The Collector of Junk

This story was inspired by my parents moving out of the home they rented for about 40 years and the memories I had in that home.



My Dad off-handedly describes himself as “the collector of junk” as he cleans out the house he and Mum rented and called home for more than 40 years.


The house isn’t much to look at now, but it is beautiful to me. Every crack in the wall, every slice of peeling wallpaper, every dated wood panel, every leftover square of linoleum that we tried to cover up with stick-on tiles.

It is beautiful to me.


The crayon markings on the walls leading to the cellar show that children grew up here. This is the same dank cellar we played video games in, on consoles we bought on sale after newer versions came out. When almost everyone else had Sega, we had Calico Vision. When almost everyone else had Super Nintendo, we had Nintendo. And so on.

But we didn’t care about that. We had a lot of fun playing those games.


The piano that my grandmother used to play at my grandfather’s political parties stands silent in our back cellar, worn and yellowed by the years. We inherited it when Nana McLaughlin died. Nobody else wanted it. Nobody else wanted to deal with it.

Dad is a professional dealer with things. Not wishing to part with something that played such an integral part in his childhood, and not having anywhere else to put it, it ended up in our back cellar, atop floorboards that loosely covered dirt. Sometimes us kids would open the piano and pound on the keys chaotically. The piano needed tuning, but it still sounded strong. It still had life.


The remainder of the last 40 years of my parents’ lives now remains in the back cellar in cardboard boxes and rubbermaid tubs. Sheet music that belonged to my grandparents. The first camera Dad purchased as a budding photographer. That lens that captured Mum in so many beautiful portraits when they were first married. My brother Paul’s clarinet. A beach rock one of us painted for my parents’ wedding anniversary in 1987.


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The rest of the house is just about empty.


The hallway where my Dad trimmed the Christmas tree with a saw after us kids helped him pick out the perfect one.


The kitchen where Paul told us he and Diana were engaged. And where they told us they were expecting their first child.


The kitchen sink, where my parents once argued about whether or not we could afford paper towels.


The living room couch, where Mum cried on the phone as she learned that her best friend, Anne, had been diagnosed with skin cancer.



The back stairs, where I first saw my Dad cry as he told me that Anne passed away.


She was 46. When I saw her in the hospital for the last time I was scared to touch her. She looked so frail, and I didn’t want to break her.


Every death after that was easy.

Even that of my beautiful and serene Nana, whom I always long to hug one last time.


The front entryway, where Paul would arrive home after a long shift at Bickford’s, reeking of pancakes and syrup.


The staircase, where I tip-toed to my room when I came home early in the morning, sometimes drunk. Where I always knew who was coming up or down by their tread. Mum’s was the softest. My brother Sean’s was the loudest.


The bathroom, which never had ventilation and Mum hated. But she always made it look as nice as she could.


My parent’s bedroom, where Mum, in embarrassed tears, told me how mothers should never let their children see them cry.

The living room couch, where Paul grabbed my cheek like a doting grandmother and said, “Be brave, little buckaroo.”

The back door, where Mum and Uncle Larry made a deal to quit smoking. The back steps again, where they stayed up most of that night smoking the remaining packs they had.


The telephone on the kitchen wall, where I learned that Uncle Larry, missing for 14 years, died of lung cancer. And where I thanked God that Mum held up her end of the deal.

The living room, where we opened so many wonderful Christmas gifts under the happy tree. Where Sean and Paul watched The Dukes of Hazzard, transfixed in front of the TV in thermal undershirts and sweatpants.


The living room carpet, where Dad once wrested the car keys from Sean’s hands and pinned him to the floor so he wouldn’t drive drunk. Where Mum sent me up to my room so I wouldn’t see Sean get arrested.

Sean’s room, once decorated with so many car posters, which he knew every detail about. And once littered with liquor bottles, hidden under the bed.


