You are My Sunshine

I am kind of in denial that this is Anthony’s birthday week. As long as I don’t look at the date, I’m fine but today I did for some reason and it sucks.

He should be here, he should be getting on my nerves, Ariana and I should be passive aggressively fighting over who gets to love him more on his bday and Stacey should be complaining about how much the bar tab is gonna be. Those are the things that should be happening today. Instead I’m avoiding everything and trying to figure out what is for dinner and reading book after book that tells me I need to move out of my grief as fast as possible.

The truth is that I do not want to move out of it. I feel like Anthony deserves to be mourned and moving out of it means that life is fine without him, and there is nothing fine about the gaping hole in my life where Anthony lived for 22 years. I think 22 years of life deserves more than 17 months of grief. But there is a difference between where I am right now and where I was a month ago.

A month ago, I was not just grieving but I was in a dark cave with no way out. Well, there was a way out but I didn’t want to take it because it was God’s way and I was so angry with Him that I didn’t want His help. I felt like God had let me down and then to top it all off the Church let me down. It’s a very long story but that is when I lost my shit and deleted all my public social media. In that cave though, there was no hope, no light and no air. I felt like I fell in that cave when the shock of everything that happened wore off. I was just walking along and suddenly I fell in a hole and was trapped in a cave of despair. I never saw it coming.

Shock is a weird thing and when it’s gone life hurts more than you imagined. For me it did anyway. My pain always manifests as anger and I was angry on top of angry and getting angrier. I needed a break so I took one. When I did, I finally looked at my life and saw the total devastation left by Anthony’s suicide. I saw the state of my house, the state of my health and the state of my own soul. It was not pretty. I needed to do something to clean things up and to get back to a place where I could be well.

It isn’t anyone’s fault. I didn’t “do too much” or talk about Anthony too soon after his suicide, it is just how grief goes. It is how loss is. I can talk about Anthony all day, every day and be fine, it isn’t the talking that is difficult, it is the living that sucks. And I have not been living since the moment I knew my son was dead. I didn’t even know how to live beyond that and I am having to learn what living is in the aftermath of the worst day of my life.

I have spent my time reading, writing, getting my kids set up for the fall. My two middle sons are starting community college in August, Dan starts a new job today and Gabe got is driver’s license. So we are moving forward but in no way does that mean we aren’t still terribly heartbroken and in a lot of emotional pain. Moving forward is almost as painful as staying still. Moving forward without Anthony is unfair and we all talk about that every day.

In two days Anthony should have been 24 years old. Last year I had all these intentions to honor him and celebrate his life like I had done since the day he was born, but this year I am just leaning into the suck of it all. It hurts like hell and I hate every second of it, but this year that is how I honor Anthony, by acknowledging that life without him is devastating.

The thing is that in doing that, God has shown me hope, light and given me air to breathe. I keep trying to give up on Him, but He refuses to give up on me.

Happy Birthday Anthony. You are my sunshine.

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Disconnected Online

For the past few weeks I have been on my personal Facebook only a handful of times. I deleted all my public social media accounts and reduced my Facebook friends list tremendously. I deleted about 3/4 of my friends list.

A lot of things happened at once that caused me to make the choice to get off everything. The suicides of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain set it off. Everyone was talking about suicide and a lot of the people talking have no idea what it is like to deal with a mentally ill person or what it is like being the mother of someone who dies by suicide, specifically, what it is like to be me. I know people have good intentions, but what really helps suicide survivors and people dealing with mental illness is to not be treated like we are all the same and to listen to us and our lived experiences instead of talking to “experts” or blogging your opinion on the subject if you have no personal experience with suicide loss. And even if you do have experience, do not speak for my experience.

Then there was the brutal murder of a young man in the Bronx that was captured on video. I was just scrolling through my Instagram when I came across the video. The entire thing shook me to my core even more than seeing my own son’s lifeless body in my garage. People literally just walked by and did nothing to help a boy yelling for his life. Men in the bodega just watched as he was dragged out of there by his jacket. He looked a lot like Anthony to me and watching that video fucked me up. After seeing it, I decided that I was done with social media.

In the weeks since I feel better in a lot of ways. I am not angry all the time, I don’t know what Trump had for breakfast today and why we are so pissed about it and I do not wonder why so and so comments on everyone’s status but mine and who has me hidden from their feed. I just live my life.

My brain isn’t used to it though and I have to stop myself from seeing every moment as a social media moment. I don’t have to take pictures of everything and come up with the perfect caption but my brain still does it because it thinks that is what we do. Also, I don’t have to type up every single thought in my head which actually helps me think more instead of just vomiting my thoughts on Facebook or Twitter. I am actually just existing and not working towards likes, zingers, retweets or getting more followers. I don’t know about anyone else, but for me, all of those things fed my pride, insecurities and my constant feeling of not being good enough. I didn’t even realize that until I logged out.

Another thing I’ve figured out in the last few weeks of social media withdrawal is how hard it is to maintain friendships without it. First of all, people get seriously mad when you delete them from Facebook. Which is weird. When did we all sign a social contract saying if we aren’t Facebook friends then we aren’t friends at all? Secondly, it is a lot of work to text, email and meet for lunch or coffee to maintain that friendship. More work than clicking a quick “like” or leaving an emoji on a picture.

