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sweet dreams

Guitar player at Section 3

Guitar player at Section 3 (Photo credit: Dennisworld)

Some got clean, and even though you knew the blood, sweat, commitment, and years that had taken, it still felt like a fall-down-on-your-knees miracle every time. Some died (overdose, accident, murder, disease).

Mark did both.

He walked into his first detox group at the methadone clinic wearing a grey fedora cocked at a jaunty angle—swaggering but humble, willing but stubborn, in-your-face but respectful—giving off sparks that hinted he could accomplish the next-to-impossible. He could get clean. I began to wonder, how can I prove to myself that I am real and a part of this mad world I had been watching through blurry rain-soaked glass?

He got into the methadone maintenance program and I was assigned as his counselor. He defied everyone else’s expectations, but not his and not mine. Happy Valentine’s Day. You gave me (didn’t you?) hope.

Mark was in and out of jail while he was on methadone and wrote me long letters from his cell. I wonder if anyone knows how much or how useless this place really is for someone like me.

Otherwise, he lived in his car, an older model orange BMW he cherished. He was a heat-seeking missile bent on getting laid, so he had to keep up appearances. Almost got some today. My friend Kelly was being awful affectionate.

When his guitars weren’t in hock, he played bass, so he had that musician cachet going for him. And at one point, he owned two vehicles: the BMW he drove and a green Volvo he slept and stored his belongings in. I’m sitting here in my Volvo and my alarm starts sounding, but I can’t find my clock, right? So I’m digging all around and I’m finding all kinds of stuff I’ve been looking for, but the clock is still beeping, and I can’t tell where from. I finally find it in the back under some clothes, and what does it say—“Group Men’s 5:30 pm.” Whoops. Late again.

Mark’s openness was sometimes unnerving. Baring all doesn’t bother me because that’s how you will know who I am.

My expectations for him were relentlessly high. He attended two groups and two individual counseling sessions each week. I get a lot of encouragement from you, and seeing you keeps my commitment to you to stay clean fresh in my mind. I know I will have to be able to do that on my own, but isn’t that what recovery is about—support while you learn how to be strong without drugs?

We pushed each other’s buttons and challenged each other to dig deeper, to try again—try harder, try something else, something new—to push through it (whatever “it” was), to extend ourselves further, both within our respective roles and outside of them. I became a better counselor because Mark forced me to get real with him. All I can do is tell you how I feel about it and hope you see that it is as important to hear what you’ve been through as it is to tell you my story or feelings.

He got off dope. I was thinking about how dumb it was when I used to get depressed, and I would go out and use depressants to try and not be depressed, and they just made me more depressed. Duh!

After a community service gig revealed his talent for working with computers and he started earning money, he rented an apartment and got a cat. When he tapered off the methadone program after two years, clean (but not entirely sober), it was unusual enough that everyone on staff signed a congratulations card for him. Maybe my situation is almost the same, but the way I see the world and the way I make decisions and the way I feel about myself is all different. Cool, huh? Well, I think so, anyway.

Of course, Mark’s road had more rough patches, but he was never homeless again. I’m at a point where I’m just glad to be here, no matter why I’m here or what I’m doing.

And when he got together with Leslie, it was as if the last star in his personal constellation had finally fallen into alignment. Someday I’ll meet someone that I can be with who is what I’m longing for, and I can be for them the same. Not to try and make someone happy, but to augment their life and them mine.

Mark never relapsed to heroin. Haven’t, wouldn’t, couldn’t, didn’t, won’t, can’t and shouldn’t use.

It was alcohol that did him in. He was a maintenance drinker, and in spite or because of health problems, including Hepatitis C, from years of drug abuse and poor medical care, he wouldn’t, couldn’t, didn’t completely give up beer. He was 56 when his liver failed, 15 years after he came to the clinic. Well, I’m beat. I’ll see you tomorrow. Sweet dreams. Love, Mark.

I don’t know how many of my former clients are still clean (too few!) or how many are now dead (too many!). The others who I know have died—Jim, Dylan, Scott, Ray, Mark S, Alex, Rocky, and Russ—were all luminous and maddening souls. Each one fought hard—with humor and determination. Each one lifted me up, pissed me off, made me proud, and broke my heart. Each one infused me with enough hope to try again with someone else. Their passing has left holes in the world, openings you can sometimes glimpse when you look up into the night sky.

