A Remarkable Life Do-Over

There was no doubt my life had taken an unexpected detour when I looked at the two books lying on my night table.  The Wisdom of Menopause by Christianne Northrup and What to Expect: The Toddler Years by Heidi Murkoff were unlikely companions, but a perfect illustration of my life nine years ago.

I was newly married for the second time and 41 years old when I got the news.  I was pregnant.  I WAS PREGNANT?!  I thought all my eggs were dinosaur eggs.  I was wrong!  After my sister talked me down from the ledge, pointing out that nobody was sick or had died and reassuring me that this was good news  I was able to embrace this unexpected, yet distantly familiar experience.  The tiny source of my world being turned upside down’s next oldest sibling was thirteen.

I do believe most people thought I was crazy, but politely kept that to themselves as I continued my work at a small hospital in rural Alberta.  My grandmother was keenly interested in the fact that I was pregnant again and confided in her soft, low voice that I was the same age she was when she had her last baby.  My own mother  (and my husband’s biggest fan) was actually giddy.  My dear husband was thrilled enough for the both of us.  I confess I had my misgivings about the prospect of starting all over.

As I began to resemble the watermelons I was compelled to devour in copious amounts at all times of the day or night, the overwhelming nausea subsided and we prepared for a baby.  Our future was uncertain, as plans to move to southern Alberta turned into a move to the United States.  For three months after our precious little boy was born, we even lived  in my mother’s basement until our relocation south of the border.

 We laughed about it then and marvel now, how at our age, we were treated to a rare and remarkable do-over.  We were making our way with not much more than love and experience.  We were newlyweds with a baby, changing our boy on my mom’s ironing board in the basement hallway and starting over with very little in the way of material things.  Oh, and we were in our 40s. As one of my friends so aptly put it, “…having our own grandchildren”.

As reluctant as I felt at the time, I am equally sure now of the ‘rightness’ of the privilege of having a baby with my dearest love.  I’ve been more relaxed and ‘present’, knowing now how quickly the years fly by.  My oldest daughter and mother of 3 of our grandchildren has remarked more than once that, “Nathan got a way better mom” and she’s right.

I know what things matter (shutting off the computer and going for an impromptu hike, complete with snacks prepared by the boy and safely stowed in his Scooby Doo insulated lunch bag) and what things really won’t amount to a hill of beans in the grand scheme of things (believe it or not, dishes and laundry wait and there are years of yard work ahead on which to dedicate our time).

I know that taking care of myself and being as fit and energetic as possible must be a priority, because he deserves young parents even if they are old(er).  And I will likely color my hair until he’s left the nest, just so he doesn’t have to explain that I’m not his grandmother.  This, of course, is a personal choice and I bemoan the fact I will also likely miss my window of opportunity to naturally participate in the current fashion trend of sporting ‘granny hair’. I would never have imagined how having a child at ‘my age’ would enhance my life and even improve my health.

I have wistful regrets about my youthful impatience, inexperience and imperfections that my grown children will undoubtedly remember.  Alas, going back in time to make it all right is not an option.  I imagine they would probably benefit from a few sessions on a therapist’s couch… because of me.

Because of them, though, I can give their little brother the best possible mother (still ridiculously imperfect, but more patient and experienced).  Because of them, the boy has “a way better mom”.  And because of them, I’m not taking my time with him for granted.

Somewhere along the way, I held each of them on my knee… for the last time.  And there was a last time each of them came to me with a book to read, an ow-ee  to be doctored, a school assignment to be proudly displayed and fussed over.  I don’t know when those times will be for this boy, but I’m not taking them for granted.  Every time is going to be precious.

~Selena Pannell, co-author of 3,000 Miles To Eternity: A True Internet Love Story

Death Decorum – Don’t Ask How

“What happened?”  Or the dreaded alternative, “How did he die?” These are the questions I have come to shrink from in the days and weeks since the death of my 35 year old son –in-law.  I can only imagine how my daughter feels (now a 30 year old widow with 3 little ones under the age of 6 and all on the autism spectrum), when approached by sincere and I’m sure, well-intentioned people with these same questions.

