You have to temper the iron. Every hardship is an opportunity that you are given, an opportunity to grow. To grow is the sole purpose of existence on this planet Earth. You will not grow if you sit in a beautiful flower garden, but you will grow if you are sick, if you are in pain, if you experience losses, and if you do not put your head in the sand, but take the pain as a gift to you with a very, very specific purpose.
“I needed to write, to express myself through written language not only so that others might hear me but so that I could hear myself.”
~ Gabor Maté, In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addiction
* This is not meant to be a story of endless suffering although there were times when the suffering did seem endless. Rather, it’s meant as a way to look at life or our life experience as a school where we’re given one test after another until we graduate. I think you can look at your life as a time to acquire things, become successful, famous, well respected or whatever and maybe this works when you’re young but when you get older, you find these things don’t matter at all. CP
The year before my brother Flip killed himself, I started my freshman year at Hollins College in Virginia.
There was a lot of turmoil at home and I wanted to get away but I was also afraid: I had never visited Hollins and I didn’t know anyone there. My dad and stepmother told me to take a cab when I arrived at the airport in Roanoke.
I had made a special request beforehand: I did not want a roommate but when I went through orientation, I found out that I had two: Lael Kelley and Jeffrey Zeiler who we came to call Eeyore
In time I became very close to both my roommates and to some of the other girls who were in the same dorm….. and we had a fun freshman year: blind dates at the nearest men’s college
which was Washington and Lee and also..
…….at The University of the South
Hitchhiking to the local bar, The Hollins Inn to get 3.2 beer and cheese burgers, staying up all night preparing for exams, Spring Break in the Bahamas etc.
We made plans to move to NYC together when we graduated. Sometimes during that year I thought about what was going on at home-my brother was threatening suicide, my parents marriage was a disaster but I pushed those thoughts and feelings far into the background. The songs from that year California Dreamin’, The Sounds of Silence, Norwegian Wood and Like A Rolling Stone still take me right back there.
Ahh you’ve gone to the finest schools, alright Miss Lonely
But you know you only used to get juiced in it
Nobody’s ever taught you how to live out on the street
And now you’re gonna have to get used to it…
How does it feel, ah how does it feel?
To be on your own, with no direction home
Like a complete unknown, like a rolling stone
~Bob Dylan/Like A Rolling Stone
So I looked forward to going back for my sophomore year- Jeff and Lael and I had agreed to room together again.
But my path changed dramatically that August of 1966, just two weeks before I was due to return to Hollins. My brother Flip killed himself.
James Philip David Jr. ‘FLIP’ May 12, 1950-August 1966
My closest friend from high school, my dad and stepmother and I were on our way to my stepmother’s ranch in Clarendon, Texas when we stopped in Dallas at a family friend’s house and my dad got the call.
I just remember chaos after that: everyone being offered sleeping pills, driving back to our house in Houston and finding it filled with a large number of my parents friends..a lot of them drunk.
Going to the funeral home and being led across the street by Frank Derrick, the foreman of my stepmother’s ranch. Terrified of the city [he never left the ranch], he was shaking as he led us into the funeral home….stark and freezing cold.
A funeral in Houston and a 2nd one in Hinsdale, Illinois
And then I remember my parents telling me that they thought it was too soon for me to go back to school. But, they said, if I chose to go back, I shouldn’t ask to come home if I changed my mind. They had spent a lot of money.
So I went back and at first it was a distraction……for about two weeks and then my friends were tired of hearing about Flip, they wanted to get on with their lives and I fell into a terrible depression. I kept our room very dark and I slept all day, almost never coming out. Eventually I got sick-I had mono- and was sent to the infirmary.
THE WORLD IS GRAY
I found some peace there in the infirmary which was like a little hospital-The doctor who took care of me seemed to understand what I was going through and later I found out why. This doctor had terminal cancer so she herself was dealing with death.
But since it was going to be a long time before I would be well enough to go to classes, I was sent home, back to Houston. I remember it as just a time of grayness, darkness. I wanted to be alone so I stayed upstairs in what had been Flip’s room– I had a terrible sore throat and was too sick to get up. Sometimes my stepmother brought me soup but she was not happy about it
Eventually I started trying to live again..I started taking some classes at the University of Houston. It was a hot summer and the song Summer in the City said it all.
Hot town, summer in the city
Back of my neck getting dirty and gritty
Been down, isn’t it a pity
Doesn’t seem to be a shadow in the city
All around, people looking half dead
Walking on the sidewalk, hotter than a match head
~Summer in the City/The Lovin’ Spoonful
I was just surviving..
it seemed like every morning when I woke up, I had to remember what happened all over again.
A CHANGE IS GONNA COME
There been times that I thought I couldn’t last for long
But now I think I’m able to carry on
It’s been a long, a long time coming
But I know a change gonna come, oh yes it will
~A Change Gonna Come/Sam Cooke
But change was coming, another distraction..a change that would make my parents happy and a distraction for me.. My stepbrother Lewis had a good friend from high school: Larry Pickard was in medical school in Galveston and Lewis got us a date.
I started going to Galveston most weekends and eventually, it was too much of an effort–driving back and forth so we decided to get married.
