes. I had a family who did my job when I couldn't.
If this blog didn't make you cringe, you are not human. If I could go back in time and kick my own ass, I would. I can only live in today. The past can't be changed. I am proud of who I've become.
The little red jukebox record player in my room was probably the best gift my mother ever bought me for Christmas. Home, a withering green box plopped in it’s corner lot by coal miners decades ago, is where I’d sit, listening to records, dreaming out the window of a better place, a better world, a better house, a better life.
One year, dad put down his beer long enough to buy me a gift for Christmas. He said it was his favorite song, as I ripped off the wrapping paper. Hoyt Axton? Who was Hoyt Axton? No matter. My dad bought it and I would love this record.
Over the dampening static of the needle on the spinning record, Hoyt squalled out the folk song “Bony Fingers.”
…work your fingers to the bone, what do you get? B-o-n-y F-i-n-g-e-r-s…
My dad hollered upstairs, “I love that song!” That was my cue to play it nonstop. I must’ve played it fifty times before mom warned me she was gonna flip if I didn’t find a new tune.
Then the unthinkable happened. The record broke. I didn’t do it. I found it that way. My sister was the culprit, although history has never proven that accusation.
Fortunately, it was only cracked on one side. Carefully, as if under a microscope, I pieced it back together. Three quarters of the way through, Hoyt was unable to finish the song. He kept saying,
…work your fingers to the bone, what do you get? Bony Fingers-ers-ers-ers-ers…
I couldn’t fix it. Mom said she couldn’t find one to replace it. The store was all out. I thought about gluing it or maybe scotch tape, but I didn’t want to break my record player.
I moved on to cassettes after that and the little red jukebox record player, sat, more as a memento than a usable toy.
During my tween years, we got rid of it because I considered it “uncool.”
"Bony Fingers" never left me though. The injured remains of the unfinished song showed up later in adulthood.
I couldn’t let go of my first boyfriend. Like a broken record, we got to a point in the relationship where it was the same thing over and over. I was comfortable. He was not. He let go. I could not. I prayed feverishly for his return. When I saw him with his new girlfriend, I burned up all the gifts he’d bought me in a bonfire in the backyard and cried.
I couldn’t let go of my second boyfriend. Like a broken record, we had the same fights every weekend, I’d throw him out and then he’d be back in my bed on Monday. As the record of our lives skipped, I always found myself no better than I had been the day, month, year before.
I couldn’t let go of drugs. I was comfortable in the haze, the melancholy, the chase. Not giving a shit and living like a vagabond. Every time the bills came, I’d shove them in a shoe box. Always moving, never changing. Life happened while I stayed stuck in a dangerous holding pattern, like I had years before, listening to Hoyt’s voice, skipping.
When I got clean and sober, I had to let go of the “Bony Fingers” style of living. There was too much going on around me and I saw that life is fleeting. I realized that the record was a sign. It was a warning. I couldn't see it. Resisting change was my biggest problem.
The hardest things I’ve ever done are the things that make me uncomfortable. From starting new jobs, to motherhood, ending relationships, becoming a college student, again, in my forties, all while maintaining sobriety.
I can’t let myself put bills in a shoe box anymore. I leave them out in plain sight, so I don’t forget to pay them. I put my money in a bank account, instead of walking around with a wad of cash. I must put my kids first. I must go to class if I want that English degree. I must be a wife. I always thought that the man was supposed to keep the woman happy, but it works both ways. I must do my part to make the relationship work. Most importantly, to make all the responsibilities bearable, I must work on myself through my recovery from addiction program. It’s too easy to fall back into “Bony Fingers” thinking. Too many people depend of me.
It’s been thirty years since “Bony Fingers” played on my little red jukebox record player. I still like that song, but I’ve found many others I like a whole lot more.
If I could go back in time, I’d just change the record to something else, maybe Michael Jackson’s Thriller or Blowin’ in the Wind by Peter Paul and Mary. Those records were there too in a box beside the player.
