Defiant Desire: Grappling With My Sexuality in Widowhood

mental health and grief illustration naked women

My wife is sick. Stage Four sick. I must hurry home and relieve her parents who have been caring for her since I left for work at 9 a.m. and for our three-year old son since his pre-school day ended at 2 p.m. It is 6:30 p.m., but I am not rushing through the front door.

Instead, I am lying on a massage table in the back room of our local nail salon, trying not to audibly cry as my masseuse works on the knot under my right shoulder blade. The knot is excruciating, but that is not why my tears soak the paper cover of the table. I do not know her name, but I do know that she always works on Tuesday nights and I know this as well— she does not tie back her thick dark hair. My wife had thick dark hair before the chemo.

I cannot define this desire; this deep longing for another woman’s hair to tickle my back. Is this a form of adultery? Of exploitation? To pay a thick-haired stranger to soothe me in this way? Do I take advantage of my wife’s parents? Do I neglect my son who is scared and sad and needs me to come home? Because I will be late. I will blame my boss or the subway or the rain before I cop to this 20-minute reprieve. I am ashamed. I am defiant. But I know what I need. Continue reading Defiant Desire: Grappling With My Sexuality in Widowhood

Losing My Best Friend: A Pain Without Name

male best friends beer bottle sunset field

The text message hit like cannon fire from close range. I crumbled to the ground, holding my stomach. It was an early morning winter in the kitchen of our Brooklyn apartment. My wife and two kids came running. “What’s wrong?” What happened?” What’s wrong?”

What happened? What was wrong? Mike O’Shea was going to die. And I’d be introduced to a grief that would cripple me for many years.

*

I like to think that Mike and I had been friends since before we were born. Not in some other life, but in the wombs of our mothers who were neighbors in a small New Jersey town, and both expecting in the summer of 1968. Our mothers had not been close prior to pregnancy — of different generations and ethnic backgrounds — but they bonded over pregnancy and both gave birth to boys in the first week of July. Continue reading Losing My Best Friend: A Pain Without Name

The Grief Competition: My Time at the Death Cafe

coffee with skull and beans in saucer at cafe

Sprinting down a crowded New York street is inherently cinematic. More than once, I’ve imagined myself on the big screen while running to catch a bus. Secretly, I love the hustle. Moving faster than those around me, looking harried and focused, is a way of silently communicating what I’d never say aloud: Look at me! I’m going places! Watch me pass you by!

October 2013, approximately four years ago: I’m clomping down Sixth Avenue, weaving through the Midtown after-work crowd, my water bottle and empty Tupperware clanging together in my canvas tote. I’m en route to a mediocre Chinese restaurant to talk about death with a bunch of strangers, and I’m running late, as usual. But running late to a Death Café feels like a hackneyed metaphor, a body in motion a painfully prescient reminder of the end destination. Continue reading The Grief Competition: My Time at the Death Cafe

It’s Never Too Late to Share A Story of Sexual Assault

woman with back turned in dark room

I was sitting on my couch, watching him sleep, sleep oh so peacefully, in my bed. It couldn’t have been rape, I thought, no one rapes someone and then sleeps over. I’d been waiting for the sun to come up, my computer on my lap, searching the internet for the closest Planned Parenthood. The air in my studio apartment felt thick and soggy. I don’t remember the weather, the season, only that I felt bone cold and at the same time like my skin was made of fire and would burn anyone who tried to touch it. He hadn’t used a condom, hadn’t listened when I’d said I didn’t want to have sex. I was confused by the slow and metered breaths moving in an out of my mouth; I felt calm, pragmatic even. I needed a morning after pill, I needed to get information about being tested for STDs. If it had been rape, I wouldn’t be making lists, I’d be a wreck, I thought. Continue reading It’s Never Too Late to Share A Story of Sexual Assault

The Grief of an Empty Nest: No Arms Syndrome

woman alone on swing sunset in background

When my sons were little, I would tell them, “You are my left arm and you are my right arm.” Then with one on each side of me, either walking holding hands or snuggling on the couch, I felt whole. Now, as I literally face an empty nest — as I right now stare at the walls and empty chairs of a nearly empty house — I’m enraged at how quaint and inadequate the term is. Empty Nest. It’s more like no arms syndrome. It’s as if the two things that kept me afloat and alive in this cold world are gone. It’s a deep, physical loss. I feel broken, not whole.