Paul’s room, where he once drew me all of the Muppet characters because I saw similar drawings hanging in the local mall and liked them.


The kitchen, where we celebrated many Thanksgivings. Some functional, some dysfunctional. Always topped with Mum’s famous gravy and stuffing.


The kitchen table, where Paul would eat a can of Spaghetti-O’s after an 80 hour work week of making filet mignon and french onion soup at the Double Tree hotel.


Where Diana lovingly painted my nails for prom, asking me to gush all the details about the new guy.


Where Dad told me I could be anything I wanted to be, even the President of the United States.

me and parents

The upstairs hallway, where Mum and Dad would traverse to attend to me when I couldn’t sleep, bringing soothing words, tissues to dry my tears, and warm milk.



The downstairs hallway, where Paul intervened when Sean pinned Dad against the stairwell, splintering one of the railings.


My bedroom. Where I would look out the window curiously at the kids who moved in next door, too shy to go over and say hello.

Where as a teenager I would retire to avoid the sometimes chaos of family.

Where I wrote in my journal.


Where I would cry alone into my pillow, not understanding why I was sad and not wanting to upset anyone else.


The remnants of the old tree outside the front of the house that came down years ago. Where Dad took our pictures on every first day of school, in our new outfits. Where I fell and broke my nose, saying, “Now I’ll never be a teen model!” and laughing as blood gushed onto the pavement.


The backyard, where we would play with our beagle, Jake. Where Dad and I practiced soccer and softball. Where our next door neighbor, Bernie, grew tomatoes and cucumbers that he gave to us.


Where our cat, Muffy, climbed the neighbor’s tree.


Where lilacs bloomed near the back stoop around my birthday every year. Their scent and the sun shining through the leaves were always the best birthday gifts of all.


The front hallway again. Where Sean invited me to an AA meeting, where he would be recognized for two years of sobriety.

This is where we kissed, hugged, cried, and loved.

For forty years.


Now the remainder of it all lay in boxes and in the musty air of the back basement, where Dad, Paul and Sean worked on wooden projects and model airplanes together.

Dad has been left with a lot of things to sift through, and it’s a burden that he acts like isn’t one. It’s the same burden he experienced after trying to wean down the stuff after his parents died. He has gotten rid of most of the things that don’t matter. But trying to get rid of things with so much sentimental value is hard. There are so many special memories.


He jokes that he is the “collector of junk,” but I believe he is the collector of things more valuable than anything.

He is the collector of history, of memories, of love.



Family Me

One Year Sober

(I can’t believe I am) 1 year sober.

I hope I don’t alarm or disappoint anyone with this announcement:

I have come to the end of my sobriety journey, at least for now. I’ve decided that I’m going to give moderation a real shot before giving up alcohol forever.

I know I needed this year away from alcohol. It taught me a lot. I’m so thankful for the lessons I’ve learned along the way. Some of these lessons include that I am stronger than I thought I was, I don’t NEED to drink, and I shouldn’t drink to numb my feelings. And most importantly: It’s OKAY to HAVE feelings, including negative ones. That means you’re human.

I’ve discussed this decision with my therapist several times and she is supportive and believes I’ve put a lot of thought into pursuing moderation. Initially she suggested that I attend AA meetings, but I’ve been to some of those meetings and I don’t think I have a problem on the same level that others have a problem. Alcohol has never brought me close to ruining my life or relationships. I think AA is awesome and changes lives. But if I went to AA, I would have felt like a hypocrite attending meetings without the desire to give up alcohol forever. My husband is also supportive of my decision, and will be keeping a close watch on me.

Mentally, I am in a much better place than I was a year ago. Drinking was becoming a problem last year mostly because I was reeling from having my heart broken. Some of you may remember that I had a huge falling out with a family member who stopped speaking to me.