As dad plunged the dull point of a needle into my mother’s arm, I sat. They thought I couldn’t see what they were doing. We spent hours, seemed like days, in the back of that brown Chevy Caprice, riding, searching. Sometimes Mom and Dad would stop at McDonald’s and get us something from the dollar menu. I cherished each fry, burger, nugget. Even if I dropped something on the floor, I’d pick it up and eat it. The stuff they were putting in their arms made them not want to eat. Sometimes they forgot I was hungry.
I knew they were done ignoring us when they sunk lazily back in the front seat. My mom looked at me with a sheepish, loving smile, put her hand on mine.
“I love you,” she said, trying to convince herself. I just wanted them to feel better, so I would not miss another soccer game. My coach doesn’t like my parents. I can tell by the way he looks at them. Sometimes they fall asleep sitting up, but I know they are just tired.
My little brother threw up his McDonald’s one day all over his car seat. I was mad at him, but Mom and Dad didn’t yell. They just kept on driving. I used napkins to try to clean him up.
Sometimes my mom can’t get out of bed. She lays there all day. My little brother lays in bed next to her for hours, long after the morning light turns to afternoon. My dad works but not very much. Most days, we get up early and get into the Caprice.
“How much longer do we have to drive?” I ask them every time.
“Not too much longer, Bud,” was always the answer. They used to leave us with Grandma but now we barely get to see her. Grandma knows about the long rides and needles.
I don’t like the people we meet. This stuff they are giving Mom and Dad is making them too tired to take me to the park, or to help me with my homework, to make dinner, to tuck me in at night.
I am six years old. I get my own showers, brush my teeth every day, get myself ready for school and I can even change my brother’s diaper. When the milk in his bottle sours, I rinse it out and give him juice. He and my sister are too little to go to school with me and I worry about them when I’m gone.
I usually throw away fundraisers that the school sends home, knowing my family doesn’t have time for that stuff. One time, I really wanted a prize because all my friends were gonna get one, so I asked if I could walk around the block and ask the neighbors to buy something. I sold a lot of items and Mom and Dad were so happy. That night, I carefully put the money envelope and order sheet in my bookbag, excited to hand it in to my teacher. When I got to school the next day, the envelope wasn’t there. I was sure I put it in my bag. All the other kids handed in their envelopes. I tried not to cry but I wanted to. Mom and Dad said I must’ve lost it. I probably did lose it.
One day my dad wouldn’t come out of the bathroom. My mom went to the door. I heard her yelling, so I ran to see what was wrong. My dad was laying on the floor and he wouldn’t wake up. My mom was breathing into his mouth and foam was coming out of his nose. I saw a needle and a spoon on the sink and quickly threw them in the trash can.
“Dad’s is dying! Help him!” I pleaded, when I saw his blue face.
She told me to call 911. I told the man on the phone the address and that my dad was dead. An ambulance came and gave Dad some medicine to wake him up. We stayed at Grandma’s that night.
A teacher at school sent me to the office. There was another lady there who wanted to talk to me. Mom and Dad said to never talk to strangers, and to never talk about them to anyone. She asked me questions about what kind of boy I am. I told her that I am a good boy. She kept on asking questions though. She told me not to be afraid, that she was there to help.
I told her my parents need my help. Sometimes they are too tired to cook dinner, so I make sandwiches. She wanted to know why I missed school. I told her that if I wake up late there is no way for me to get there. I told her that sometimes we must be out late or get up early to go meet Mom and Dad’s friends, so I am too tired to go to school. She wanted to know if I had any friends. I said I had friends at school, but I don’t have anyone to play with after school except my brother and sister. I told her not to worry about me or them because I know how to change diapers and make food.
That lady came to our house the next day to see what a good job I was doing at home. I think she was proud of me. In fact, she came back every week for a while.
Mom and Dad took us to grandma’s house one day. They said they’d be back soon. I was happy to see Grandma. When nighttime came, they didn’t come back. I had school the next day and I had told that lady I’d never miss school again. Grandma made me a bed on the living room floor with a bunch of sleeping bags and blankets.
A week went by. Then another. I found myself sitting. Sitting on grandma’s porch watching the cars go by, waiting for Mom and Dad to pull up and take me home. The only thing that made me happy was not having to sit in the back of the Caprice anymore.
