You Should Be Here

I believe in struggling.

It taught me loyalty, beauty,

and that the world owes me nothing.

It taught me I can be as lighthearted as I want and that age doesn’t matter.

I believe that God does give his toughest battles to his strongest soldiers

And that I was lucky enough to be chosen.

I’ve been expected to be brave, invincible, and fearless.

And I’ve lived the words

What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

I’ve also seen things and felt a pain that some will never feel in their entire lives

before I was old enough to drive a car.

I have to be strong for a greater purpose because

I feel like my duty is far beyond me.

It’s beyond saving my family. It’s for the world.

Because somebody needs to hear this.

To those who’ve struggled with addiction and never found your way out.

To my dad who didn’t get to experience every inch of my love

because of a disease that made emotion numb.

You should be here.

I recreated this from Kehlani’s, “You Should Be Here” song intro. It was just so beautiful and it came on the other day while I was showering and it brought me to tears. It’s an anthem to all that I am supposed to be and sometimes just as many of us experience, I know I get distracted. I get pulled away from my purpose. But it’s always been there and it’s not going away.

 

It’s so important for us to surround ourselves with people who support us and our dreams. To allow yourself enough alone time and to stay away from people who make you feel any less magical than you are. Toxic influences can lead to incomplete dreams and the only person you’ll have to blame is yourself.

Two months before my dad died someone looked me in my eyes and said, “You think your life is so hard. You feel bad for yourself.” I knew it wasn’t true because since my teenage years I hadn’t felt that way. As untrue as it is, I have to share my experiences because I hope someone out there will read this memoir of pieces about my dad and me and feel a little better.

Maybe I can help a 13-year-old who just found out her dad has relapsed to not feel alone or selfish or helpless. Maybe I can help a parent who is ashamed of their addiction have hope that they can still give their child the best chance at a future. 

I’m not the first one to face struggles, and my pain is not to be compared to anyone else’s. But it’d be a shame to not be proud and shine through. If you’ve been through a struggle that cut you deep, that made you realize that something you thought you couldn’t live without is now gone, or if you’ve been tested to your limits with pain and defeat, don’t be afraid to let it give you a smile now.

There’s beauty in struggle, and we need to utilize it for good. Yeah, we’re a little messed up, on edge, defensive, and extremely loyal, and a little scattered, but we’re not afraid of anything that comes our way.  We’re the strongest soldiers and ready for the toughest battles.

Everything I do is with love and intention that my dad gave my life. Without my dad, I might’ve not known as much struggle but I would’ve never known how grateful I should be to live another day and how beautiful genuine people are.

So if you believe you’re a soldier and can make this life the greatest it can be, you should be here.

The power of breathing

Sometimes when I think about my dad on his last day I almost feel that feeling. That one that people usually feel when you lose someone. Like that the world is ending and that you’ll never recover and that you don’t have any internal organs just shattered fragments of your heart infiltrating your body.

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Today I was working on something and I noticed my breathing. I was breathing through my nose and became ultra aware of my chest rising and falling. It brought me back to the hospital. Before I saw my dad, I was told that he was brain dead and if it weren’t for the breathing machine, his organs would shut down completely.

It made sense to me. It made sense that because of westernized medicine some people would find it normal to keep their loved ones breathing just so they could feel their presence for as much time as possible. But it didn’t make sense to use that as an excuse for the cold truth that my dad was no longer ever going to say I love you again.

The doctor was so strong as she looked at me in the eyes and told me my dads brain was no longer functioning.

When I saw my dad I watched as his chest rose and fell. I heard the sound of the breath. Sometimes I take deep breaths to get through times that make me feel weak and vulnerable and nervous and it just hits me that my dad will never get another breath and that he isn’t there to call to substitute my meditation practice.

If I ever had a tough day where I thought the world was unfair, that people didn’t understand me, I’d call him and he’d just make all my worries disappear because he loved me, he believed in me, and he knew exactly what to say to make me feel like I could conquer the world.

