Musings on Addiction & Recovery

New York City

Time Traveling

I poured her a Diet Coke as the sun went down in the living room, already dusk at 6:00, the last of the light light filtering through the open window way it does when summer winds down to a close and the air becomes crisp and cool,  and the sense of mystery is in the air.

The fizz filled up the cup, as I turned but kept the bottle in my hand with the intention of filling her up once the bubbles came to a rest. For a brief second I was in a bar, in the fall, and could smell the pungent smell of beer rising off of the foam, already feeling it go down down my throat, sending it’s warmth into my insides, filling me with a sense of home and a feeling of mild euphoria. I could smell the fusion of aromas; rot of wood that had been wet, dried, and wet again, ad infinitum. That, and a mixture of Murphy's oil soap. And there was the smell of smoke, as if from a bonfire burning somewhere in the distant. Evenings in the fall when school would begin and parties would start and the longing stirs in me for a place of cozy comfort that I mistakenly searched for at the bottom of a bottle, a beautiful brown Carafe of Canadian whisky, it’s smoothness offering sweet respite from the world and all of its problems. All of the feelings threatening my insides; insecurity, anger, fear and resentment, instantly replaced by that gentle calmness. I think this thought through, as Janet says, until I have awakened in a dark room, sweating and nauseated, and wondering where I am.

I think this thought through as I look at my feet, reminding myself that I am standing here, in the present, with the great expanse of years between me and that last drink. Several lifetimes ago and many, many seasons. I redirect my feelings towards the canvas that sits in the middle of my living room floor waiting to be painted and a Max laughing at me for forgetting her glass.

I am Not The Art- Gina Kropf- 3'X3' $250.00 acrylic/mixed media on canvas wrap

Girl in chair with pigeons

Girl in chair with Pigeons. mixed media on Canvas.

Brad's Room

Brad’s room was dark and cozy, like a cave, with its stained cherry walls that sloped like an attic. A respite away from the hostile lights of high school with its eyes of deprecating disdain. Brad’s room was an escape from the everyday pains of life. He was the neon band aid that covered the daily scratches that would wear away the rocks of my soul like water on stones. At 14 years old, I didn’t have the capacity to ponder deeper on this. Pain is pain and relief is golden. My old mind can’t remember if I even enjoyed the sex, or if the tenderness of two bodies blending was conveniently mistaken for a warm hug in an inhospitable world. Motley Crue’s album cover hung from the ceiling. The one with the guy in black leather lace-up pants shot from his navel down to his upper thigh. Everyone wore black leather back then, and the boys all loved Pat Benatar and Joan Jett. I dressed like them to fit in: a style I have somehow kept even though I have tailored it for my age. That is the only part of me that remains from those days. He would Smoke a joint and listen to this album, as each sad, angsty song fused from one into the next. Lost and moody as it spun towards the end of the album, the needle beginning to jump on the vinyl. Sadness enveloped like smoke from a bonfire following me everywhere I went and burned my retinas. I remember the day they took me to the gray brick building on Computer drive off of Six forks Road. The lady called it a gown, but really it was just a piece o blue paper that tied in the back. I got to keep on my bra and my shirt, a yellow Burts surf shop tee that bought at the beach last summer on a warm evening when the sand was starting to feel cool to the feet. I slept in it and made it mine like all girls do with their boyfriends t-shirts. I sat in a row of chairs with other people until it was my turn to go into the little room with the shade drawn over the window that looked out over the gray pavement of the parking lot. The steel bed was covered with a sterile blue plastic cushion and rigid, unyielding paper pulled down over the top that made a crinkling sound when I moved . My feet were placed in the cold metal stirrups as I lay on my back and stared up at the ceiling tiles, old and brown with years and water damage. I heard a voice tell me to relax as the long tube was inserted into my cervix. I felt it expand as it went it, and with it, the wave of cramps and the urge to vomit. It would all be over soon and there would be no more of the crippling nausea. On the way home, we pulled into the drive-through burger king. Mom ordered all of the comfort food for me. A double cheeseburger with ketchup, a large fry and a banana milkshake. I would sleep the rest of the day. Brad eventually moved on to someone else, and I had a string of different ones, each promising comfort and love but always filling me with a feeling of transience. And more of these procedures that promised relief from the consequences of a pregnant body and a life with a baby. I learned at a young age that my body was a form of currency to use with men to get the attention I ached for, even if it was affection of the wrong kind. When my fiancé at the time, Rhett, closed the bar he owned, he brought home all of the left-over liquor and kept it above the black glossy refridgerator in a liquor cabinet that I had to stand on a stool to reach. He did this because he said that the assortment was gross and it was crap that no-one would ever drink. Cheap Scotch and Ouzo. We had been living together in that loft apartment overlooking the lake for almost a year by the time iI finished the last bottle and had the last abortion. Don’t get me wrong. The abortions were not birth control, but moments from drunken evenings when we couldn’t fathom how the birth control could possibly fail, and I could not fathom the life I would have or the risk I would take if I stayed pregnant or had a child. The only moment I was capable of living in was the one of the present, and beyond that was nothing. I knew he wasn’t for me during the one of my rare lucid moments as I sat on the back porch staring out at the water on a mild, beginning of fall afternoon, just as summer is yielding ,and a cool breeze was in the air. I had just come home from a procedure and had not had time to begin the daily drinking. The air was crisp, and so were my thoughts, for once. This was where this journey for love had found me? Empty and alone and more than a little broken. I had no way of knowing at the time how unconditional love could heal me, but from the the maturity and growth of an expanding heart that is capable of love as a gift to be given rather than received. It would be ten years later when I would experience agape love, through the birth of my daughter. I had so much to overcome first, and that would come many sober years later.