It’s also a lot more work to maintain vulnerability without social media and to be authentically vulnerable. It is much easier to throw out one vulnerable status or tweet or IG caption and see who of your friends responds with love rather than reach out to one person and not have them respond. I have been left hanging in texts & emails a lot of times these past few weeks and that never happens on my social media. Someone will always respond to whatever I post, so it’s “safe”. No risk of feelings of rejection or abandonment that may or may not even be anywhere other than my own mind.

We make time for what we care for and I think that social media has made us all feel connected and made us think that we are building all these friendships but the truth is that we are actually more disconnected than ever. How many times have I told my kids “hang on” while I type away at my phone in some heated argument on social media? How many times have I swatted away real life and real connections so that i could make a perfect IG post with filters and pictures of moments to make it seem like I am living life with connections? Too many to count.

Now that I’m texting one person at a time, making one lunch/coffee date at a time and building one friendship at a time, I see how much time and energy it takes. And I also see how some people don’t think I am worth their time and energy. Which is ok because I don’t think we are made to have 100 close friends. Jesus only had 12. You can love someone, want the best for them, catch up with them here and there and pray for them without being their close friend. Social media has killed our ability to do that in real and authentic ways and instead we just reduce every relationship down to likes and retweets.

This has also taught me a lot about my relationship with God. How lazy I’ve been in it. How much I fail to cultivate and maintain it. I find it frustrating to spend time building my relationship with Him because I don’t take the time to build one with anybody. I don’t know how. And if I don’t know how to build one with God, I certainly do not know how to with anyone else which really explains so much about my life.

So that’s what I’m doing. Building relationships. First with God and then with everyone else around me. My husband, my kids and those who build me up because they truly love me and want the best for me. Whose friendships help me heal instead of feed the worst of me. I feel as if Anthony’s suicide was a fire that burnt my entire life down and now it is time to rebuild it one relationship at a time.

The Lessons of a Dive Bar

I learned a lot in that year of working in that dive bar. I learned about dive bar music. Lynard Skynard and Stevie Ray Vaughn. To this day if any of that music plays anywhere near me I have a memory smell of cigarettes and stale beer.

I also learned about barflies, and I don’t mean the kind that comes out of unclean beer taps, but the kind that shows up at 11am and order “whatever is on special and a lot of it”. They don’t talk much until about the third round when suddenly they have gone from looking like death warmed over to telling jokes and stories of what happened at the bar the night before. As an 18-year-old, I never realized that I was looking at my future where I would be happiest sitting in “my stool” at my favorite bar telling stories about how I got my son drunk on his 21st birthday in this bar because it is “my bar”.

Now, I am 42 years old, that son is dead and my faith in God is pretty shaky, to say the least. I spend a lot of my time looking back on my life now to see where I could have changed the direction that would change where I am now. Where could I change the direction of my life so that Anthony didn’t end up dead by his own hand in my house that I walked around in for hours as his life slipped out of his body? Who am I? Where did I go wrong? How can I fix it? What is the purpose of my life?

For eight years that I have been Catholic, I have tried to be “good” which took me back to an insecure 17-year-old version of myself. I didn’t talk to people outside of Catholic circles and when I was outside of that circle, I felt this responsibility to be a representative of my religion. I thought that there was this mold of how to be Catholic and while I broke some of that mold, I knew exactly how far I could go and still advance in the “job” of it all. I am using all these quotations because the truth is that all of that imaging that most of us Catholic bloggers work so hard at is fake. And that goes for all of the PR work you see behind anything, even Catholic PR. Mine was. I was fake for the sake of being good. And I was good for the sake of getting paid in speaking or writing.

I realized a couple of weeks ago is that I no longer want that life. I want my faith to be the source of my life, not the source of my income. Nothing good comes from that. I end up trying to make myself into someone that I am not. I don’t enjoy the things that make my heart happy because I feel guilty for it. I think everyone who is not Catholic is my enemy. I don’t get to go to a damn drag race and talk about it, I have to keep it secret because if “anyone found out” bla bla bla. And so many Catholic writers/speaker live that way too. Who they are in public is really about who they GET to be without losing jobs. It is like being in jail. And I am breaking out. I am not trying to call anyone out for whatever they feel called to do. I just know that it is not how I was built to be.

Last Saturday I walked into my favorite dive bar. I talked shit with barflies, took a real barfly out of a man’s drink with my finger and told him to stop being a bitch baby when he complained about germs. I cussed, smoked newports and accepted shots from strangers not knowing what I was shooting. I laughed, I cried, I missed my son and I honored his memory with strangers. And that is when I learned the biggest lesson of all, my entire life I have begun healing in a dive bar while smoking and drinking with strangers who teach me more about who I am than any other group of people in the world because there is nobody wiser than a barfly.

It is exactly where I needed to be. Nowhere feels more like home to me than that place. Everyone keeps saying they are praying for me to have peace, but what that translates to me as is they are praying for me to stop being sad and want me to go back to being their version of strong which is using cliches about Jesus taking away my pain, but the reality is that He has not taken it. I live with it every day.  Inside my favorite bar, I do not have to pretend that I don’t. I don’t have to be strong. I don’t have to be anything. That is healing. That is real peace.