I found out at church I’m not a very gracious griever.  I was approached more than once and asked one of these questions.  I felt like a trapped animal with no escape in sight. Neither answer I gave was satisfactory, either to them or me.  I still haven’t figured out how to ‘do’ deeply personal loss in public right, and haven’t had the heart to check Pinterest for ideas.

“Why do you want to know?” caused a bit of stammering, but a quick re-wording by her brought us back to the same place. “He was so young, what happened?”

*sigh* “His heart stopped.”

An audible gasp with a flash of shock made me realize I’d given the impression he’d had a heart attack.  I didn’t want to answer.  I didn’t want to feel like I had to answer.  I tried again, to clarify without really answering, “That’s what happens when people die.  Their heart stops.”

Still unsatisfactory.  This stilted conversation, no doubt intended to convey concern and compassion, only made me feel more alone.

We all have heard, at one time or another, about the stages of grief.  We know to expect denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.  We can read ad infinitum appropriate things to say or do when called upon to express a surprisingly awkward acknowledgement of someone else’s grief.  And yet, asking ‘how’ seems to have slipped through the cracks of death decorum.

I know I have done the same thing.  People are curious.  I get it, I’m a curious person, too.  For some reason, it’s not enough to know a tragedy has happened.  We want details. Maybe we feel subconsciously this will ‘connect’ us with the mourner.  Or maybe the raw details feed our primitive need to feel the reassuring relief that it’s not ‘us’ or ‘ours’.  I wonder, though, how many times have I unknowingly magnified someone’s grief by asking one of these simple questions?

Since our own personal tragedy, I’ve been rethinking how I approach someone who has been devastated by the loss, expected or not, of a loved one.  In an effort to help others avoid making the same mistake, and as a PSA for those mourning and just-trying-to-make-it-through-the-day souls, I’ve come up with three ideas.  I hope these will remind us all of another way we can show sincere care and compassion for the newly bereaved.

It’s okay not to know what to say and if that’s the case, say nothing.

One of the most touching gestures I’ve received in the last few weeks was the hand on my shoulder as I settled into my pew at church.  I looked back and saw the face of an elderly woman, with intense eyes.  She didn’t say a word, but I knew in that moment she knew and that she cared.  Not a word, but I could feel her concern. I’m going to remember how this tender acknowledgement of my pain made me feel and try to offer that gift to others.

Being curious is natural, but at this emotionally intense time, it’s not about you.

In the light of day, when no death is imminent, can any of us honestly picture asking this question in good conscience?  We simply don’t know if the burden of grief feels infinitely more intense because murder or suicide, accidental overdose or a fatal error in judgement by the deceased or someone else involved caused the untimely demise.  Err on the side of caution and compassion and focus on the mourner’s feelings, not your own.

Grieving family members may not want to confide in you, and that’s ok.

If you have not been included among the inner circle privy to details, you need to respectfully consider a couple of possible reasons.  It could be that you are not considered close enough to warrant that type of confidence.  It may be those who are suffering through a loss may not feel ‘safe’ to share. Reluctance to trust us with intensely personal information may come from a fear of it being treated as common neighborhood gossip to a deep-in-the-core desire to be loyal and protect the deceased. We may feel like it’s our business, but unless offered, patience would be well advised.  Putting someone who is already mourning in that position can not only intensify their pain but may well compromise your relationship for years to come.  These are the moments that embed themselves in one’s memory.

The very nature of life itself includes death and we will all assume the role, sooner or later, of comforter and mourner.  And we will all face the same tragic awkwardness in each role.  Now you know how.

~Selena Pannell, co-author of 3,000 Miles To Eternity: A True Internet Love Story

Welcome To Recovery

I watched you come into our room for the very first time tonight.  I don’t know who you are, or exactly why you are here, but I can guess.

I know one of the most common reasons.  It’s usually desperation born of torment; you come seeking relief from the turmoil that you are experiencing now.  The world is closing in and you need some space between you and your immediate troubles, or things have been going downhill for a long time and you just can’t take any more.

Another common reason someone might wander into a 12 step meeting also has to do with desperation.  Someone they love is an addict or alcoholic and they want to help them.  I don’t know, that could be you.

It could be that the court sent you.  A judge has offered you a get-out-of-jail-free card if you’ll attend some 12 step meetings.  You want to endure whatever this meeting is about, get your paper signed, and get the heck out of here.