I think a lot of people are surprised at how well I’ve handled the passing of my dad. I guess you could say I’m back to “normal” but when I have these moments like the thought of my dad in the ICU I feel my brain physically moving the feeling of pain out of me. I wouldn’t say I’m in shock but in order for me to go on with my life and do what I’m meant to do in this world, I can’t let the shattering infiltrate me completely. I have a mission in this world. Hope for addiction will be spread through the story of my dad and me.

I get the feeling that once the pain infiltrates my body I will be nothing. I will lose my health. My organs will literally shut down. I will begin the process of death. My dad was truly my everything. My world will end when my mission is over.

For now, I’m here and as I am crying at the thought I just experienced I am slowly starting to snap back into pilot mode.

“Work hard, stay on track. Your dad is dead. You’re okay,” is what my mind is saying. My tears are drying and I am ready to get back to work.

Love is confusing because we don’t know whether to define it as a weakness or a strength. Well, I’d say it’s both. It’s what’s keeping me going but I think it’ll be what kills me too.

The important part is that I remember to breathe. Even if sometimes it brings me back to the most painful moments – just keep breathing. The simplicity of breathing seems a fleeting thought but the power it holds is tremendous. I guess when you see someone taking their last one it reminds you of it’s power.

 

A New Look at Addiction to Consider

Maybe we’re looking at addiction wrong. Would it be insulting or hurtful to the addict if I said I am anticipating their relapse? Maybe not anticipating but maybe I’m sort of expecting it, but not in the way that I am wishing bad things or not believing in the person to fight the battle full force.

Steve Olbinsky Sobriety

In the last months of my dad’s life, I no longer felt a pit in my stomach that my dad was using drugs. I anticipated he was. The scariest part of his addiction wasn’t the drug use anymore, it was his desire to die. He was using drugs not to get high but to feel like he could hold on for just one more day. Physically he was down to almost 100 pounds, and mentally he couldn’t stand himself. I recorded our last conversation we had where he painfully told me his desire to close his eyes while weeping for my forgiveness. He said, “I tried to like lay down and I started to stop taking all the pills and everything.”

I anticipated that my dad would use drugs again but is that really even the issue? Because an addiction is the disease but is the drug use even the day to day issue? We’re all living to find a reason to continue living. With this disease, living becomes a dependency to a substance. So to fight that dependency it takes giving up something that you depend on and that takes a kind of power that we shouldn’t put so much pressure on to achieve unless we’ve been in those shoes before. Why can’t you just stay sober? It’s only like holding your breath from the moment you wake up till the moment you fall asleep. And good luck catching your breath and have a pleasant dream at the same time.

I had 5 years to decide how I was going to handle my dad’s release from prison and his freedom to make good or bad choices with the tough task of re-entering society. We wrote to each other every week just about and we talked about the things we wanted to do and the way we loved each other so full we could take over the world if we wanted to. In a way, I think that’s why it didn’t work out. Our love was way too powerful.

While he was in prison I wrote this blog post, why I won’t be upset if my dad relapses. It was my eternalized emancipation to his addiction. I wrote about the realities. A drug addiction shouldn’t ruin a bond like the one my dad and I had. I knew I couldn’t enable him. I wrote about the emotions. I understood I’d feel a bit heartbroken inside if he were to relapse. But most importantly I wrote what I would hold on as a truth. I would never let his addiction measure how much he loves me and the chapter doesn’t end until the day that I give up. And here I am continuing to write about my dad even after his passing.

I loved and love my dad more than anything in this world. I don’t even fear death anymore. That’s how our strong our bond was. He fulfilled my life and he gave me my riches- his love, his advice, his heart. I hold onto his letters, photos, and notes like treasured artifacts.