There were things I hadn’t done yet, fun I hadn’t had and freedom I’d never experienced. Changing shitty diapers and bawling babies were not my idea of happily ever after. At twenty-one, I was pregnant with my second child and had just quit college in my junior year to be a stay-at-home mom. My mind wandered to bigger and better things. I wanted something, but I never thought deeply about what that “something” was.
I didn’t want to deal with the family unless they offered to babysit. For a while I tried the role of supermom, cleaning obsessively, overly tending to my son and trying to be a superb decorator and housewife. My heart was in none of it and none of it lasted. All I really wanted was to get my boyfriend to be a responsible father. Every weekend, he’d go out with his friends, after our usual “Friday night fights,” and I’d be home, eating too much and playing Nintendo with my son.
During one of our arguments about his excessive partying, he told me I needed a Valium. My mind mulled over the comment for days. Wondering. Hoping.
Maybe if I party with him, he will want to spend time at home?
My boyfriend was working out of town the day my water broke. After a two-hour labor, my son got what he wanted, a baby brother. He wasn’t little though, at 9 pounds 10 ounces. The doctor laid him on my stomach and it felt like a sack of potatoes. When I looked at him, that familiar warm, euphoria I’d felt three years earlier when I had my first son, set in. I immediately loved this plump, bald headed baby.
Natural delivery of such a large baby caused me moderate pain. The nurse brought me two percocet pills. Never having taken anything more than Ibuprofen, I assumed that’s what they were. Twenty minutes later, as I lay in the hospital bed, my anxiety, problems, fears and regrets seemed to melt away. The annoying voices of my mom and sisters dulled to a palatable hum. I was at peace even though nothing around me had changed, except the birth of my son. I felt increasingly brave about being a mom. I felt closer to my boyfriend, who loved pain pills.
That was not the day I became an addict. That was the day I found an escape from reality.
The doctor sent me home with ten percocet. My boyfriend took them all within two days. I was pissed. He promised to get me more.
Pills enhanced everything. They gave a heightened awareness of my surroundings and “blessed” me with extra patience I’d never had before. Instead of our usual “Friday night fights,” we’d ask my mom to babysit, buy some pain pills and watch movies all night. Sex was better, conversation was better and so was my attitude.
The weekend pill-popping continued for about a year. Our bodies started to build up a tolerance for them and taking two wasn’t doing the trick. I started taking more. Then we found stronger pills, but our habits were becoming expensive, slowly becoming an everyday need, instead of a weekend getaway.
One day, he brought home some white powder in a Ziploc baggie.
“Here. Put this up your nose,” he said, rolling up a dollar bill.
“No! It will burn! Why can’t you just get me some pills!” I whined.
“Hold one nostril and suck it up the other side. Then swallow. You might gag but just don’t throw up.”
“What is it?” I queried.
“Crushed up pills,” he said.
I gagged on the bitter powder as it coated the back of my throat. Twenty minutes later I was knocked-on-my-ass high, stuck on the couch.
This powder was my new best friend. If I didn’t have it, I was irritated. I got tired of waiting for him to get home from work to get high, so I made friends with the guy he bought it from.
One afternoon, this guy came to our house, and pulled out the white powder.
“Are these strong pills?” I asked.
“What pills? I don’t have any pills,” he said, laughing.
“The powder is crushed-up pills, right?”
“Who told you that? This shit is Fentanyl. They call it Heroin on the street,” he said, looking confused.
The word “Heroin” frightened me, only for a minute but my fear didn’t keep me from sticking the dollar bill to my nose.
A couple weeks later, I found myself stuck on the couch, all day, because I didn’t feel well. I was shivering, shaking as if I had the flu.
My boyfriend came home that day to no dinner and quiet house. The only light coming from the TV, where my three-year-old sat, playing Nintendo. I had the baby’s infant chair next to the couch, dreading having to get up to change his diaper or get him a bottle.
“What’s wrong with you? What about dinner?” he asked.
“I can’t get up. Don’t feel good.”
“Oh. You’re dope sick, that’s all. I have some shit for you,” he said.
I jumped up and followed him into the kitchen.
As I rolled up the dollar bill, I knew I shouldn’t get high, but I needed it. Without it, I’d be sick on the couch. I couldn’t resist it though. I just wanted to feel good.
That was the day I realized I was a heroin addict.