Open Letter

An open letter to my best friend.

You have been my best friend for 25 years. We’ve been through a great deal together. You’ve always had my back. Never faltering. Always there…until you weren’t. One day the person I loved and connected with and bonded with from childhood to adulthood suddenly disappeared. The loving, loyal, kind-hearted, sassy, smart ass I once knew was no longer. You turned into someone I no longer knew. Someone I didn’t want to know. You allowed drugs to rule your life and that changed you forever.

I don’t know where life went wrong. I don’t know when you thought it was okay to use drugs to escape whatever you were trying to run from. I don’t know when you determined drugs were more important than those that love you. You can call it addiction, but at some point you made a decision to begin using. You are responsible for all the destruction you left in your path. You denied your addiction. You lied even when you knew we all knew. You were not ready to face your reality. And it killed you.

Over the years, when we didn’t talk, I never failed to think of you. You were always on my mind and we were always able to reconnect. To come back together. The last time…we weren’t. We never got the opportunity to reconnect because you never got clean. You didn’t want to. You were so consumed by your addiction that nothing else mattered. I have always supported you through good and bad, but this time I couldn’t. I could not support you in your addiction. I could not enable you. I was willing to support you in your sobriety and in your recovery, but you never got there. I was more than willing to enable you when you chose to live a healthy lifestyle, but you never made that decision. You chose drugs…

You were only 33. I don’t know why this time was the last time. I don’t know what happened. I’ve only heard speculations. It wasn’t natural causes, it was DRUGS. The same addiction that took you from your family and friends also took your life. You chose to use that night and it killed you. I used to tell you if you didn’t stay clean you would die…I never thought the words I spoke would become truth. I was only trying to scare you. To make you think. It didn’t work. In the end I was right. You died. You left two precious children, a mother, sister, and brother who loved you dearly, regardless of how strained the relationships. You left a best friend without the opportunity to say goodbye. You may have said you hated me, but I know you didn’t. You loved me. Your drugs hated me. I was proud of you at one time. You took that and abused it. You ruined it.

I am so fucking mad at you. You were supposed to finally recognize the severity of your addiction and decide to get clean. You were supposed to get well for yourself and your children. You never made that decision. You continued to make the decision to use and to place yourself around those who use. You made no attempt to surround yourself with positive people. That was your downfall. You were superman and the drugs were your kryptonite. They won. They destroyed you. They killed you. I am so fucking mad that the person I knew as STRONG-WILLED allowed something to pull her so far down she saw nothing else but that. You died…alone. By yourself. None of those “friends” were there. I’ve seen people using your death as a means for attention. You can tell by looking at them they were the people you spent your time with. Is that judgmental? Sure the fuck is. A drug user is a drug user no matter what face they put on. They were not your friends. They were your addict buddies. I was your friend. Your mother, your brother, your sister – they were your family. You chose everyone else and the drugs over all of us.

I am still trying to process your death. It doesn’t seem real. My brain knows it is, but I can’t process it. I knew I would get this call one day, but I don’t guess I figured it would be this soon. I suppose I thought there would be more time. One last ditch effort to save you from yourself. That never came. Although we had not talked in a year and a half I still hoped one day you would return telling me you were ready to get clean. I…don’t know how to say goodbye to you. My anger is overwhelming. The shock is undenying. Regardless, I love you. I always will. It will never matter how disappointed I am in you – I will always have your six. Wherever you are, biff, know I will carry you in my heart. I will use your story to help others. I will make your life matter. Your memory will carry on – in all of us.

Until next time, Khel…

This is the song you chose for us many moons ago…

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One Year

One year.  That’s how long it’s been since I learned of your death.  It’s been one year that I’ve sat here waiting to hear whether you had been found.  One year since I received that phone call telling me you were dead – by your own hand.  One year since I cried for you.  One year that you made that fateful decision to end your suffering instead of asking for help.