Sweet dreams, you guys. I’ll see you tomorrow. Love, Joycelyn.

what i’ve lost

RC Jones

RC Jones

Losing someone who has been an integral part of your life for years or even decades is an enormous loss, of course. But that enormous loss is really an accumulation of many smaller losses you only begin to recognize over time.

In the year after my partner of 30 years died, when I began to notice those small losses accumulating, I completed a long-list journal writing exercise to enumerate them. To acknowledge them. To help me understand.

Chances are you’ve lost someone as important to you as he was to me, and you have your own list of what that looks and feels like.

what i’ve lost

Someone to:

  • Come home to
  • Complain to
  • Hang out, watch TV, and read the Sunday papers with
  • Make scones for
  • Pick me up from work
  • Share my life
  • Share my time
  • Get grumpy with
  • Walk with & hike with
  • Shop with
  • Be indignant with (and about)
  • Share the sunset with
  • Remember 30 years with
  • Do projects with
  • Learn and grow with
  • Care for
  • Talk to
  • Share space with
  • Complain about
  • Figure things out with
  • Make plans with
  • Discover things with
  • Have holidays with
  • Share food with
  • Take care of the car
  • Return my books to the library and take my clothes to the cleaners
  • Make meal plans and grocery lists with
  • Watch DVDs with
  • Watch football games with
  • Have quirky habits with
  • Laugh with
  • Hope for
  • Nag
  • Have serious discussions with
  • Make me birthday cards
  • Play Scrabble with
  • Take for granted
  • Look out the window and watch for
  • Do the messy chores
  • Worry about
  • Buy Valentine’s Day cards for
  • Remember my birthday
  • Watch a fire in the fireplace with

Someone who:

  • Was always there
  • Knew me for better and worse and still stuck around
  • Wanted me to listen to his music
  • Took care of all the plants
  • Supported me 100%
  • Could fix almost anything
  • Would read my writing and give me GOOD feedback
  • Was smarter than me
  • Liked to cook (and was great at it)
  • Was willing to clean up the kitchen, do the dishes, and take out the trash
  • Listened to me, almost anytime
  • I could tell about my day
  • Always told me about his day
  • Was interested in what I was interested in
  • Got along with my mother (!)
  • Moved to Albuquerque with me
  • Offered to tell me bedtime stories
  • Used headphones for TV at night so he wouldn’t disturb me
  • Made the best of the situation
  • Forgave me
  • Always gave me his full attention
  • I could buy little surprises for
  • Remembered more of our past together than I do
  • Loved me unconditionally
  • Missed me when I went away
  • Picked me up at the airport, no matter what time
  • Filled the patio with blooming cactus plants
  • Accepted my shortcomings
  • Subscribed to interesting magazines
  • Was the one to go out to pick up our take-out food
  • Was nice to my friends
  • Made sure my coffee was ground exactly the way I liked it
  • Called me “babe”
  • Grilled the chicken, sliced the avocados, sharpened the knives
  • Apologized after an argument
  • Gave me my space
  • Noticed butterflies
  • Introduced me to so many different things
  • Cast his lot in with mine
  • Put up with my periodic insanity
  • Saved things
  • Was more sentimental than I am
  • Gave more than he got
  • Needed me
  • Trimmed my bangs
  • Took the cat to the vet
  • Worried about how I would get along without him
  • Supported me financially when I needed it
  • Drank way too much Diet Coke
  • Could be really silly
  • Had an eye for beauty
  • Was always writing letters to the editor in his head and then “reading” them to me
  • Watched the 10:00 news religiously
  • Hung all the pictures on the walls
  • Liked to talk…and talk…and talk
  • Tried to tell me jokes disguised as anecdotes because I hate jokes
  • Never liked to take the last of anything
  • Could never purchase just one apple, orange, or head of garlic
  • Loved the smell of roasting chiles in the fall
  • Still appreciated the bathrobe I got for him after wearing it for seven years
  • Said he liked hanging out with me
  • Made really good banana bread
  • Lived with a lot of physical pain but tried not to let it get in the way
  • Wore a hat I crocheted for him back in the 80s
  • Loved to look at the changing light across the Sandias
  • Could see into the center of things
  • Was proud of me
  • Was enchanted by snow and luminarias
  • Had a sparkle in his eye
  • Laughed with abandon
  • Had an amazing book and record collection

He was:

  • A poet
  • A writer
  • An artist
  • A gardener
  • A musician
  • A spiritual companion
  • A partner in life
  • My best friend
  • My heart

And I still miss him.

you can’t have too many keywords

This is a post from my other blog, Nine Paths (exploring the highways and byways of the Enneagram), It’s pretty popular over there, and since I wrote about journaling here last time, I decided to rerun it. I’m currently working (journaling) with a list of keywords I’ve come up with as a result of some list-making exercises. I have to say that keyword journaling has probably been the most profound journaling I’ve ever done.