I sent him a letter several months ago, which I am told he read and gave some thought to. He feels bad about the way things happened as well. He has been struggling with his own problems and has apparently been incredibly stressed. I feel for him. I love him. However, he has not made the effort to reconnect yet. The ball is in his court now, and I leave the decision up to him. I told him in the letter that I would love him no matter what.

I don’t say all of this to splatter family drama all over my blog and social media. I share this with you because family members not speaking to each other is common (especially in families that struggle with mental illness) and it’s incredibly heartbreaking. I share this with you because maybe you can relate. I don’t share this to paint my family member as a bad person. He is a wonderful person. He is struggling and may need time to himself. Maybe he doesn’t know how to approach reconciliation. I don’t know. I am trying to have as much compassion as possible when it comes to this person.

I am still heartbroken over this situation, but time heals all wounds and I feel stronger. I know I have said what I needed to say. Now, the waiting.

There is another situation in my life I’ve been struggling with that I can’t tell you about (at least for now). I’ve been talking about it in therapy and it has been really, REALLY hard. Talking about it has been both triggering and healing for me. In the past, I drank to numb my feelings surrounding this as well. This year, I feel less depressed and conflicted about this situation since I’ve been talking about it in therapy and with close friends. I know that drinking heavily won’t make the haunting memories from this experience go away. It will only make me feel worse.

I also think I am FINALLY in a good place in regards to my medication. I recently rid myself of Latuda, which was giving me awful anxiety. I am now taking Zyprexa and weaning off of Seroquel. The Zyprexa is like Seroquel, but not nearly as sedating. So I still have energy and motivation while experiencing much less anxiety. Weaning off of Seroquel has made me somewhat depressed, but I think this will pass.

Now I begin my moderation journey. I have several motivating factors, which I’ve discussed with my therapist and husband. They are:

1. I ‘m currently on two different medications that one should not drink heavily on while taking: Accutane and Zyprexa.

2. I’ve decided that I am DONE with hangovers FOR LIFE. I don’t miss feeling sick and depressed the day after drinking and spending the entire day recovering.

3. I’ve worked hard to lose about 30 lbs. over the course of the last year. I recognize that it tends to be my pattern to fluctuate in regards to my weight (perhaps mimicking bipolar cycles). I am done with this as well. I am comfortable and happy with my body now. I feel happy, healthy, and strong.

4. I no longer want to question whether or not I’m “good” to drive home.

5. I don’t want to give up drinking forever! Not because it makes me feel better (I know that feeling is temporary), but because I like trying new craft beers with friends, having a glass of wine with dinner, and having a fruity cocktail while relaxing on vacation.

I hope this is the right decision for me. If not, I will give up drinking forever.

I think I’m doing well so far, because I passed my anniversary date without “celebrating” by immediately drinking. Even though I was with friends this Saturday and Sunday who were trying different beers and cocktails, I didn’t partake. I didn’t NEED to.

I would like to thank my husband, my family, my friends, and my sweet fur baby Sandy for being so supportive of me during my sobriety journey. I couldn’t have made it through this year without all of you cheering me on. Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU. I love you.

Cheers (while holding up my hot chocolate),



My Accutane Journey: Month 1

Month 1 of Accutane: DONE. Here’s my monthly mugshot!


So because this medication doesn’t work like instamagic, you might not notice much of a difference in my Month 1 photo. You may in fact notice that my face is redder than usual and that I’m experiencing a breakout. This is supposedly normal when you’re starting Accutane as you’re switching up your cleaning routine and as the medication is starting to dry out your face and take effect.

As for the side effects that come with Accutane, they haven’t been bad AT ALL. The “worst” thing has been that my lips are super chapped. Aquaphor has really helped with this. I have been applying Cerave cream to my entire body most mornings, but right now it seems that I don’t have to do it EVERY DAY to avoid dryness and itchiness. I’m sure that, once winter arrives, I’ll have to make it a daily thing. I’ve also noticed a little dandruff in my hair, but it isn’t terrible. My doc recommends using Head and Shoulders every other day to help with this. My face also becomes irritated when I wash it. This is perfectly normal and I’ve switched to using Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser.