So much has happened in one year.  Many events have happened and you were supposed to be there for those. Instead? Your buried in a 6 foot deep hole.  Our nephew was born a month ago.  Something you were supposed to be around for. Thanksgiving, Christmas, birthdays, family vacation.  But you weren’t there – for any of them.  Always the empty chair.

Many times I have wanted to pick up the phone to call my brother or just text him. Something I did not do much of because there was rarely a response.  One or two words. Changing of a phone number without telling anyone.  I have thought about you many times over the last year. Wondering what things would be like now had you not taken your own life.  What you would be doing.  Who you would be.  I guess we will never know.

Denial of alcoholism.  Denial of sexual orientation. Concern about what others would think of you.  Bad decision after bad decision, yet you were always supported by those who love you.  You suffered in silence. You wanted us to know nothing of your suffering and we didn’t.  I am not mad at you, but I am disappointed.  You had so much going for you but you refused to see the truth within yourself.  You allowed the opinions of others to dictate your life.  You allowed what you thought people thought or would think about you to determine your life. I don’t know what was going on with you, but I’ve put my own pieces together to make sense of it all.  It may not be the right pieces but you didn’t leave me with any other option.  I had to find a way to make sense of your death and I have.

One year ago today.  

I thought about you as I got up this morning.  Then, I received a message that my best friend for over 25 years died of a drug overdose on Friday.  I haven’t spoken to her in almost 2 years because she refused my help.  She wanted to continue down the path she was on and I could not be a part of that.  I have a life, a career.  I offered her help.  I tried to convince her to get help.  She didn’t want it and she didn’t want me in her life if I wasn’t going to support her in her addiction.  My last conversation with her was how much she hated me and never wanted to see me again.  She told me to fuck off.  I respected her request in hopes one day she would return to me. Return to me by asking for help or in sobriety.  That day never came. A reminder that I have failed two people.  I couldn’t help you and I couldn’t help her. Neither of you reached out.  I guess I don’t understand.  I have always reached out when I was in need.  I put my pride away and asked for help.  Neither of you did. Maybe ya’ll were too proud, embarrassed, ashamed.  Whatever the reason, the refusal to ask for help resulted in two lives lost.  The lives of two people I cared for and loved very deeply.  I hope that wherever you guys are you are at peace. 

Kheli Nikol Bartlett 07/11/84 – 07/21/17

Matthew Steven Shackelford 10/06/1987 – 07/23/16

Runaway

Do you ever just want to run away? Leave it all behind? Disappear? Start over?

Not the kind of running away where you return to the life you know. The one, while comfortable, that is holding you back. The life that has the appearance of contentment and enjoyment, but when you really look at it you know it’s not your life. It’s not the life you’ve envisioned for yourself. It’s a life you intended on living for a short time yet you somehow got stuck. It shackled and chained you. It tethered you and every time you tried to pull away you were yanked back. Have you ever thought of running away from that life?

Have you ever thought of running toward the life you’ve only dreamt of? The life you thought you would be living by now? A life with purpose, happiness, serenity, and peace.

I want to runaway. Not from life but to life. I want to runaway from the life I have in order to seek the life I want. I had plans and dreams. Places I wanted to go and things I wanted to do. I never thought I’d get stuck. I never wanted to live here long term. It was only supposed to be a lay-over. Just a couple of years. It’s been almost 12. Somehow time slipped away. Life moved on and I woke up one day and wondered how I got to this point.

I was born and raised in the panhandle of Texas (and still live here). My soul was born elsewhere. It was born in the mountains. It was born in some other time and place. It was born in a place of serenity and peace, but my body was born here. I’ve known my whole life that while I was born in Texas I am not a Texas girl. Who I am is so much larger than that of others born here. I’m not saying Texans are bad, I’m just different. I believe I was meant to be born somewhere else. Like the universe made the ultimate mistake. Trickery. It shouldn’t have been here.