~ ~ ~


Marcel Proust in 1900

Marcel Proust (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Before starting this post, I went into the closet in my office in search of three plastic sandwich bags full of folded slips of different colored paper with words typed on them. I’ve used those bags (and words) in my own creative writing exercises as well as in writing workshops. I found one bag full of lime green nouns, one bag full of fuchsia verbs, and one bag full of teal adjectives. I opened the teal bag without recalling what kind of words were inside and pulled out newNew is good—and so apt for the beginning of a post!

I’ve been playing around with individual words and phrases for decades. My Stance Keyword Comparison Checklist was an outgrowth of a long-term fascination with arranging and grouping words that seem to evoke a concept or a mood or an attitude or a way of being. Sometimes it’s easier to gauge your reaction to a list of keywords than it is to read through narrative descriptions. A single word can send you off on a journey, much like the madeleine that sent Marcel Proust off in Remembrance of Things Past.

When I was a substance abuse counselor, I used a two-page handout called “How Do You Feel Today?” It consisted of 140 words that described feeling states, each one illustrated by what was essentially an emoticon (although I’m pretty sure the handout pre-dated emoticons). It wasn’t in color, but it looked a little like this example (without the misspelling).

Then I came across a laminated poster based on the same concept, but with far fewer than 140 feeling words and emoticons. It was standard practice at the beginning of group sessions at the clinic for everyone to take turns checking in to let the group know how they were doing and what had transpired since the previous week. I wondered what would happen if we switched to using the feeling words poster in place of the usual check-in. So one day I stuck the poster on a wall and asked everyone to take a long look at it before sitting down so they could find the word that best represented how they were feeling or the state they were in at that moment.

The results were amazing and quite profound. Check-in took a fraction of the time. No one felt compelled to elaborate. And we all agreed we had a much better sense of what was going on with each person than we’d had with the standard check-ins. My take was that having to come up with a single word caused them to really focus and get in touch with how they were doing on a deeper level. It helped them make a transition so they could be fully present at the start of the session. It seemed that previously it had taken the entire check-in period before everyone was “present.” So, by unanimous agreement, we stuck with the feeling words check-in from then on.

Keyword Journaling Exercises

Keywords can be incorporated into a number of different journal writing exercises and techniques. A few suggestions:

  • Use a single keyword or a string of keywords as a prompt for timed flow writing.
  • Mind-map a keyword (as an option, when your mind-map is complete, finish with a period of timed flow writing).
  • Make a grab bag like my plastic sandwich bags by cutting out slips of paper and writing keywords on them. Pull one out at random to use as a writing prompt.
  • Create a sentence or a question around a keyword to use as a writing prompt.


diaries, journals, and revelations


Diary (Photo credit: Barnaby)

I filled numerous diaries during elementary and high school, divulging my deepest secrets alongside the mundane details of everyday life. I had one-year diaries and five-year diaries. Some were gilt-edged, while others were plain. But no matter how simple or ornate, they all had locks.

When I was 11 or 12, one of my younger brothers rummaged through my dresser drawers and managed to find, unlock, and read my diary. When I complained to my mother, she told me to put it somewhere he couldn’t find it. I thought this unfair and unreasonable, so I consulted a higher authority: Ann Landers. Ann did not publish my letter, but she did write back agreeing with me and suggesting how I might approach this issue with my mother. I showed the letter to Mom, but she was not moved to alter her position. At least I felt vindicated.

Those old diaries are long gone. I switched to college-ruled spiral-bound notebooks somewhere along the way and started referring to them as journals rather than diaries.

My mother used to read excerpts to me from the five-year diary she’d filled between the ages of 16 and 21, which I think was the only diary she ever kept. The passages she read revealed a rebellious streak it may have been unwise of her to share with me, given her ongoing attempts to get me to conform to various social standards.