Despite this crazy love, I can confidently tell you that I anticipated his relapse. And to be honest, it made my life so much easier- and maybe his too. It wasn’t something I ever said to him. It should really go as an unspoken truism if you choose to adopt. I no longer had the ups and downs and celebrations with every day that passed that he wasn’t using. I also didn’t have the disappointments either.

When my dad and I went to Bruno Mars, he was excitedly choosing which outfit he should wear for his big night. He had on one shirt but when he decided he wanted to wear something Bruins related, he threw on another over. His frail body looked as though the shirt was weighing him down, but he was so excited to be back in TD Garden it didn’t seem to bother him much. He went over to his pills and he said, “Leanna should I take my pills?” I didn’t know what to say. My heart was beating fast and I had to take a big deep breath. He was looking at me so deeply and so desperately and yet I didn’t know the answer he wanted to hear. I really think he wanted to hear that if he didn’t take the pills everything would be okay and he wouldn’t be in pain but we both knew that wasn’t true. I calmly, with a choke in my throat, said, “Daddy, take what you need so that you’re comfortable at the concert.” It was such a scary feeling to know that if he didn’t take those pills he could’ve been in agonizing pain. He could’ve had a heart attack or a breakdown.

The day after the concert, he was so happy. The happiest I had heard him since he lost his license and totaled his car. He was singing, celebrating, and appreciating how beautiful life can be. He said, “This is what life is about, Leanna.” About 2 days later, I tried calling and didn’t get an answer. I knew that he was using again because if he wasn’t I would’ve had a text back instantly. Regardless, I continued to text him, “I love you, daddy!” I didn’t feel an ounce of regret, anger, or disappointment. I just wanted my dad to be okay, and I was waiting for his next call.

I was my dad’s reason for living. I gave his life as much meaning as I could. I would’ve given him my life. I would’ve traded my beautiful apartment, all my possessions, all my confidence and learned skills to let help him understand how much he meant to me. I tried articulating it in every way possible. The last letter I sent him I said if I could have the richest, smartest, dad that was a Doctor I wouldn’t trade him for you for even one second.

So what if we all stop putting so much pressure on sobriety as the solution? Could it potentially give loved ones more sleep at night? And more importantly, can it help an addict to feel like it’s as rare as it really is to not relapse? I just think it’s crazy that we ask so much. We think our love is enough to make a person want to be sober. Sobriety is desired by all addicts who’ve seen the pain they’ve caused. Your love is not a measurement of sobriety. Your support is, however, a measurement of love. But maybe we redefine support. Maybe we can accept that helping our loved one find meaning is more of the mission rather than helping an addict be sober. 

In the hospital when my dad was pronounced brain dead, my grandpa with tears streaming down his face said, Leanna. You saw dad different. I never thought he would die, I thought every time he was sober it’d be the last time and he would stay. But you accepted him and loved him for who he was.

Here is another glimpse of the last call my dad and I had. One day you’ll hear the pain and see my reaction as I accepted this nightmare but until I’m ready, read our words and please understand that addiction is more than using drugs. It takes away your life and puts you in a prison of depression.

Steve Olbinsky Last Phone Call

[Dad] I’m just so tired. I’m so… They took my f***ing license. Without a license, I’m like a fish out of water. I have no way of even attempting to even get a job. I don’t know how I’m going to get anything with the way my arm is. I’m… I don’t want to do drugs. I don’t want to have relapses anymore. I don’t want to have nothing anymore. I just like. I was really sick in bed for days. I couldn’t get out. I couldn’t do anything. I just like…

[Leanna] It’s okay daddy I’m here for you

[Dad] if it wasn’t for you I wouldn’t even want to live. I can’t do that to you. I just can’t leave you. That’s the only thing that’s stopping me from… from just … it’d be so nice to just go to sleep and not worry about nothing anymore. Not have any more problems. Not have any more letdowns. Not have any more you know?