Yet another side effect is that I am somewhat constipated. Not because nothing is there, but because Accutane dries you out pretty much everywhere, it affects the lubrication factor. I mentioned this to my doc and she honestly seemed impressed that I told her this with a completely straight face and without a hint of embarrassment. Sorry if this is TMI, but I am not embarrassed by medical information like this. Stool softener has helped with this unexpected side effect.

Thankfully, I have not been experiencing more depression or suicidal thoughts, which can be also side effects of Accutane. Thank God. I don’t need any more of that.

Another thing I’ve noticed is that my face doesn’t get oily midday. I always have some shine going on only a few hours after I’ve put on makeup. I am so self-conscious of this and have asked my husband to photoshop the resulting glare out in pictures of me. It makes me feel gross. And because I tend to produce more oil naturally, I find it necessary to shower every day. And if I shower the night before, I usually feel gross as soon as the next morning. So again, Accutane seems to be helping with this, because it essentially shrinks your oil glands. I’ve also been sweating less!

The best part about Accutane? It (in generic form) is SO CHEAP. One of my main concerns when I started this journey was, “OMG this is a SERIOUS drug, it’s going to be SO EXPENSIVE.” And I only eventually agreed to try it because I was out of options and figured I’d be spending MORE on skin care and cosmetics over my lifetime than during this six month “investment.”

And how much is my monthly prescription?

20. Fucking. Dollars.

This is about a third to a fifth of what I spend each month on cosmetics alone, never mind skin care.

So only about 5 more months to go. Yayyyy!!!! I’m looking forward to having clearer skin and not spending so much on cosmetics and skin care products.

11 Months Sober*

11 months sober*

This past month, I did something I haven’t done since I was a kid: I didn’t get drunk at a wedding. A special shout out to my sister-in-law Bailey, my mother-in-law Kaylyn, and my husband Greg for ensuring that there were non-alcoholic beverages I enjoy available for me behind the bar. This was very thoughtful of them and completely unnecessary. It meant A LOT. Normal people don’t have this kind of consideration. Your kindness is extraordinary. Thank you, thank you, thank you.


A photo from the wedding. I am second from the right.

Honestly, not drinking at the wedding was really hard. I had a lot of fun, but I honestly would have rather been drunk like most everyone else (the reception was open bar). It’s especially hard being around other people who are drinking and having a great time. I feel very jealous of them.

In addition, something happened after the wedding that made me wish I had gotten drunk. I can’t get into details.

The following week was the closest I came to drinking again. One day I had a particularly bad day and watched the movie “The Fighter” to keep myself from drinking. For those who aren’t familiar, “The Fighter” is about two brothers who are boxers. One of them, played by Christian Bale, struggles with crack addiction. Bale’s character is forced into sobriety when he serves a prison term. When he’s released from prison, he visits his crackhead buddies. Just when you think he’s going to use crack again, he essentially tells them to fuck off. View the scene here. (Random fact: this scene was filmed right down the street from our house in Lowell). This scene is so powerful and inspiring to me.

I had a couple of “oops” moments this past month. They shouldn’t count against my sobriety, but for some reason I feel like I have to put an asterisk next to my 11 months, just like Roger Maris’ home run record.

1. Prior to the wedding, a bunch of us went to a Mexican restaurant. Bailey informed me that the bar had non-alcoholic margaritas (they dispensed them from a margarita machine and added the booze after). The choices were mango and strawberry. Someone at the table had a mango margarita, and without even thinking, I asked to try it because I couldn’t decide between mango and strawberry. The person who offered it up is not as familiar with my sobriety journey, so she didn’t stop me. I took one sip and immediately realized what I did. My husband came over at that moment and I said to him, “Oh my God why did I do that? I’m so stupid!!!” I ran to the bathroom to try to spit out what I imbibed. Then I went to the bar to get a cup of water to rinse out my mouth. Luckily I’m not a fan of tequila. Otherwise this could have easily tempted me to order a drink.