Maybe you’re just curious.  You’ve had some troubles and you figure there could be something, maybe some pointers, you could learn that will help you reset your course.  One or two bad things have happened and you’d like to avoid it happening again if you can.

I’m fairly certain it’s one of these.  If I guessed right, then I already know more about you than you know about me.

You’ll have to come back for a few more meetings before you start to know who I am, but there are some things that I can’t wait for you to know.

I would like to believe that if you knew some of these things it would help.  I want you to benefit from what is here, the power of this room, as soon as possible.  It’s frustrating sometimes, to know what I know, and know that you can’t know it all at once.

I have sat in that chair, the one you are sitting in now and looked at the faces in the circle.  I’ve wondered the same wonderings and thought the same thoughts.  If you’re like me, you looked around the room and decided that you have nothing in common with any of these people.  It’s not true of course, but it will take more than one visit to see just how much we share in common.

We call it a fellowship.  A special relationship of brothers and sisters, that often times never extends beyond the walls of this room.  We are more candid and honest in this room, with these relative strangers, than anywhere else in our lives.  It’s not because we like talking about our lives or our feelings so much, in fact it goes against our very nature as addicts; it’s because this honest communication is healing.  It’s healing for the one who shares and the rest who hear.

We are a support group; not group therapy.  While it is therapeutic, we are not analyzing you.  We don’t need to analyze. The nucleus of the group already understands the problem and we are familiar with all of the symptoms.  In fact, the better we understand 12 Step, the less likely we are to get caught up in the minutiae of each individual problem.  The better we understand the solution, the more we gravitate to experience, faith and hope.  We testify of the steps.

And that chair you sit in, it has a curse.  It can be overcome in just a little time, but it’s always there the first time you sit in it.  You look into the faces in the circle and you feel judgment.  There may be a little judgment, or maybe no judgment at all, but regardless of reality you will feel that you are being judged.

The curse of that chair begins to wear off with time.  Looking back at you are not judges, but members of the same fraternity.  Among us are those who have cheated on our spouses; some of us have lost custody of our children due to neglect or abuse; some of us face jail time for DUI or other offenses related to our addiction; and some of us have done things that we consider so bad that we dare not reveal them.  We know how bad it can be.  You cannot shock us.

Sometimes when you see an expression that could be taken for judgment or pity, you may well be looking at the face of true empathy.  Rarely in life do you meet people who can sincerely understand what you are going through, but in this room you will.  Not only do they understand, but they know that there is reason for hope.  In this room we are all witnesses to the miracle of recovery through 12 step.

Earlier I mentioned the power of this room.  It’s real.  It comes as a direct result of the broken hearts and contrite spirits of those who attend.  If for no other reason, we need each other.  The group draws that power like a magnet.  You don’t even have to understand what it is for it to give you peace and calm.  You don’t even have to understand it to commune with it and find inspiration.

I hope that this little chat has helped you to understand me and who I am.  Maybe you’ll find exactly what you are looking for in this room.  Maybe by understanding who we are, you’ll not hesitate to ask for help and suggestions.  I hope so.  My very best advice for this, the first visit, is to keep coming back.

 One last thing before I close.  You may be curious as to why I would take the time to share these things with you, a stranger.  It’s part of our philosophy in 12 Step that, I can only keep what I have by giving it away.  We come from a world that is cutthroat and every man for himself, but here my efforts to help and encourage you pay dividends of sobriety.  In this room you are just as valuable to me as I am to you.

~Duane Pannell, co-author of 3,000 Miles To Eternity: A True Internet Love Story

Addicts 101: 5 Tips for Earthlings

For most of the past 25 years, I have been actively engaged in an activity called Step 12.  It’s from Alcoholics Anonymous and it reads:

Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

This is the way that people who are successfully recovering from addiction pay it forward.  We recognize that a power greater than ourselves has delivered us from a place of total darkness, to a place of ever-increasing light and true happiness.  It is through helping others that we strengthen our resolve and our allegiance to sobriety.  Understanding and practicing this principle is so important to me.  It means keeping my sobriety.