How to Become The Richest Person Alive

I am rich, lucky, loved, connected, grounded, and alive.
All the love and the gifts and the money in the world couldn’t get me to the state I’m in.
I purged my room of anything that didn’t have a meaning to me.
I keep my dad’s letters on my bed along with our photo album.
Those are my riches.
I write in my journal every day.
The ability to write and express myself is my luck.
I write letters to my loved ones weekly.
I feel more connected than ever.
I’m experiencing relationships that challenge my trust and
relationships that make me feel unworthy of their love.
That’s what keeps me grounded.
I have a story to tell the world and that is what makes me feel alive.
It’s not just my story, it’s my families, my dads.
That’s what makes losing my father feel like he is eternal with me.

-Leanna Olbinsky

Becoming rich

If you haven’t watched the movie I made for my dad, it’s a reflection on his life and a dedication to the people who struggle with addiction and their families. My dad passed away while battling addiction in Massachusetts for over 25 years. Regardless of his struggles, he was the greatest father in the world.

It made me the richest person in the world. I could lose all my money, my home, my things and I would still feel full-hearted. If the feeling of losing all the things around you is what makes you feel rich, you’re being condemned by society.

Watch Emily Esfahani Smith explain the four pillars of meaning and find an insightful glimpse into why we struggle with happiness and have ups and downs of disappointment in our life.

You can be as rich as I am.

First, you just have to find out what you’re holding on to. If its possessions I suggest watching the Minimalism Documentary. Clearing the clutter in your physical surroundings makes you focus on your internal clutter – the thoughts and problems that you’ve been voiding with things.

Richest person alive

Once you let go of the things that fill the void, start writing. No structure, not on social media. Just get yourself a $5 journal and a pen and write. You can find things to start with here.

Your hand might get tired and you might run out of time, just don’t forget to come back to it. As Emily Smith explains, writing your trauma helps people recover better because they understand their story.

Next read your story a week or so later. What narrative are you taking on? The hero or the victim? Rework your story until you’ve perfected a narrative that you’d be proud to tell others on your happiest day.

There are lots more ways to continue this journey of becoming the richest person in the world and I’m not an expert at all, but having a network of someone who you can trust is really important and if you need someone to talk to, to help in the rising of hope, I am always here. You can contact me here on my Rising Hope website. 

I hope you become as rich as I am and we can share our riches together.

 

 

Love in a Time of Heroin — carolineshonesty

This story is written by a woman named Caroline about her relationship with her husband who she found out was addicted to pain killers and eventually heroin. It’s quite beautiful and portrays the truth about drug addicts. They’re good people. They are amazing dads, sons, daughters, mothers who are caught in a terrible disease and sometimes can’t escape. I’m not sure if Caroline will see this message but I’d thought I’d share.

———-

This story is beautifully written and shows the truth about loving someone with addiction. As you said, “You can’t just simply walk away from the person you love the most.” and that is absolutely true. You can’t. Love is way stronger than an addiction and we as strong women see past the disease and know that deep down our loved ones are fighting the hardest battle of their lives. You know that Jacob would never want to put you or your son in jeopardy but heroin has a greater control over action than what’s right. Thank you for sharing this. I write about my relationship with my dad. I’m very lucky he hasn’t lost his life to addiction but everyday I think I’m going to get the phone call. He is my best friend and I would never ever disown him for the disease he has to bare. He is the most loving father and has taught me how to be a strong, independent and caring woman.

A lot of things you talked about are similar to my dad. My dad was working in the hospital and got caught with drugs. Soon enough I’d find spoons and needles. I was only 13. It was the most frightening feeling to think you were losing someone that was right in front of you.

Caroline, thank you. Thank you for writing this and for sending the right message- that heroin addicts are not junkies, they’re not bad people. They are amazing fathers, daughters, mothers, sons, with a really bad disease.