Nude in Red-Acrylic on Canvas-30" x 40"-$250.00

Boundaries & the Loads We Carry

When I was a child, my dad made me a huge backpack, put himself in it, and placed it on my shoulders. I carried this backpack for many, many years, not having clue that it was really there, much less how to remove it. I felt the weight of it almost always, and tried every way I could to forget it was there, but it remained. I had a woman come along once with a fancy office off of Saint Mary's street. I would see her on Thursdays at 2:00. The first thing I did was find my spot on her purple chenille couch, grab a soft batik pillow and place it in my lap, then kick off my shoes. She taught me about something called boundaries in that wind chime and plant-filled office, and how that was the key to removing the giant backpack. Boundaries are tricky little bastards, and could easily be used against you by the wrong person. This usually comes in the form of the receiver of the boundary trying to make you think you are crazy. It is a very effective technique until one learns how to really become comfortable in ones own skin. This can take years and a fortune in offices just like hers. For example. My dad loved to walk around in his black underwear and socks. I asked him over and over to please not do this, but his response was always the same "Gina, you are crazy. Stop editing me." I would take my shrink all of the crazy letters my dad would send me and email me, and she would dissect them, piece by piece, emotion by emotion, and exclaim, "see this sentence? See what he did there? He is manipulating you and playing the victim." It was easy for her to explain what was happening, since she was like a bird flying over a city, that has perspective over all of it, verses me that is stuck right in the middle of the traffic jam. Emotional traffic jams can be very difficult to come out of, and they can require a lot of help. The first thoughts of someone not versed in getting out of one is to absolutely freak out, to catastrophize. This creates a lot of unnecessary drama, since one is convinced that the world is coming to an end, and panic ensues. I would flail around like a lunatic, going from bottle to food, to money, using anything I could get my hands on to somehow block what was happening. My husband refers to this as acting out of your dinosaur brain. Anyway, this therapist taught me so much about how to view the world from a rational perspective, and adjusting my emotions accordingly. Not many people in my life could really understand this, since on the outside, my dad was a charismatic doctor of education and had a grand following. No one really saw how I was, from a very young age, treated like his girlfriend, or his confidant. It was my shoulder he cried on when he was going to leave my mom, and my bed he climbed in when he needed comfort. Don't get me wrong, he never sexually abused me, but it was, according to my shrink, a trickier version of abuse, called covert abuse. See, I thought that if it wasn't something physical, then it didn't exist. Dad was the master of the tricky little mind game. I remember the very first time I removed the burden of the backpack. I was living an adorable 2 bedroom cottage in downtown Raleigh near the Meredith College campus, where I was an art student. It was a safe place that I had created for myself in early sobriety. He was paying the rent and footing the bill for college. But there was always a price, and usually a very high one. He announced one day that he would be arriving from Dallas, and would be staying in my extra room. I went into sheer dinosaur brain mode. The feelings of being trapped rushed back to me, as well as the nightmares of him and his black underwear. I worked up the nerve, with a lot of help, to tell him that he could not stay with me, but that I loved him. Next thing I knew, he was standing out on the front porch with his suitcase, announcing that he had called a cab, and that I would NEVER see him AGAIN. Finally realizing that in the tennis match of life, I don't have to both hit the ball and receive it, I said goodbye to him, instead of engaging in his little codependent jig. This was so very liberating . I could see fireworks going off in my mind. The fear was also confounding, and threatened to drown me. Oh no! Would he Really vanish forever? The next thing I did was sell the bed in the extra room. And vowed to never let anyone put anything in my backpack again.