I was in my second year of being clean and sober when I began to realize that I had the ability to actually help people suffering with addiction.  Local church leadership knew that I was a recovering addict and would call on me to visit with people requesting help with addicted loved ones.  I went to homes, hospitals, and jails and shared my experience, faith and hope.  While I was going to school and studying psychotherapy and counseling skills, it was a wonderful revelation that I had at this time that I did not need to be a professional therapist to guide people to recovery.  I became aware that all I needed to do, for my part, was to encourage the person who was suffering to get help and then volunteer to introduce them to the local fellowships.  The first couple of meetings are the most difficult, so I would go with them.

…the therapeutic value of one addict helping another is without parallel. –

Narcotics Anonymous

It is my hope that all of my friends who are in recovery will read this post and will be encouraged by what I have said so far about helping others; being a mentor or a sponsor.  Now, as I switch gears, I don’t want to lose my audience with you as I talk more directly to the Earthlings.

Who are the Earthlings?  Earthlings always ask that.  In the great big world there are people who are prone to addiction and others who are not.  Earthlings will often observe an addict’s destructive behavior and ask, “Why does he do that?”

The addict, on the other hand, will observe the Earthling as they suffer their trials without drugs or alcohol and ask, “Why does he do that?”

It’s not a derogatory term. I LOVE THE EARTHLINGS!  Selena is my sweetest friend and she’s an Earthling. Sometimes though, the addicts and the Earthlings simply do not understand one another.  Whenever I can, I like to reach out to the Earthlings, sort of like a diplomat—maybe I’m an Addict Ambassador.

Occasionally someone will come to me about a loved one whose life is spinning out of control due to drug and/or alcohol addiction and want to know about treatment options.  I have some personal beliefs with regards to treatment that I want to share, but remember, it’s just my well-informed opinion.  The advice is free and worth every penny of it.

I have known better than a handful of addicts over the years who began and sustained good recovery with 12 step meetings alone.  I have great admiration for these people because it isn’t easy to carry on with the normal day-to-day of life and, at the same time, immerse yourself into understanding and implementing full-time repentance.  It works for some, but many of us seem to lack some key variable in our personality or the necessary self-discipline to pull it off.  It is for this reason that I always recommend residential treatment when it is possible.

If you are an Earthling, and you are trying to decide the best course of action for your addict, and residential treatment is a consideration, let the following be a guide:

1.  There is not a program, a method, or treatment (like electroshock therapy), that has the success of 12 Step.  Millions of people worldwide have found success with programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous and it would have to be the fundamental philosophy of the program that I would choose for someone that I love.

2.  Education is very important.  The more a person understands the physical and mental toll of addiction, the less likely they are to return to it.  The program should teach how addiction works in the body and mind and how it progresses.

3.  Successful recovery means being ever-vigilant.  A good program teaches coping strategies for real life stresses and relapse triggers.

4.  My personal experience as an addict; using alcohol and pills on a daily basis for many years, meant that it took time for me to begin thinking clearly.  Some inpatient programs only run 30 days, and for some that just isn’t enough.  The most effective programs will have more inpatient time and include a period of outpatient treatment along with supervised living.  Not always possible or available, but a person needs to be totally devoted to recovery for a full year.  We always worry about the job or the family and the conflict that there can be, but there is no family or job if the addict fails.

5.  Again, not always available, but very important:  Co-ed inpatient care is not the ideal.  Just like the smoker, who replaces cigarettes with donuts and begins to put on weight after giving up tobacco; the alcoholic/drug addict will often seek to substitute sex/romantic relationships in the absence of chemicals.

So far, in my 25 years of sobriety, I have yet to see 12 Step fail to deliver on its promise.  12 Step is almost flawless.  Almost.  In all fairness I must admit that there is one fatal flaw with regards to 12 Step and it can be frustrating and discouraging, particularly to Earthlings.  It’s only one thing, but it’s huge:  You cannot make an addict start or otherwise, embrace recovery.  You cannot force treatment on an addict against their will.  Addiction is a spiritual disease that requires a spiritual cure, and because that cure is given of God, in the form of repentance, we have to work within His framework.  God will not compel an individual to be sober.  He won’t.  And you can’t.