I’m not a hippie, yuppie, mountain man, beach girl, ski bunny. I am a combination of many things. I am a wanderer. Rather I believe I was meant to be one…and somehow fell short of that purpose. I don’t like roots. I have them. I have never liked staying in one place too long, but I have. Something is missing. Part of me is missing.

I want to runaway. I want to quit my job, sell my house, and just runaway. No destination. Find a place and be at peace. I want to go to a place where I know no one and no one knows me. Start over. Start fresh. It’s not so easy. Nothing ever is. So what do you do when you just want to runaway?

Time

It’s been awhile…life has been busy or maybe I’ve just isolated myself.  It’s amazing how quickly time passes.  In the blink of an eye time is gone.  You wonder where it went and when you think back…you can’t seem to place it.  I suppose it’s one of those things in life.  Time is relative.  We create time because we need structure.  We have a desire to be somewhere or do something.  Time consumes us, as a society.  Time.

I am sitting here and I’m reminded that it’s been a little over 9 months since my kid brother took his life.  Time…time has passed.  I am measuring his loss in time.  Time that has passed, the time I have missed with him, the time I didn’t spend with him.  I miss him – more than I though imaginable.  I have managed to create logic surrounding his death.  I’m pretty logical anyway; but I’ve created this state of logic that helps me justify his death.  It helps me compartmentalize my thoughts and my feelings.  I haven’t looked at how his death has truly affected me because well, to me it hasn’t had a negative impact, but really in being honest with myself – it has.

His death has created a void I wasn’t ready for.  I am far more irritable.  I am intolerant.  I question my decisions and I question my career.  I question what I’m doing with my life.  Am I as in as much pain as he was?  Am I just better able to handle my own pain than he was his?  I see people and I wonder why they still walk this earth…do they really deserve that opportunity?  I don’t get to decide that.  Perhaps that is a good thing.  Why do they get more time?  He had so little…

How much time do we get?  We never know; but we live for “the next time.”  For some of us that “next time” never comes.  We’ll do things in time.  We’ll do it tomorrow or next year or in five years.  We will do it in due time.  I am guilty of this…daily.  I wear a watch and I keep track of time. What does it do for me?  It gives me stability and security.  It gives me structure.  But even with all the stabilty, security, and structure…time is still wasted and my heart still has a lack of understanding of time.  

It’s been 9 months and I have spent 9 months refusing to allow myself to miss him.  I have refused to be angry with him.  I have refused to do just about anything.  Maybe in time.  How may times have I said that?  More than I can count I’m sure.  I have found myself wondering how much time he spent planning his suicide.  How much time did he take from the time did he take to find the courage to put a gun to his face?  How much time did it take for him to pull the trigger?  Did he take the time to think it through.  Reality is…I think he did.  It was methodical and thought out. But there wasn’t enough time to save him.

Was he scared?  Did he cry?  Did he scream?  What was he thinking?  Did he know we loved him…no matter what?  Did he struggle to pull the trigger?  In time I will never have answers because there aren’t any.  He took the answers with him.  The one thing time cannot do is change the decision he made that night.  It cannot change the heartache I feel.  It cannot undue all that has been done.  Time was not on his side…time did not treat him well, I guess.

Time has the ability to teach us many of things.  Do we really learn those lessons?  Do we take it for granted?  Do we live by it?  Time…it really doesn’t exist…not in the grand scheme of things. And time, it doesn’t really matter.

Goodbye Treasures

Each day that we wake up is a reminder that we are being given another chance. Our second chances ran out long ago. But chances are aplenty. Each day we are the precipice – of what I do not know. It’s different for each of us. Our lives are what we make of them. The good, the bad, the ugly.

There will always be those times in life where we are unsure what our purpose is or if we even have one. We wonder if we will spend the next years of our life wandering with no real discovery to be found. Those treasures we seek often we do not find and when we are lucky enough to find them – it doesn’t mean we will get to keep them. Sometimes those treasures are not ours to keep. For that moment they are in fact ours, but eventually they will be lost to us. Each treasure has it’s rightful place in this world. Whatever it may be. Sometimes we will learn what that place is and sometimes we will be left to wonder.