Shamai-Postcard Canvas Photo image transfer- $30.00

Bad Boys & The women who love them

Lord have mercy. The eyes. They got me every single time. 80% of my terrible, awful, no good decisions were because of the eyes. As long as they had a hint of mystery, who was behind them was of no consequence. That’s all it took. No words needed. Charles baby blues comes to mind first. The first night I met him, not a word was spoken, but he sat across the table from me in a room filled with smoke, and shot holes through me with his deep pools. He lived in a trailer park in Garner, North Carolina. It had brown and beige shag carpeting and plastic doors. The trim was a dog turd brown, and the speckled gold and egg-shell blue floral wallpaper came factory installed onto the hollow doors and walls. His construction job was obviously not enough to build a decent set of steps outside, because there was an old, rusty set of metal ones at the front door you could use, but you had to be careful, since they were not attached to the tin-can home. Outside, he had an old, patina colored broken down car with no tires that was surrounded by wild grass and unkempt weeds. Next to it sat his beat up small flat-bed silver truck. It always tilted to one side for some reason, giving it an appearance of toppling over at any moment. The master bedroom was only big enough to contain his King- size water bed. It had a red plastic covering and an shiny, ornate, dark brown headboard with mirrors. The room had thick cream colored country curtains with lots of dust. The sofa appeared to have once been beige, but his dog had a bad habit of jumping on it after he had been out playing in the red clay mud. I googled him today and found his short bio on his Instagram account. It says “ Southern man. God first, then family. Love playing golf, dressing up, trying to stay fit, and eat healthy. Let’s get it! “ Turns out he also owns all of the land where the trailers sat, and even has his own subdivisions. While I am glad that he appears to have cleaned his life up, this is hardly a description that would catch my attention today. In fact, I would run the other way. And its not the God part, or the Southern part, but what tends to happen to a person when you combine the two. And to think this was the guy who dumped Me, and led me to cleaning up my act, since he said that I drank too much. The next set of blues came attached to the father of my child. He looked like the guy from the Marlboro billboard ads we would pass on the way to the beach when we were kids, lying in the back of the brown-paneled station wagon. His skin looked like a fine, weathered leather from being out in the sun too long and for too many years. His eyes were a piercing bright blue with a fine map of wrinkles that gave him an appearance of holding onto a mysterious thought or some deep observation that only he knew. The gazes he gave me from across the classroom absolutely melted me down to my very core. And gazed he did, and often. He always had just the right words to say, the best ones being “will you marry me”? and “I will take care of you. “ Those words, combined with those eyes, slid down my spine like warm maple syrup on a hot buttered biscuit. He was a 6’4” drink of water , with tattoos that told the stories of his life. An old life, he said. He was a bad boy gone good. His past was a contrast to who he said he was today; a homeowner and a soon-to-be graduate of The school of Law. The stories on his arms failed to mention the most important parts of his past, the details he neglected to tell me. We had been dating for a little over six months when he said the magic words. I was his and an elopement sealed the deal. It was only about a year into our marriage when a sheriff knocked on our door very late one night. In his hand he held a piece of paper with a mugshot. I told them they had the wrong house, since the man pictured had very long hair, a beard, and a warrant out for his arrest for failure to pay child support. BUT my husband didn’t have a child?!, and he certainly didn’t look like the man in the photo. Well, I slept alone that night as he was carted off for an evening in jail. I had done some crazy things in my life, but most of them were laughable offenses. And none ever involved the police. Only the people on the news who talked with those strange southern accents had cops at their doors. And we had a word for them. White. Trash. Oh crap! What had I become? While this guy would have loved to have seen me barefoot and pregnant, it was only the latter one he succeeded at. I put on my best shoes and walked the hell out of there and did not even give it a backwards glance. My current husband, bless his heart, had to go through a complete screening, including a background check, before I would even consider looking long and deep into his kind, gentle eyes. Today, thanks to google, facebook, and tinder, I am privy to a full resume of what has been before I will skim the surface of the longing that lies on the surface,in those mysterious windows to the soul. Age breeds practicality, and I just ain’t got no time for that kind of drama anymore.