My parents were thrilled! It was a distraction for them too…something to plan, a future to hope for.
Larry and I got married December 28, 1967
For me, it wasn’t anything I really wanted because I didn’t really want anything. I didn’t think there was any future for me, there was nothing I wanted to do..no career, no nothing. All I wanted was a respite from all the pain.
And so we moved to Galveston…I got pregnant right away and then had a miscarriage-I remember the Excruciating pain-on my 21rst birthday. More darkness but I didn’t mind losing the baby. It was a girl and I did not want a girl.
I got pregnant again as soon as I could and for a time, I found the peace I was looking for. For those months I was pregnant, for the first time ever I did not feel lonely..my baby boy was always with me, never leaving me and making himself known more every day.
Our son Andy was born July 30th 1969 at the beginning of Larry’s senior year of medical school.
Sometime during that year I started drinking a lot. Larry was at the hospital much of the time and everything I had tried to escape from was coming back to haunt me
“At the core of every addiction is an emptiness based in abject fear. The addict dreads and abhors the present moment; she bends feverishly only toward the next time, the moment when her brain, infused with her drug of choice, will briefly experience itself as liberated from the burden of the past and the fear of the future—the two elements that make the present intolerable/”
― Gabor Maté, In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addiction
Larry graduated–in a matter of moments he went from Mr. to Dr. and we moved to Houston for his surgery internship. We bought a cute house…and I was more and more miserable..just a terrible feeling of emptiness that’s impossible to put into words.
I went on a quest to pick up men–anywhere and everywhere and I started cutting myself, my left arm mainly, with razor blades.
Why Do People Cut Themselves?
The motives behind cutting are often counterintuitive. For an individual who does the behavior, cutting himself is how he makes himself feel better. Often, cutting is the only way he knows how to deal with negative emotions like depression, rage, guilt, emptiness and self-hatred, according to TeensHealth.
Most people who inflict self-harm do so because they need relief from all the pent-up emotions they are experiencing. Like an addiction, these people are not in full control of their actions, but rather seek the intense relief they experience after cutting themselves.
Cutters perceive that the action provides them with positive benefits. It allows them to express their feeling and feel in control. Cutting may distract them from difficult life events, relieve guilt as it can be used as a form of self-punishment, and for some cutters, make them feel more alive…”
I loved Andy so much, with all my heart–he was all that I lived for I but did not know how be a good mother. I believe now that he was sent to me so that I could live. His understanding about life was always far beyond mine and his mission, one anyway, was to help me survive when without him, I could not have.
When Andy was 5 weeks old, Larry and I went to New Orleans for a weekend. When we returned, I picked him up and held him on my lap. When I looked down at his little face he seemed to be laughing and I could hear him say “Remember me? I’m back!”
Back from another time…
Everything is Going in the Wrong Direction!
Sometime during that same time period-Larry was by now a resident in General Surgery, I enrolled in an Occupational Therapy Assistant program which I wrote about in a previous post.
I was in my mid 20s, totally lost, drinking continuously-day and night and I decided to sign up for an Occupational Therapy Assistant course at Houston Community College. The class which was made up of about 25 women of all ages, went from 8am to 4pm Monday through Friday and was held in a dreadful, dark building in downtown Houston. I hated it from the beginning. I had thought that Occupational Therapy was a type of Art Therapy which I was interested in but I soon found out it had nothing at all to do with art therapy.As the year went on, I became more and more miserable and I decided to drop out. I told the woman who taught the class, I was finished but she begged me to stay, to finish the course. It was pretty close to the end of the year and she was very encouraging so I completed the course and got my certificate as a Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant.
That year- graduating as an Occupational Therapy Assistant did not alleviate my misery at all…maybe I even felt worse, more empty. I tried to be a wife but I could not. I remember I signed up for a cooking class and I hated it–I hate cooking to this day.. I knew I should quit drinking but I could not and I was still cutting myself with razor blades. Everything was going in the wrong direction..EVERYTHING.
I knew I had to get out of my marriage..it wasn’t good for any of us but there was no support and I needed support, encouragement..it would be a huge step for me..how would I make money..I didn’t know how to do anything..didn’t even know how to write a check. And I was running out of time.
*If you have found this blog helpful in some way, please make a contribution. This blog is my particular way of contributing: by hopefully passing on the wisdom of the many teachers I spent time with and learned from: Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, addictions counselor, John Bradshaw, near death survivor Dannion Brinkley and Anishnabe Elder, Dave Courchene as well as many hospice patients and Elders that were part of my life.
A few years ago I experienced a huge betrayal which changed my work and my life. I learned that ‘your best friend can be your worst enemy’ and I lost a lot: my job, my salary and I could no longer do the work I had planned to do. Looking for a way to continue, I started this blog. Part of my story is here and this is also where you can make a contribution https://www.gofundme.com/poohsrainbow
As we are all in some way connected in this life, I sincerely thank you for your help.
Cindy Pickard firstname.lastname@example.org
Part 4 of ‘My Life Story’ Continued in the Next Post. I don’t know what it’s called yet but it will be much more hopeful!