~Duane Pannell, co-author of 3,000 Miles To Eternity: A True Internet Love Story

Find Someone I Can Love, Too

I’m excited about the release of our book and I tell almost everyone I meet.  It’s a fun thing and most people are awesome in how they can be so happy for the good fortune of a complete stranger.  I believe that some folks wouldn’t care if the title of the book was How to Sort Tupperware, although less likely to buy the book, they’d still be happy for us.  After telling so many people over the past months, I have developed a synopsis that gives a good overview of the story.  It begins something like this:  “My wife and I met on the internet about 15 years ago, when that sort of thing was not nearly as popular as it is today.  I was looking for a bride and she was committed to never marry again.  I had stars in my eyes and she hated men…”

You would be surprised at how many women’s eyes light up when they hear that my dear love once hated men.  It was at this point in my little sales pitch that a woman said to me this week, “Oh, can I ever identify with that!”  She had her hands on her hips and a very self-satisfied smile on her face, but followed with, “Sorry, no offense.”

She told me a harrowing tale of her divorce and meeting a guy online after her divorce and having to get a restraining order…and for a few moments I hated men too.  Fortunately, the conversation went back to the book and she began asking questions.  A couple of anecdotes later and she was telling me that she might give the online singles thing another chance.  I hope that the next guy she meets is a real prince; for his sake and mine.

This is my hope for 3,000 Miles to Eternity, that the things that Selena and I learned along the way could help other people in their relationships.  Our special circumstances, being so very far away from one another, made us talk about things that were important to us.  I think it’s a shame when someone has had their heart broken so badly that they would forsake the idea of falling in love again to avoid another heartbreak.  Hopefully for some, our story would be inspiration to try again.

Many years ago, when my children were still preteens, I came to the realization that their mother and I were headed toward divorce.  While the marriage was always on the rocks, fueled by addiction and immaturity, there was a period of about 6 years where I really struggled to salvage it and make it work.  It was during this time that I began to preach a little phrase to my kids.  I had looked back at my life and identified a key moment where I had gone wrong and hoped that this short message would help them avoid the same mistake.  I told them that when the time came to find someone to marry that they needed to “Bring home someone that I can love, too.”

Just so you know, I didn’t tell my children that there was anything wrong with their mother, or even try to explain how I came to be the bearer of such wisdom.  I married their mom in defiance of my parents and family who thought that our age difference, among other things, was going to be more than we could overcome.  It was the fear that many parents have for their children; that we would marry and begin to have children AND THEN discover our incompatibility.  Neither of us was more flawed than the other, but we were not a good match and determined not to care what our families thought of it.  As it was, she wasn’t bringing home someone that her parents could love either.

“Bring home someone that I can love too” is a simple little phrase; easy to say and easy to remember.  Easy to do?  Not so much.  Both of my daughters had long-term relationships with boys that I knew were wrong for them.  I spent many long nights worrying about their futures.  My girls might believe otherwise, but I was under a constant state of self-restraint during those years.  It helped that I had Selena in my life at that time.  She would remind me not to get angry or do things that would drive my girls away.  Of course, she couldn’t always stop me before the words would spill out.  Once when we were all visiting, I looked one of these young men right in the eye and said, “I don’t like you.  You’re not good for Mallory, and I don’t see me changing my mind about that.”

The room fell silent, but I didn’t really say anything that we all didn’t already know.  Truth be known, he wasn’t a horrible kid.  In fact, if he would’ve been just a friend of my son’s, I would’ve liked him just fine.  But for my daughter, I couldn’t see it working out and I didn’t ‘love’ him.

Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.  – Proverbs 22:6

It was a long hard ride, but I have been blessed.  Both of my girls eventually came to their senses and married excellent men.  I couldn’t have picked better husbands for them.  My son married a girl that we also love very much.  Was it my preaching?  I don’t know.  They may have done the right thing without my corny little phrase.

What I do know is that a good marriage doesn’t just happen.  It’s hard to make good decisions when your eyes are all glazed over with love and we all need to think about these things before the moment comes.  Some things can be overcome if you prepare yourself.  Marrying someone of a different race, culture, political philosophy, or age can be stressful on a marriage, but not necessarily spell doom if you talk about it and decide how you will cope with the problems that could arise.