Window kink- GIna Kropf Photography-NYC

New York City

Recurring Dreams

I’ve had a recurring dream throughout my years in sobriety. I make that distinction because before then, there were no dreams. Just a dark, empty passing-out, or a prolonged blackout. Sweaty, dark evenings, soulless and void. This dream is different from other dreams since the waking sense is one of hope and possibility. I had one of those dreams last night. The sun was rising through the large bay window in the breakfast nook at the townhouse on Esher Court in Raleigh. The black –and-white curtains my mom made for the windows showed their dust in the light. We (and I say we, but I don’t actually know who the other person was) were sitting at the smoked octagonal glass table that had been given to me by my brother’s first wife, since I was starting life over here and I came with nothing. Just Max, who was a baby, soft-smelling and brand new to this world, and I. When her dad went berserk in a Jack Daniels-fueled rage, I fled from the lunatic and began again. This has always been my specialty. Beginning again. I had nothing in this little place on the small cul-de-sac in North Raleigh. Just my bed and a few items I picked up at the local Goodwill, like the candle holder that reflected stars on the wall for Max, and a small Victorian lamp for the bathroom. I have always despised overhead lighting, even in that room. A small lamp makes everything cozier, I thought. And those items marked the beginning of our new life. I couldn’t wait to get the keys so I could put my small finds in the spots I’d imagined while lying awake in the bed at my mother’s house, full of anticipation and fear, Max lying next to me. My life as a first-time mom, also known as the time when I finally became an adult. There is something about living your life for another human being that changes you, removes most of the selfishness. Or mine, anyway. By the way, by the time we left that place, it was overflowing with furniture and toys. None of them were new, but donations we had picked up on our journey. The basics of the dream are always the same: I find a door, or secret entrance to another, larger part of the house that I didn’t know about. I am amazed at the newly discovered space, and over how I didn’t know of its existence. In this particular dream, we opened up the attic door on the ceiling, and found floors and floors that I had never seen. Some rooms had massive, state-of-the-art kitchens, and left me wondering why I had suffered so long in my tiny kitchen with the linoleum floors, peeling Formica countertops, and the old beige stove with the analog clock. Each time I would think we were at the end, I would find another room. This was the first time I have ever had this dream about our home on Esher Court. Before that, it had always revolved around my tiny cottage apartment on Whitaker Mill Road. The old Prewar apartments have recently been ripped down and replaced by million dollar McMansions. This little apartment felt more like a house, since I had my own minuscule backyard and a front porch. It had the old, original hardwood floors, and gigantic steel windows. The rooms were tiny but there were two bedrooms. Since I was in my twenties, a bedroom plus an extra room for an office/ exercise room made me feel rather established. Each room was separated by the hallway, which had a large heating grate in the floor that you had to jump across, or else scald the bottoms of your feet. This was my very first place all to myself, as a sober woman. The place where I paid my first bills. The telephone was $25 a month, and sat on the built-in shelf in the hallway, with the answering machine and, of course, a small lamp. I slept precious sleep here for the first time, had a full- time job, and went back to school to earn my Bachelor’s degree in fine art. It wasn’t because I was a particularly good artist, but my dad, being a college professor, said that he really didn’t care if my degree was in basket weaving, as long as I had one. I made the mistake of leaving this home to move in with my future husband, the only intensely horrible mistake I’ve made to date, but without that, there would be no Max. And she is everything. Esher was also a place of dreams. I created my identity as a portrait studio owner, a mother, and later, a wife for the second time. I’ve never been the type to set goals, so to speak, but rather, just do the next right action and pray for the best. My best-laid plans always got me in trouble, anyway. Once I was good and settled in, and nestled comfortably in my given roles, the constant, agonizing thought of “Is this all there is?” began to creep in. First quietly, then booming. This led to an estate sale of all of the belongings I had accumulated over the past 12 years that spanned our 2,000-square-foot space, and a move with our family of three to a tiny apartment in New York City. This is where I would find my MORE. Once again, I have found my soft spot here, and am comfortable in a routine. Now the recurring dream is back. The house. The vast rooms. And many more doors to be opened.