 

I submitted this essay to the New York Times column, “Modern Love” with the hope that I could reach a whole new audience with a very important message. Although they did not find the essay right for their needs, I still want to share it. I was positive I had met the man I would […]

via Love in a Time of Heroin — carolineshonesty

The Eyes of Honesty: Saying Sorry For Addiction

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Last year I wrote a blog post about my dads eyes when he was high and how the eyes never did seem to lie to me, even when he did. Now I want to share the truth that my dad give to me and still continues to give to me. Let me take you back to a time I remember vividly from when I was 16 and first opening up to my dad about my feelings.

My dad was never afraid to say sorry when he was sober and I think that is what made my heart grow two sizes when I was going through all of this. I knew he was in agony emotionally. How can you not be? Your life is crumbling below your feet and you want to hold on but you can’t and in your mind that’s your own fault and you begin to eternalize that. So to be able to let the words, “sorry,” come out while looking into my eyes is bringing all those emotions to life. That is ownership. My dad was taking ownership in what he thought was the shattering of my life. Truthfully, it didn’t ruin my life, it gave my life meaning. Especially on this day.

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My dad came into my room, my sanctuary that kept me protected from the life I had outside of those pink walls,  and sat on my bed next to me. He held my hands in his and shaking he looked up into my eyes.

“I’m so sorry” he spoke with what I can imagine felt like a spiked rock in his throat.

I can’t find the words to describe the way he looked at me. But it was something like a life or death thing. Like if he could run around the whole planet to show how sorry he was, he would’ve. It was as if every bad thing he had ever done, had been put into his words and he was trying to get rid of all of them with his eyes. What I guess I’m trying to say is it was the most sincere sorry I’ll ever hear in my life. And it puts the phrase, “Apologies don’t mean anything if you keep doing what you’re sorry for” to shame. Because that apology meant everything to me.

It wasn’t about if he would relapse again because I knew it wasn’t an empty promise at all. It was a sorry from the heart begging to be set free but knowing it wasn’t that simple.

When my dad said this to me, I began tearing up. I could tell he was choking up and the thought of my dad, the toughest Russian I know, crying made me crumble inside.

I’m not sure what I said right then but I’m sure it was along the lines of what I still say to this day. I love you, you’re my best friend and nothing will ever change that.

One of my favorite things about my dad is the interest he takes in my life to the minuscule detail. It never has bothered me because I find it really cute that a tough burly man loves the dainty details of a teenage girl. When I had my first boyfriend, he’d not only ask if I was treated well. He’d ask what we talk about, how happy I am and what makes me smile most. Once when I went on vacation and came back he was like Leanna did he give you a kiss when you came back? He better have missed you! I was like, dad! NO! But he was like C’mon, Leanna. And I bashfully said yes. It was embarrassing but it was sweet that he asked.

As my dad and I were sitting on the bed, I told him I kept a journal and wrote about my feelings when he was high. He asked to read them. My heart sank as I walked over to my Windows XP, and opened my Xanga account (what would be today’s Tumblr). It was my private account that I kept my day to day musings of a 13 year old living with the stress of other kids being mean, liking boys, worrying about being liked, and dealing with addiction.

There were posts about real suicidal thoughts in there and I mustered up the courage to talk about them to the man that created me. If you’re curious exactly what they said, I wrote a post about them a bit here.

I read them and it was no longer a spiked rock in our throats it was full on sobs. We cried together and absorbed our pain and in all that pain we found strength. We grew together even more than before.

After we both found tranquility in our comfort, my dad asked me, “Leanna, please print these out for me? I want to have them.”

I printed them out and my dad came to me a few days later. He read them at his Alanon meeting and told me the whole room went silent, “So silent you could hear a pin drop”. He said he could feel the way the words resonated with the group. My truths, my deepest feelings that I wrote for myself, were used in resonation and that is when I decided that I’d use my words and my feelings and my dads love to heal the world.