A common ambush to marriage is religion.  Especially in your early 20’s, religion can be a real non-issue.  It’s a time of life when some people stray away from the religion that they were raised with, and it doesn’t even seem like an important consideration when two young people start to look toward matrimony.  In a couple of years a baby comes along and all at once the two people who seemingly had no religious inclinations whatsoever, are thinking about christenings, baptisms, and Vacation Bible School.  They want something for their child that is fundamentally important to them in direct opposition to their spouse.  It’s more than just a little sticky situation and worth talking about way before the baby arrives.

I am a very happily married man.  I have wife that my family can love too!  Selena and I have wonderful adventures together and she is perfect for me.

It was not because I was so wise in my search for the perfect bride that I found her.  I really do have to give credit to prayer on this one.  I asked for the ideal wife, and I got her, but under the terms and conditions that would make it all come out right.  We were 3,000 miles apart and, in the beginning, did not believe we would ever meet face to face.  We couldn’t hold hands or kiss; we were forced to talk and get to know each other.  We were vulnerable with one another and honest.  On the day that she said that she loved me, I knew that she loved the real me and vice-versa.

I’ll bet that I have told several hundred people about our book this year.  And like I said earlier, there are many women who can identify with Selena’s man-hating phase.  There are also some crusty old dudes who don’t look like they’ve thought about any kind of romance in a long, long time, but when I tell them a little of the story, regardless of where they are in life, I see the interest.  It is said that the ‘natural man’ is an enemy to God; I believe that the natural man is also an enemy to true love—but the spirit?  The very essence of who we are, our spirit loves romance and true love!

~Duane Pannell, co-author of 3,000 Miles To Eternity: A True Internet Love Story

Turning Point – Choosing the Road to Recovery

In the early part of 1988 I got a call from my great aunt Irene.  She told me that she and Uncle Manley were in Savannah for a couple of days and would like to visit with us. Aunt Sissie, the name that I called her all my life, was a strong and intelligent woman with a generous heart.  Like most of my Dad’s family, she was fun and funny and I really loved her.  It was exciting for me, a young 26 year old, to take my little family to visit her at her hotel on the riverfront.

 via David McSpadden (flickr)

We had what I thought was a nice visit.  My stepdaughter Tara was about to turn 13, JR was 3, Mallory almost 2 and baby Emily—they were an adorable bunch and I was proud of them.  I felt like we made a good impression on them and that Sissie would likely go back home to Virginia and report that Duane and his family were all doing well.  Imagine my surprise when I got a letter from Aunt Sissie about 2 weeks later expressing her concerns for me and my family.  In the letter she said that she had been thinking about me and praying for me “…ever since our visit” and that she wanted to ‘help’ me.

I might have taken offense to such a suggestion.  I might have gotten my ‘back up’ at the very notion that I needed help from anyone, let alone a great aunt that I had not had any contact with for most of the past 14 years.  I might have, but I didn’t.  I thought we had done well on our visit, but apparently Aunt Sissie could tell that something wasn’t quite right.  My life was a mess and I was drowning and somehow she knew.

via Samantha Cohen (flickr)

Sissie knew that something was wrong, but she could not possibly know the extent of my problems.  I had been alcoholic for most of my life at this point; I also had an addiction to amphetamines and cocaine, and was doing dangerous things to feed my addictions.  My wife was also an addict and we were not being very good parents.

Out of desperation I swallowed my pride and began talking with Sissie.  She offered to buy me and my family a house in Radford, Virginia where she lived.  My wife and I, believing that this move would be the cure for our addiction and money problems, quickly said yes to her generous offer and started making immediate plans to go to Virginia.  It shames me to admit this, even today, a sin that I long since have repented for, but Sissie didn’t just buy us a house.  She bought me a car (I had lost one of our cars to a drug dealer), and she gave me money.  The money and the car were supposed to facilitate our move out of Savannah, but being the loyal drug addict that I was, I prolonged the move and spent the money on drugs.  We barely made it out of town.

via Fred Ross Lord (flickr)

 We arrived at our new home in Radford in June.  It was an exciting time for us; a new beginning.  Sissie and Manley had done lots of things to welcome us and make us feel comfortable.  My wife continued to smoke pot and I continued to drink, but it seemed to us that we were doing great because we were staying away from the more dangerous drugs.  To us

it seemed like we were going straight and it felt good.  We did well for more than six months.