NYC Dyke March 2017-Washington Square Park- Gina Kropf Photography

Dysfunctional dads & the daughters who love them

The heat of the summer reminds me of my dad. He would always appear as the temperatures warmed, and by the time the leaves began to change, he was gone. He came over one day in June, and hugged me as he sobbed on my shoulder. It was a warm summer day, and the smell his cologne mixed with cigarettes and the rough feel of his beard against my cheek was comforting in a confusing way. I was 11 years old , and smelled of summer sweat, chlorine, and coca cola. He came to our home at Fairway Apartments off of Capital boulevard tell me that he had given up on finding a professorial job at one of the many local universities in tobacco country; the triangle area that encompasses Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill. Since my parent’s divorce and move from Richmond, he followed my mom, who insisted on moving back home to be her her parents. He was the first person in his family to earn a college degree and escape the cycle of poverty, and had left Durham and swore he would never return. But return, he did. And stayed for a year. He whispered to me through tears that God had led him to Dallas, Texas, to teach at the University of North Texas and Dallas Theological Seminary. This move meant seeing him sporadically, mostly at Christmas and on Summer vacations. But dad, being the genius of the quick sell, painted an exciting picture of what an amazing adventure this almost cross-country drive this would be. Two days and four states! And just the two of us! I jumped at the chance to be included in his world, and we hopped into his 79’ blue Buick with no air conditioner and began our journey across the country. The heat was suffocating, at around 104 degrees, and my legs, clad in my cut-off levi shorts, were completely stuck to the old blue vinyl of the bench seats. I took photos with my new One-Step Polaroid camera of the Great Smokey mountains as we passed through Tennessee, and marveled at all of the signs warning of the possibility of falling rocks. My dad, the music lover, told me all about Buddy Holly and Elvis Presley as we listened to Blue Suede Shoes and drove through Memphis, windows down, Pal Mal smoke softly lifting up and out through the window and into the hazy, blue sky. Dallas brought us country music as the landscape changed to flat, and men in starched Wrangler jeans and cowboy hats dominated. It also brought me Taco Bueno, and dad talked to me about Mexico as I ate this sloppy thing called a burrito, swallowing it down with a Dr. Pepper. He showed me the glamorous malls of Dallas, Texas, and the stores like Saks 5th Ave and Bloomingdales. I did not belong in this world, being a pre-teen in shorts and tee-shirts, surrounded by the glamorous women of Dallas, with their big blonde hair and long red nails. My dad was woman-crazy, mom said, and he flirted with all of them at the cologne counters that were scattered about Macy’s, only slowing down to remind me that if I didn’t start watching what I ate, I would be sorry. No man wanted a fat girl. He took me to Bloomingdales, and I felt like somebody as the overly made-up girl at the check-out counter handed me my “Little Brown Bag”. I rode on his excitement and energy that week, flying high on the newness of it all. He even woke me up at 2:00 am one morning to go to IHOP for cheesecake. Mom never did this kind of stuff! Our week together ended the same way it had started. He leaned down and hugged me as he sobbed. The weight of his emotion felt like a cement block , threatening to slam me into the ground. I turned to get on the airplane, the flight attendant attaching a little set of Eastern Airline wings to my t-shirt. As the “big bird”, as my dad called it, lifted up and over Dallas, I marveled at the little monopoly houses stretched out across the board, with little blue swimming pools in each back yard. I was lifted up and out of the sadness and confusion, with my coke and pretzels, if only for a few hours. We went to visit his grave today. Me, my husband, and my 10 year old daughter. It is in Durham, of all places, on a little piece of muddy earth that seems to want to slide down into the street. I couldn’t believe he was under my feet, and I wondered why we devote all of this land to bury our dead. It seems like such an odd tradition. Hell, he didn’t even want to be buried. He confided in me, the way he often did, in his syrupy, way that always seemed like bull shit, that he wanted to be cremated. Anyway, as we drove by an apartment complex in Durham on the way home, and an odd feeling came over me as I looked at the large, pre- war wrought iron windows, that I had been there before. I was hit with a sudden rush of memory. This was the apartment dad lived in that year before he moved to Dallas, before we left on our trip together. One summer day years ago, it was my dad’s weekend to have us, and my brother and I were in the living room of those old apartments with its hardwood floors and massive windows that let the sun shine in like a glowing orb, reflecting off of the shiny floors and white walls. The sparseness of the place made it seem spotlessly clean. He had a old blue sofa bed, and a big TV sitting on a tray, the kind we called “TV trays”, because we would pull them up to the sofa and eat dinner on them. Danny and I were fighting over the channels like two dogs fighting over a tennis ball. The next thing I knew, dad was storming through the room, words coming from his mouth in a series that I couldn’t even comprehend. He was wearing nothing but a pair of white boxer shorts, the TV in his arms, rabbit ears wrapped in aluminum foil smashed to the floor. He called my mom, who immediately whisked us up and out of there, terrified. Returning to the present, I glance into the back seat at my 11 year old daughter, and try to imagine what she would do if she saw her own dad pulI off such a dramatic feat. I can’t. I can’t imagine her feeling any of the burden and heaviness of having to deal with the emotions put upon her by an adult. But still, he was there, alone on that little hill. All of the other tombstones were decorated with old photographs, flowers, balloons, little trinkets from loved ones, while his was lonely and bare. There, attached to my car radio, was fake red daisy I bought at the Charlotte IKEA the week before and still had in my car. I took it out and put it on his grave. It was the best I had, and while I didn’t really want to go out of my way for him, the poor bastard needed something. I never did make it back. Just didn’t see the point.

