By Michelleanne Bradley
I inhale and stretch my arms up over my head, taking deep breaths—in through my nose, out through my mouth.
I find myself driven into practice as though my heart were on fire. I seek the silence, the rhythmic rise and fall of my breath. My back aches with tension held almost in the center of my rib cage.
My family is in crisis on the other side of the country. The fraying of the fabric of which we are woven is complex and filled with lots of gaps and places repaired again and again from different angles—forming an Indra’s web, but not all nice and evenly spaced, more like yarn after kittens have sorted it.
I feel helpless.
I am too close to the situation, yet too far to make a difference. I am honored that my mother calls me first. I am the one that she relies on for little and big questions. It is a mixed bag that she sees me as a subject matter expert in the family on addiction and recovery. I know in my bones that the only way out of the storm is to go through it, and the strength to go through it has to come from that place where our bones are built. I continue to return to my breath, over and over again until I find soothing rhythm.
The youngest of my uncles has overdosed on heroin in my grandmother’s house. I understand about addiction.
I have been clean and sober for four years and 62 days, and I quit smoking cold turkey after 30 years. I am furious because I just spoke with him last week about a whole lot of stuff, including his estranged wife’s drug use. He said that she was not using today. I fucking hate that he used my vernacular with me. People in the family apparently thought that he was “just smoking pot.” Denial is alive and well.
The breathing continues and I scan my body for where the tension is held.
Grandma had an anxiety attack while at the hospital with my uncle. She was administered oxygen, admitted and given Valium. There is an irony that her son was in the hospital for an overdose of opiates, and she was administered one for anxiety. The extension of the irony is that I am firmly entrenched in the pharmaceutical industry. My last position was running the pharmacovigilance department for a company licensed to market sublingual fentanyl for breakthrough cancer pain. Irony abounds in my world.
I extend the breath work to seek to relax the muscles around my jaw that feel like they have been locked in place.
I find out that another cousin overdosed two weeks ago, but her parents didn’t want the family to know. They kept it to themselves; swept it under the rug. I am tired of this way of handling stuff. I seek something different.
I am currently in process of trauma work. I want to stop the cycle of hiding it all under the rug, and I believe in bringing issues to the light and offering up an opportunity for others to say, “You know what, I thought that I was alone in this, and I am not.” If I bring to light my “stuff,” then I can hold the light for others who are also tired of sweeping things under the rug.
I continue to extend the breath, untying the knots and starting a loving kindness practice for myself first. I extend the practice to my mother and my grandmother, because they are easy to practice with at this time. They are not always. I find that at this time, the hardest to practice loving kindness or compassion with is my uncle. He is the one who can use it the most, but I am in the way right now.
I leave a marker for him and continue with breathing.
Practice is slow. Community has sustained me—has held me during this time. Friends who I called while in need have shown up to hold space, to listen, to be here. The gratitude that I have for them is both humbling and overwhelming. I feel as if they breathe for me when I cannot. We create a web to encircle my family and I rest as they hold me in love and compassion.
I continue to breathe.
I relax and am able to rest. This is enough for today.
Tomorrow will be 24 brand new hours.
Michelleanne Bradley is a practicing Feminist and practicing Buddhist. She has been ordained as a member of the Order of Interbeing, and is currently in facilitator training with Against the Stream Buddhist Meditation Society in Los Angeles.
Editor: Dana Gornall