When I was thirty-five I thought, this would be the time to have a third child. My sons were seven and five. We were out to dinner, a favorite restaurant, and I looked at my oldest boy, a very precocious, verbal and sensitive child, who I had somewhat of an intense relationship with: we are very alike. I asked him, “If I had another child, I’d pay less attention to you and that might be a good thing, right?” He looked straight into my eyes and gently answered, “You don’t pay too much attention to me. I like how much attention you pay to me.” And that was that. Two sons. My left arm and right arm. I didn’t need a third arm. Continue reading The Grief of an Empty Nest: No Arms Syndrome

How to Survive When A Loved One Dies

woman grieving funeral casket candles

The title of this article is a lie. I don’t actually know how to survive. I don’t even know if I have.

As of this writing, my mom died less than three months ago. I found out she was sick on the first of April; she got her cancer diagnosis twenty days later. She lived for five weeks after that.

At one point — after diagnosis but before death — I sat in the bathtub after a long day keeping vigil by my mom’s bedside, noticing the chipped remnants of pink nail polish on my toes. When I had put that polish on, I didn’t even know she was sick. Continue reading How to Survive When A Loved One Dies

A Decade of Grieving

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Note: If you are in a life threatening situation call +1 (800) 273-8255 or use these resources to get immediate help.

Day 1

I was 24 when Adam died. We were both 24. I had a missed call at 3am on my phone from my old roommate in Albuquerque, Eric. My boyfriend Chris dropped me off at my apartment early in the morning so I could get ready for work and I listened to the voicemail as I walked in my front door. Eric sounded distraught. “Call me back,” was all he said. So I called him back, even though it was 5am where he was.

“Our friend, Adam,” he said, choking through tears, “he’s gone. He killed himself.” Continue reading A Decade of Grieving

7 Self-Care Tips for Sexual Assault Survivors

woman holding #METOO sign

In the two weeks since news broke about allegations against media mogul Harvey Weinstein, more than 40 women have come forward to accuse him of sexual assault. Like any time a high-profile sexual violence case comes to light — Bill Cosby, Brock Turner, R. Kelly — the conversation about sexual assault lasts for weeks, many times with survivors bearing the burden of the discussion.

So is the case with the viral #MeToo hashtag — based on a grassroots campaign started by activist Tarana Burke. It went viral after actress Alyssa Milano tweeted that people who had been abused or assaulted should post “Me too” in their status. The campaign caught like wildfire, with CNN reporting that Twitter has seen more than 1 million uses of the hashtag and many more on Facebook, creating an outpouring of assault stories for public consumption. Continue reading 7 Self-Care Tips for Sexual Assault Survivors

How Can Single Moms Heal After Domestic Violence?

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Getting out of an abusive relationship is one of the most difficult obstacles single moms can face. Summoning the courage and tenacity to walk away when they have no clue what the future will hold takes gall and serious faith.

Fortunately, there is hope on the other side. Leaving an abusive relationship is only the beginning. Here are five ways to begin the journey of healing to help you not only survive, but thrive.

1.Talk to Someone

Get professional help. Sharing your story is one of the most crucial ways to heal productively after surviving relationship violence. Although the hurt and shame of it may continue to feel like a dark cloud over your head, one way to lessen the pain is to regain control and own your own story.

Sharing with close friends and family members is a start, but going to a licensed professional is much better. A psychotherapist trained in relationship trauma is prepared to offer a safe space as well as an objective disposition. His or her job is to guide people through pain while they are on the road to becoming their whole, healed selves. It is powerful to work with someone whose primary duty is to listen and help dissect the truth. Communicating with a person capable of supporting you in the journey of healing while sharing tools of empowerment can make a world of difference. Continue reading How Can Single Moms Heal After Domestic Violence?

The History (and Future) of Addiction Treatment

addiction support group therapy meeting

The fact that addiction, like other chronic diseases, can benefit from professional treatment isn’t something we’ve always known to be true. The roots of that understanding and its gradual evolution go back surprisingly far, however. While these do not follow a straight, linear progression, they offer some valuable lessons into what works best at improving recovery outcomes and where professional treatment is headed.

History’s Understanding of Addiction

The treatment legacy that today’s addiction professionals have inherited has helped to shed light on what works in improving recovery outcomes. For example, the concept of addiction as a disease — that alcoholism is an illness that can be medically treated — goes back quite a long way in our nation’s history. Continue reading The History (and Future) of Addiction Treatment