Shamai2- Post card canvas, photo transfer- $30.00

Untitled photo

Moms & daughters

It was the summer of 1973, my mom reminds me, when I quit eating because everyone in the family was recounting a recent story of a girl who died from choking on her own food. That was the same summer that I began pulling the skin off of my bottom lip until it bled and scabbed over, and then I’d pick it again. No one took kids to therapy back then. I thought it was just something I did until recently it came back to me during a phone conversation with my mom about my daughter; I mean, my kid. They just had their name legally changed to Max Kropf. This is one of the many things I’m trying to take care of in hopes of giving them relief from what they describe as “maggots inside of their body”. Not really bugs, but rather a darkness that fills them. Quarantine came naturally to them, and was a blessed relief since it was permission to stay at home, on the sofa, reading and writing indefinitely. I haven’t heard them utter the word “agoraphobia” in 6 months. My mom continues to tell all of the things they tried to get me to eat that summer. I was completely neurotic, I told mom. The apple didn’t fall far from the tree. Speaking of trees, I’ve been researching ours. and am coming up with some doozies. There was uncle Floyd who they found in the woods near the institution he had left, with change in his pocket. Nothing but his bones. There is also my great, great grandfather, handsomely sitting in his chair, the old photo capturing the Sloan Forehead, as my family on my moms side calls it. All of the men have it. Turns out this man died of alcoholism at 42, like so many of the other ones. My mind goes back to my own recovery. I’ve been sober now for half of the time I have been on this earth. At 52 years old, I have too many stories behind me and my child’s story in front of me, and many fears I carry for them and for this world. Some day’s the load is just too heavy. What will become of them and what stories will they tell after all that’s left of me is a picture of the kid with the swollen lips.

1970's photobooth

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