I figured, “Eleven years…I probably won’t cry this time around.”
But here I am, an hour away from teaching a noon corporate class, weeping as if it were 2003. Wait – weeping as if it were 2003? But 9/11 happened in 2001.
* * *
I am not going to recount every moment of my 9/11 morning. To summarize – it hit hard. I did cry. A lot. Here in DC, we were in utter chaos. For me, fear was not a great factor. I would say I was too shocked to feel much at all. And my worry for others was through the roof.
Especially for Michael.
Michael Rodriquez was special to me. He was a New York musician, gifted in the folkloric music of Cuba and the sacred music of Santeria. When he visited DC, my life would fire up with an energy beyond my own. After 9/11, he started calling me every afternoon. He felt sick, he needed to drink more wine, he was paranoid, he was afraid to seek help. Michael had worked at one of the Wall Street banks; and on that horrible day, instead of running away from Ground Zero, he stood paralyzed, watching people jump to their deaths from the Towers.
On October 1st, 2001, his mother called to say that he was dead. After a trip to the hospital for a myriad of ailments, Michael had died from heart failure while sleeping. He was 23 years old.
When I got off the phone, I howled with pain. When I called my gal friends to tell them what happened, I screamed my tears. Yes, indeed – I cried. And then I stopped.
At the viewing that day, I was perfectly composed. I drove from DC to NY; I showed up for everyone else; I recommended breathing techniques, meditations and Bach Flower Remedies. I ritualized Michael’s death, gracefully honoring him with chants and prayers.
And then I shut my feelings off.
* * *
Today I know this as “spiritual bypass.” Meaning, instead of healthily processing the loss, I skipped forward to a seemingly spiritual solution.
Over the next seven months after 9/11, 2001:
- another musician friend would die in a freak accident, days before Christmas;
- the woman who trained me to take over her job at Discovery en Español would commit suicide in March;
- my father would encounter his 1st major illness, also in March;
- and on April 13th, 2002, my mother would die.
And each time, I cried at first, turned the situation into a big “spiritual” ceremony – and then turned off my emotions.
I was well-practiced at this habit! About a decade (or so) before, in Spring of 1990, I’d hit a very serious physical, emotional and spiritual bottom. At that time, I was drinking morning, noon and night. Simply – the conditions and challenges of my life had led me to that pattern. I should have died. I wanted to die. I tried to die. But I did not die.
In a frustrated fit of resignation (NOT surrender, folks – sheer resignation), I decided that if I had to stick around on this earth, I needed to feel better. So I would control my drinking. And my emotions. And my spirituality.
Over the next 12 years, I: drank less; ate a fairly natural/clean diet; practiced yoga; saw a therapist; tried pretty a variety of spiritual or religious ways of life; associated with people who seemed to feel and act how I wanted to feel and act. I also: moved around the country, from DC to New Orleans to Austin to Florida to DC to Arizona to DC; moved from group house to apartment to group house to apartment in each city; changed jobs numerous times; broke hearts; got my heart broken; almost go my jaw broken; and so on.
You get the picture.
I remained lost – these efforts were desperate and immature, and my insides were not changing. By September of 2001, life had become more and more about me being in control. I had taken the reigns. Spirituality became me “praying for” (aka demanding) what I wanted. Difficult or uncomfortable feelings were stuffed. Although I was not drinking morning, noon and night as in the years before 1990, I was increasingly turning to alcohol and emotional shut-down during tough times.
After 9/11 and Michael’s death, I did not drink. After Heather’s pre-Christmas death, I did not drink. Yet. After New Year’s Eve, I started buying beer to drink at home. When Barbara killed herself, I had some wine. When my father became ill, I bought two bottles of wine to share with my sister and polished off most of it. But when my mom died in April 2002, I did not drink.
My mom died of alcoholism.
Over that summer, I drank very infrequently. On 9/11, 2002, I planned to go to a sports bar to watch the Yankees game and memorial ceremony. I would just have dinner. I would not drink. I felt it would be dishonorable, given the occasion. Watching the broadcast, I became emotional.
I ordered a beer and stopped crying.
The next day, I felt remorse – my truest intention was to stay sober. And at that point, my body was sending me signals that alcohol had taken its toll in those previous years – even when I drank one beer, my pancreas screamed in pain. I yearned to stop completely, but I could not. Worst of all, I wanted to change my life. I wanted to be honorable. I wanted to be responsible. I wanted to be stable. Yet I kept falling into the same unhealthy physical, emotional and spiritual patterns.
* * *
On October 22nd, 2002, I had what I hope was my last drink. I finally surrendered. I accepted help, and with that help, I have stayed sober nearly 10 years. With that change came the resolution to not drown or stuff or avoid emotions.
So on 9/11, 2003 – my 1st sober anniversary of the event – I cried. And cried. And cried.
I did not drink away the pain. I did not stuff the feelings. I began learning how to grieve healthily. And I started to process that season of losses – from 9/11 and Michael, to my friends’ and mom’s deaths – with the honor and emotion they deserved. With the humanness and acceptance that I deserved.
* * *
Today – 9/11, 2012 – I am weeping as if it were 2003. I will allow the grief to surface, and soften, and surface, and soften. I will pray, meditate, practice. I will honor this process healthily.
And I will not drink.
I dedicate my day, my practice and my heart to the memory of Michael Rodriguez. If I could have a fraction of the fire, passion, “joie de vivre” and outright silliness that Michael had in his life – and brought to mine – I would be a lucky gal. I love you, Michael.
In addition, I dedicate my day, practice and heart to all of the loves and losses of my life. After all –
What is life,
What is love,
What is loss?
One and the same.
Om Shanti, Shanti, Shanti.