As any recovering addict will tell you, a geographical change is not likely to be a cure.  Wherever you go; there you are.  The addiction goes with you and so it was with us.  We eventually found drug dealers and resurrected the trouble that we thought we had left behind us in Savannah.

I got in trouble one night at a bar in the little town.  I was arrested and spent the night in jail.  Again, from my perspective, it was nothing.  This sort of thing had been a regular occurrence with me for years.  It was normal for me, but Savannah, Georgia was not the same as Radford, Virginia.  As it turned out, the little burg in Virginia had a lot less tolerance for belligerent, aggressive drunks than Sugar City and my story found its way into the pages of the local newspaper. A paper that my dear aunt read religiously.

via Ken Teegardin (flickr)

My aunt caught me at home alone one morning, probably the same day that the story made the paper.  She knew the local police (heck, she knew everybody) and had the whole story on me.  She knew things about me that I had forgotten and she really let me have it.  She was embarrassed and she told me so.  She told me that I had disgraced the name that my family had made there—my grandfather, my great-grandfather.  She reminded me of the money that she had spent to help me and how my actions proved that I was selfish and ungrateful.  She also reminded me of my little children and how they depended on me and how I was letting them down.  And then she called me The Name.  I had never heard my aunt cuss…and I never heard her cuss again, but on that morning she called me a name that I have never forgotten.  It is a part of the human body known for, among other things, the passage of noxious gas.  She stared at me after the word was said and didn’t say anything for what seemed like an eternity, and then she turned and left.  I just stood there like a noxious gas hole trying to assess the damage that I had done.

This event happened in about February of that year.  Sissie, while very unhappy with me, did give me until August to find a new place to live.  It was a tough time, but this was my ‘pivot point’ in life.  I had burned a lot of bridges over the years.  I had been down in the gutter and sworn off drugs and alcohol many times before, but this was different.  It took another year and a half before I would begin the successful recovery that continues to this day.  Something about hurting Aunt Sissie and having her alert me to the fact that I had shamed my family’s name, that inspired me.  There was no ‘living with it’ anymore.  I would get well or I would die—nothing in between.

It was long process, getting sober.  It was the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous that helped me to find redemption.  When I got to Step 9, making amends, Aunt Sissie (and Uncle Manley) were the first on my list.  She didn’t make me pay back the money that she had given me, instead she reserved the right to ‘keep an eye’ on me.  I remember a few years later at a wedding reception for my cousin Zack, Sissie walked up to me and took the Diet Coke from my hand and smelled it.  She handed it back and smiled and said, “Just checking.”

Early this morning, Aunt Sissie passed away at the age of 88.  She was reunited with her mom and dad, a brother, and 2 sisters.  I’ve been thinking all day what that celebration must be like.  I take great comfort in knowing that today she knows exactly what she did for me.  Because of her generous heart to intervene; and because of her wisdom to cut me off and pull back; she put in motion my recovery from addiction.  Because of what she did, my children gained a father and have found success in their own lives.  Although my ex-wife may be slow to recognize how all of this benefited her (those were very tough times), my current wife got a much better man thanks to Aunt Sissie.  Sissie’s faith in God carried me in the early days of my recovery and inspired me to develop my own relationship with Him.

Sissie and Manley never had any children of their own, and although I’m not supposed to know, I do know that I am not the only ‘child’ that they helped over the years.  I’m reminded of two verses in Mathew Chapter 25 as I think of Aunt Sissie being greeted by the Lord this morning:

40 And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.

 21 His lord said unto him, Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.

I love you Aunt Sissie, and I’ll see you on the other side.

~Duane Pannell

In Two Months Time

Now it’s getting real.  In two months our book will be released.  In two months, our lives will change in ways we never expected.  Fifteen years ago, Duane and I had known of the other’s existance for two short months.  How could we have possibly known that we were two months into a wild and wonderful collaboration, merging our lives and hearts and writing a story for the whole world to see?  Literally.

Pannell Bytes 2 months to Moongoddess by Duane Pannell

~Selena Pannell