On a sober mind, my dad is honest, gentle, and caring. He is the most sincere man I know. My dad gave me the truth of my meaning that day. That we were put into this situation to help others with genuine honesty.

Yesterday my dad texted me “Sometimes I wonder what if but than I would not have the most perfect daughter in the whole wide world. I love you my BabySo.”

It hasn’t been an easy few months for my dad and I, but there isn’t a day that I give up hope. I don’t rely on change, but I cheer him on. I’ll always hold on to his sorry and sobriety. Because I know it’s still in his heart, fighting to come out.

 

The Blessing of Life: Being Born Sick

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After I watched the very emotional clip of the Jimmy Kimmel Show about his son’s heart condition I realized the necessity to reflect on the blessing of my life more often. If you haven’t watched it please do. As I listened to him explain how his son was born completely fine and suddenly was surrounded by nurses and doctors only to find out there was a hole in his heart, it completely made me feel a sense of gratitude for being human. It’s not something we take for granted necessarily, but rather something we don’t really assess until something bad happens. We as humans have to have so much for us working in order for us to be healthy. There are so many things that could go wrong and so many parts of our bodies that we can’t even comprehend and somehow they all come together and make us a human.

As I took a moment to appreciate every single part of my being I thought it’d be an important time to share that with you all. I’m not trying to make a statement that we should always be conscious of our being because life truly is busy but instead, I’d like to invite you to in this moment think of how crazy it is that we are living, breathing, and sustaining life. We get stressed out, have anxiety, and have all gotten our feelings hurt before. We can teach ourselves to turn off that social part of our brain when we need to that tells us to respond to the pressures of society such as fitting in, having a good job, or making a lot of money. Instead, we train ourselves to remember that we are human. We are living. And we are lucky for just that. There are so many things happening inside of our body to make that happen and for us to not at least once remember that in good health is a devastatingly tragic regret we may have if one day our health does fail us.

When I was born, I had a tumor attached to my aorta. At under 4 lbs, I was sent to Boston Children’s Hospital all the way from Oregon. With a touch of two fingers on my tiny stomach, Dr. Murray Feingold immediately knew what was wrong and called for immediate surgery. With the tumor so close to a major artery it was never fully taken out but at nearly 25 years old, I am a very happy, healthy, and very very lucky patient. It’s nothing to be sorry about, I was quite too young to remember, of course. I can’t imagine what my parents were going through. I imagine it was toughest for them.

IMG_9197.JPGI have a scar that runs across my whole stomach and one year that never fully developed. I’m so lucky to look in the mirror and be reminded that I have a functioning body and that it needs to be appreciated. After watching this video, it was an extra reminder. Every Christmas I spend my day at Boston Children’s Hospital because as an important holiday for family, I want to be a spirit among those that have to spend that day in a place that reminds me that we aren’t all so lucky to be safe at home with our loved ones knowing they are healthy.

I have recently been thinking of how we never grew up learning much about our health. And our body. And the importance of being a human and how that works. Before we learn to tell time and understand that we run on a 24 hour day, shouldn’t we know what happens in our bodies in each second of every minute? It’s quite a lot, starting with a heartbeat. Isn’t important that from the day we are beginning our education we understand how precious each breath is?

As I digress I want to come back and just feel so aware that I don’t want to take my health for granted. Sometimes a job or a life situation makes us forget that our health determines every single other part of our life. Even if you hate your legs or don’t like the hair you were born with, at least have the self-love that you’re breathing and reading this, and sometimes that’s enough to be thankful for.

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In the amazing words of Jimmy Kimmel, “no parent should ever have to decide if they can afford to save their child’s life.” I’m not quite sure how my parents were ever able to fly me out across the coast and get me to see the best doctor in the country without any money at all, really. I guess that’s a testament to their ceaseless, relentless love for me. I’m ending my night feeling covered in love and very thankful for my body.

Please email me on my website if you feel worried about your health or someone else’s or if you just want to talk. I’d love to hear your story.