I have found some remarkable treasures in my life. None I have been able to keep. I don’t know that I full recognized them as treasures in my life until they were gone. Some people, some events, some things. Each day that we awake and recognize the treasures we have the better off we are. It’s easy to remember the ones we no longer have. Majority of society is seeking what they don’t have rather than realizing what they do. And it’s a shame.

I heard a song recently and just like much of the music I listen to it was speaking for me. To me. I never expected it. It talks about having the inability to say goodbye. To whoever. “I don’t know how to say goodbye to you, maybe tomorrow I can start anew, I just don’t know how to say goodbye to you.” I have found over the last year and a half and most recently the last 3 months that those words describe exactly what I have been unable to explain. 

I love someone but they are not mine to love. Maybe at some point in life they were, but they are no longer. The depths of the connection we shared at one time were like none I have ever experienced. We meet people in our lives and just know that our souls have known each other long before our physical bodies met. It’s a connection of the soul. The relationship (friendship or otherwise) is instantaneous. When I first heard the song this person, this relationship was the first thing to come to mind. Out of everything and everyone. My heart has yet to mend itself. There are times that I think I have made peace with it. Days I feel like I have made progress. Although we don’t talk anymore, I find it interesting that every now and again I’ll get a text – nothing of substance (usually) – on days where I question how much more I can take or days where my head just isn’t in a good place. That’s when I realize that treasure does not belong to me. I don’t know that it ever did. But in those moments, those rare occasions, that treasure can calm my soul. At the same time, if I’m not careful, it can cut through the stitches of my heart.

This song also reminded me that I am not as far a long in my grief process as I would like to think I am. It reminded me of my kid brother. It was like a slap in the face. A reminder that putting a smile on your face, allowing others to think you are okay, tricking yourself into believing you are okay and actually being okay are very different. It’s easy to fake those smiles. To go to work and laugh and allow others to believe the facade you put up. Quite frankly, it’s none of their business what my struggles may be. It’s not their concern – so I smile. It’s easy to put up a facade so just about everyone in your life thinks you are okay. It’s a little harder to trick yourself. I think if you do it enough then eventually you believe it. Self-awareness is a wonderful thing and also a curse. After hearing this song I realized the number one thing holding me back in this thing they call grief is not knowing how to really say goodbye. I don’t believe in the afterlife. I don’t believe I will see him or anyone else again.  So, the fact is a goodbye is a goodbye. It’s not a “See you later.” It’s not a “I’ll see you again.” It is a goodbye. I don’t know that I know how to say that just yet. A realization that I am uncomfortable with. I think the failure to say goodbye just means I am not done with my grief. There are still thoughts and feelings that have to be processed. Unfortunately, I am not sure what they are. Without knowing processing cannot begin. It’s not easy to say goodbye. I’ve done it several times before. It’s never easy.

Treasures – they are not always our to keep. Goodbyes are forever. Once you allow yourself to say goodbye you are closing that door. Sure it may creep open from time to time, but you never really open it again. That’s your goodbye. Closing that door and leaving it closed. It cannot happen until you are ready…

Goodbye to You – Ben Harper and The Innocent Criminals

My Cocaine

We all have it. That person or “thing.” The vice, if you will, that no matter where we are in life, what we are doing, who we are with, when it appears we gravitate towards it/them. Whatever it may be has the absolute power to destroy what you know. It has the ability to tear apart your being and turn your otherwise peaceful world into utter chaos. No matter how much time passes when it arrives you know you are in for a ride.

It’s called your “cocaine” because it’s addictive and has the power to create such destruction that it’s almost impossible to come back from. My cocaine, in the form it’s in, showed it’s face today. No matter how hard you try to run from it, avoid it, move past it…it will resurface. The most devastating part is it comes when you least expect it. When you finally start to get to a place where you’re okay with it being non-existent is when it will come for you. Maybe not with the intention to hurt you, but it does. It reminds you of what was.