2. A few days ago, I went to a chocolate shop in Burlington, VT, and opted to try a cherry cordial along with a few other chocolates. I understand it’s common knowledge that cherry cordials contain alcohol, however I’ve only had non-alcoholic cordials and would assume that I’d be carded for purchasing alcoholic cordials. I took one bite and immediately spit the chocolate into a napkin. Then I asked for a glass of water to get the taste out of my mouth. I went over to the label behind the glass to see if the cordials were even labeled as containing alcohol. The “contains alcohol” warning was teeny-tiny and almost blended in with the background of the description card. Again, I felt so stupid.

Everyone is telling me that these instances shouldn’t count against my sobriety, but I can’t help but feel that my sobriety is tainted now.

On the psychiatric front, I’m adjusting my medication again. I was experiencing a lot of anxiety in the evenings for no particular reason. It even happened on the weekends, when I wasn’t working and didn’t have anything to do. It even occurred while I was on vacation this month.

I’ve struggled with this evening anxiety ever since I started taking Latuda. It has gotten to the point where I don’t want to interact with people in the evenings. I force myself to attend social gatherings, but feel very embarrassed about my anxiety. Greg has noticed that I’ve been on edge and continually asks me if I’m okay. I say yes, even though I’m not. There’s nothing he can really do, so I don’t complain about it.

Another side effect of Latuda is akathesia, or the inability to sit still. I’ve been walking for almost 2 hours each evening to stave off this side effect (and because I like to walk). My vacation messed with my normal regimen and I felt the inability to sit still a few times. To the point where I found myself interrupting time with Greg’s family to walk in 100 degree weather and in circles around my in-laws’ basement. This inability to sit still isn’t TERRIBLE, but it’s very, very uncomfortable. I HATE it.

I’ve been going back and forth with my Nurse Practitioner over medication for almost a year now. It’s frustrating, and I’m starting to wonder if she’s right for me. She keeps pushing increasing Latuda when I have repeatedly told her about the awful side effects I’m not willing to take on, like trembling, akathesia, and anxiety. I feel like she’s not listening to me. It makes me wonder if she’s getting kickbacks for prescribing it.

When I last saw her, I asked her about a prescription for medical marijuana to ease my anxiety in the evenings. She didn’t recommend it and thought it would sedate me more than Seroquel did. I wouldn’t normally ask about marijuana, but I was honestly getting kind of desperate.

Due to my insistence that Latuda isn’t right for me (I gave it a fair shot), she is now starting me on Zyprexa. It’s similar to Seroquel, but isn’t as sedating. I am lowering the Latuda dosage and will be rid of it in a week. Within just one week of taking Zyprexa and lowering Latuda, I feel much less anxious in the evenings. Last night, Greg was surprised about my lack of anxiety. It’s reassuring that he is noticing a difference too. I hope this will be the last medication I have to try.

Well, I’m almost a year sober. Yay!!! Just one more month. Thanks to everyone for your support and love.

Happy 100th Birthday, National Park Service!

A special Throwback Thursday post in honor of the National Park Service’s 100th birthday! I will never forget visiting the Muir Woods National Monument outside of San Francisco. The first photo shows me looking up, up, up at the 200 foot tall redwood trees. The second photo shows me at the base of one of the trees. About 98 percent of the area where the trees flourished was logged in the 1800s. The only reason this particular area remained untouched was because it was so incredibly hard to 1. get to (and boy was it a scary ride to get down there!) and 2. transport wood out of. I looked up at those beautiful trees, which are also fire resistant, and thanked God this small area remained untouched and preserved. It is truly miraculous. This was one of the most beautiful experiences of my life.

A Lot of Soul With a Little Baggage