After she died, I got custody of her diary and read all of it in the course of a week. I’m so grateful to have it for the glimpses it provides of the young girl and young woman she was before becoming a wife and a mother. She missed writing only two or three days in the entire five years, filling every narrow line with both facts and impressions in her tiny, precise handwriting.

My own journals have been much less devoted to facts than to speculating, imagining, complaining, whining, planning, philosophizing, analyzing, rationalizing, and wishful thinking. Although I wrote in my notebooks regularly for years, it was in a very undisciplined manner. Some entries are so self-indulgent they make me cringe to read them. I’m mortified at the thought anyone else might see them. Twice I’ve ritually destroyed all the journals in my possession (once melodramatically and once thoughtfully). Even so, those journals were my faithful companions, and I derived much benefit from them.

After I encountered Ira Progoff’s book At a Journal Workshop, I began using journal writing in a deeper and more creative manner. I’ve subsequently gotten inspiration and direction from many other books and courses. When I worked as a substance abuse counselor, I realized that the practice of writing might be beneficial for my clients. We experimented with writing first in one group and then in another. Initially, some people were skeptical of the process and diffident about their writing ability, but journal writing doesn’t require talent, only willingness and honesty. Almost everyone responded positively to the writing exercises, and a few began keeping their own private journals. Sometimes the results were absolutely breathtaking, surprising both the writer and me.

When I returned home to California after my mother’s funeral, I wrote to her in my journal every night for several weeks. It helped me say good-by to her, which I had not had the opportunity to do before she died. It made me aware of the connection that will always exist between us. I did the same thing after my partner of nearly 30 years died. Journal writing has helped me get through the most difficult losses of my life.

I’m still writing in college-lined, spiral-bound notebooks. Still using my journals as a way to sort things out, understand myself and my world better, and gain perspective on whatever issues I’m dealing with. I’ve cut down on the whining, complaining, and rationalizing, but I haven’t eliminated them completely. My journals are still my faithful companions—a little reproachful from time to time, but generally nonjudgmental.

glad tidings

When I lived in Michigan, where I was born and grew up (more or less), autumn always felt like a beginning to me, not a harbinger of the end. Maybe it’s because I was born in autumn, but that was always my favorite time of year. It was a relief from the heat and humidity of the summer, for one thing. I never liked summer all that much.

Then I moved to Northern California where autumn just wasn’t the same. Not that there’s anything wrong with it. It just doesn’t smack you in the senses with smoldering foliage, crisp temperatures, and startlingly blue skies. It’s a subtler thing. Maybe my appreciation for subtlety is lacking.

I lived north of San Francisco for 27 years before discovering the Southwest and unexpectedly falling in love with it. Open skies. Lots of sunny days. Not too much snow in the winter. And hot, dry summers. Oh, my! I’m a convert to summer in the High Desert. But living in New Mexico has done nothing to bring back the sense of expectation I used to feel at this time of year.

enter Dawn

And then something happened. Well, several things happened, but the turning point was getting invited to #JournalChat Live by Dawn Herring. She was kind enough to  feature a post from Nine Paths titled Keywords: The Madeleines of Journal Writing. So many good and interesting ideas were exchanged, but the one that made the strongest impression came from Dawn when she mentioned choosing a keyword for a year to help focus on our goals.

A year seems like a long period of time for me to try to stay focused on a single thing. But I love the concept. So in honor of the autumnal equinox, I’ve decided to choose a keyword for the season. I’d already developed my own list of personal keywords and have been using them in my journal writing. Picking one for autumn was easy. And that keyword is . . . velocity.

We also talked about using meditation, poetry, music, and art along with keywords. Therefore, I’ve chosen a song to go with my keyword. My theme song for autumn is Glad Tidings by Van Morrison.

My running start on autumn 2012 includes getting this blog off the ground. It’s been in the idea stage for too long, and with velocity as my keyword, the time to launch is now.

Don’t it gratify when you see it materialize
Right in front of your eyes
That surprise
La, la, la, la      la, la, la, la     la, la, la, la

Thanks so much for the inspiration, Dawn! I hope I can return the favor sometime.

Does anyone else have a keyword and/or a theme song for autumn? If you do, please share in the comments.

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