We all have it. Think about it. What’s the one thing in your world that can resurface at any time and knock your knees out from under you?! What the one thing that can crumble your solid foundation?! It exists.

I have spent the better part of the last two years attempting to recover from that which I am “addicted.” It is not in the form of a drug or alcohol. Hell, those may be even easier to recover from – coming from a former lush. This is much stronger. A connection, that no matter how long it’s been or how bumpy the road has been, can be broken. It has no regard for the well-being of one or both. You spend so much time waiting and wanting just a glimpse and then you get it – several times in a matter of months. That glimpse is more than you’ve had in two years. And it leaves you longing for more. Chasing the high that you once had – that it once brought you. Your heart skips a beat and then drops into your stomach. For a brief moment you have that high and then it’s gone as quickly as it appeared. That’s your “cocaine.” 

I think at some point you realize you will never shake it. Maybe it’s because you don’t really want to or it’s because of the connection. Whatever the reason, it can make the strongest of people weak.  It is what it is and it will be what it will be; however, figuring out how to let it be just that is easier said that done.

I’m not a big believer in coincidences. I think things happen for a reason. Maybe we don’t always know those reasons but it doesn’t mean they don’t exist. It’s not uknown that life has kind of handed me a really shit deal this year. And while I have fought it every step of the way – the fact is, I needed Aces and I got two’s. I’m reminded of those two’s each day I wake up. So, I collect the two’s now. But, every now and again we get the Ace we need – and sometimes it’s in the form of our “cocaine.” While it can start that dreaded domino effect it can also give you that little glimmer of hope. It’s almost as if it knew you needed an Ace that day – and the Universe gave it to you. A reminder that you are still in memory and thought. That regardless of where life takes you there will always be that connection – and while it’s not ideal it helps – even in the slightest.

I’ve tried not to read to much into it. I can over analyze the slightest of things. I have had to learn to stop analyzing. To let it be what it is. Not everything makes sense in this world. Many times nothing makes sense in this world. It’s another lesson – another reminder. I used to be a firm believer that you fight for what you want, but sometimes battles are not won with fighting and wars are won with surrendering – to yourself. For every battle eventually there will be a war and we have to decide if that war is worth all that it will cost you – take from you. We choose to fight or surrender. Not giving up but realizing that even when you fight for it, if there’s no one fighting with you or for the same then really you are fighting a losing battle. At the end of the day, we are responsible and accountable for what we allow to affect us. We get to choose. We get to choose how it affects us…

Moments

I was watching a t.v. show the other night and one of the actors said this, “Life isn’t about your final moments. It’s about the moments that led up them.” With a statement like that how can you not ponder it. It’s meaning. Really, it’s meaning for you.

I have had my fair share of trials and tribulations. There have been times I’ve wondered what I did to deserve some of those trials. I’ve questioned myself and how I have lived or live my life. Not always the way I should, but in those moments and at those times it felt like the way I should be living them – right or wrong. I have spent much of the last few years really trying to figure out who I am as a person – not just in moments. The problem I was encountering was that I wasn’t doing true soul searching. I was attempting to alter my path, my growth, my change; not my soul. It has really been over the last year that I was able to recognize that and honestly start evaluating myself and who I was, who I am, and who I want to be. And honestly, the person I was a year ago is not the person I want to be. Change started to happen. I have a long way to go, but progress is being made – daily.

I think about all the good, bad, and ugly moments in my life. The bad and ugly are always so easy to remember – to dwell on. It’s the good ones that sometimes we…I forget to remember. When you have watched your world crumble beneath you more times than you care to remember you start to wait for the other shoe to drop. You shut down. Close yourself off. Develop a wall that very few, if any, can break down or climb over. You test people to see if they will stay. You push them away. You self destruct. I’ve done it all and more. It’s easy to remember the devastating blows to your life. The life altering blows. It’s easy to get caught up in them – to allow them to control you and how you see the world around you. What’s harder is to realize they don’t have to determine your outcome. They are moments…

The good…man, there has been a lot of those too. Some I don’t remember well, but I know they took place. Some I do remember. When you experience devastation the good moments are so much more appreciated. Sometimes we allow ourselves to forget the good. We get caught in a cycle of destruction and refuse to acknowledge all of our blessings and the positives in our life. I am guilty of that…much of the time. I try to remind myself that as with anything there will be good, bad, and ugly. If you can get to the other side of the bad you will experience greatness.

Last year, just as fall started, I was in Colorado. I went on a fall foliage drive. In those moments an earth shattering peace filled my soul. For the first time in years I felt peace – even if just for a moment. I was content. My heart was content. My soul was content. My being was content. It was then I realized I had to reconnect with myself – with my soul. My journey began…

What I forgot was that even peace will flee at times. And when it did – twice in less than 4 months I wasn’t sure where to go from those points. I frantically searched for that peace but it just wasn’t there. It was gone. I had planned to return to Colorado again this year to revisit the Mother Nature in all her glory. I didn’t make it and won’t – and damn, it’s a bummer. Then yesterday as I was coming home from training, as I drove down the interstate, amongst all the plains and green trees was an aspen…gold and yellow. And for a moment…

It’s been almost 3 months since my kid brother chose to take his own life. His birthday was last Thursday, the 6th. It’s funny…I have never remembered his birthday. In all the years of his life, I never remembered. But this year, it was like I couldn’t forget it – even if I wanted to. He would have been 29. It was my turn to kid with him about almost being 30. He harrassed me when I turned 30, but the joke was on him – I was hoping to skip a decade and turn 40. It’s hard to think of Matt and not think of him ending his life at a rest stop. Being alone in those final moments. My mind has created it’s own story and visual of how it happened. It is on a constant loop. I can so vividly see those final moments for him. Who knows how accurate it is. It’s hard not to think of what was going through his head in those final moments. And like the words I quoted above, it’s not about those finals moments. It’s all the moments that led up to them. That can be taken one of two ways. What I know is that all the moments that led to Matt’s death I will never truly know. I know the of all of the events that took place over the last few years, but I don’t know what moments led to him committing suicide. 

What I do know is there were so many great moments in his life. He had an amazing life. He created many great moments with so many people. Unfortunately, those moments were not enough. Once again, those not so great moments were all consuming. 

My sister died in 1995, just 6 days before my birthday. That was the second of many devastating losses I would suffer in my life. It took me MANY years to process her death and learn to move forward. For so many years I didn’t have the coping skills or the ability to deal with it. Her death was the result of a car accident. Her finals moments didn’t matter. Her death was…on impact – quick and from what we were told – painless. Megan had MANY great moments. Her life was full of moments that far outweighed her final moments. Sure there were some bad ones, but man, she had some amazing moments in her life. She was happy, and healthy, and motivated, and special. And smart – mensa smart. She had her whole life ahead of her. Her final moments were minor in comparison to all the ones that led to that. It has taken me a long time to understand that but I do.

Our lives are not about those final moments. Regardless of how those final moments present themselves. It’s about everything prior. Our lives aren’t restricted to the moment of our death. Life is about the good, the bad, and the ugly we will go through. That’s what will shape us into the people we are and become. If we allow all of them to impact us positively then we learn and grow and change. If we allow them to impact us negatively then we regress. I can say that because I’ve done both. I have allowed myself to experience both sides of the spectrum. I prefer the former. 

The truth is, life sucks sometimes. It does. Some of us have been dealt shitty hands. Years ago, hell maybe even a year ago, I would have just thrown down that hand and given up. Today, I play that hand and hope for a better one in the next deal. I have a lot of work to do. More than I care to admit to, but I am far more motivated today than yesterday, than a year ago, than 5 years ago. If life is about the moments we create and experience then to create and experience them means to live, to grow, to change, to fight. And that’s what I will do. Life is beautifully chaotic.