Painting My Roses Red – Navigating Recovery by Jeff Campbell

Painting My Roses Red – Navigating Recovery


What time is it?
11:32. Christ. What the hell am I doing in bed on a Thursday at 11:32?
33. My bad.

At least I’m dressed, my teeth are brushed, my meds are taken. Julia working from home downstairs—either the clickity of her laptop or the pacing on hard wood floors while she talks on the phone. Makes me feel trapped in this house. It’s nice outside. Real nice. I wish it were shitty. At least then I’d have some excuse for my lethargy. I can’t tell if I’m in a rut or I’m just very. Fucking. Lazy.

A few toys scattered about downstairs; looks like a department store at 9pm. Francesca’s “babies” are lined up along the coffee table, ready for school. A sock here, My Little Pony there. Balloons and shoes. All in all, not too much to pick up. Floors are fine, bathrooms… laundry. I can do laundry.

Groggy. Always groggy. Part bored, part feeling down. Seems I always have habits I either need to break or start—when I can get around to it. Maybe tomorrow, after my 8:30am nap. For now, it’s straight to the coffee maker. Again. Caffeine does not pick me up. Know how irritating that is to a middle age burnout like me? I keep thinking that, the more I drink, the better I will feel.

Sound familiar? It’s been years since I’ve had the pleasure of being hungover. It took fifteen years to end my love/hate relationship with wine. I guess I got tired of hoping that life was better on the inside of the glass. Drinking is like sleeping with the wrong girl. Passion and pleasure at night, let down and ashamed in the morning. I remember one morning after a night of partying, when Julia and I were just dating, telling her how violent the morning was in all its quiet and freshness. I was still drunk so I chalked it up to irrelevant bullshit to impress a girl. That was almost twenty years ago. It wasn’t until I quit drinking fifteen years later that I fully understood that my showing off meant something very important. Daylight came crashing down on me.  And it was too honest. I was not.

Last year my therapist insisted I attend three 12-step meetings. Actually she told me to go to one. It took me three times to get through it. I knew how she worked. She was making a point and it had nothing to do with sobriety. Hell, I had already been two years drink free. Ok, I told her, I’ll bite just to see where this is going.

Three minutes. I lasted three minutes. One group chorus of “Hi, Bob”, and I split. Fuck this. I’m not going back.

“Go back,” she said sternly. “Stay the whole time.”


I go back. This time, I write down my thoughts while everyone tells their sad, pathetic stories. Vicious, critical stuff scribbled in my notebook. When it was my turn to introduce myself I could have said, “Your serenity prayer sucks.” I knew I was being an asshole and I didn’t care. But I kept my offensive, bitter mouth shut and politely passed. Fortunately, you can do that at a meeting.

Pass. Done. Out.

“Go back and this time: talk.” Damn her. What was I supposed to do? So I go back, again.

After a full round of joyful, “Hi, Bob” introductions and the ring of, “I’m an alcoholic” hovering in the air, it’s my, “Hi, Bob” moment. “I’m Jeff.” “Hi, Jeff”… Christ that annoys me. I don’t recall everything I said, but I did congratulate them on their sobriety and explained that I was sober for two years. I suppose by the third visit I had lightened up a bit. Nobody tried to convince me that I’m an alcoholic. Nobody tried to convert me to their 12-step program. They were just real people with real life problems. They sure swear and smoke a lot, which amused me. You know, these people are ok. But I did stay a bit to see if anyone would try to talk to me and prove me wrong. I was simply uncomfortable there and was more than happy to leave after a few minutes.

“So why did I have you go?”

“I know exactly why you had me go.”


“To show me how judgmental I am.”


“To understand why.”

“So, why are you so judgmental?”

“Because I feel judged.”


art by Jeff Campbell

Ah, the smell of dark roast. I’m not hungry so I’ll skip lunch. Nothing to do and three days to do it. When did I become such a loser? Working part time retail ain’t going to cut it for future plans. I enjoy my job quite a bit. But it’s not what I have in mind for a career. I could go back to school. For what? Perhaps for now I will write and draw while I get my act together. Sooner or later you have to move past recovery of your illness and reclaim your life.

Nobody tells you that.

Despite my frustration and tendency to feel sorry for myself, I am aware of how far I’ve come since the weight of depression tore me down for over two years. Everybody’s aware of it. The countless hours on the floor collecting dust in my broken breath took its toll on everyone. I am approaching my year recovery date from the worst episode of my life and I am excited about it. More closure. Like sobriety, my mental health recovery has no specific date, just a time period when it happened. It’s like Easter and Thanksgiving. It just shows up in the month.


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I remember my one-year anniversary of ECT. Once a year past by my last treatment, I was able to let go of it. I stopped reading articles and experiences online. I stopped talking about it. I stopped dwelling on the anesthesia, the oxygen mask, the memory loss… knowing your brain is being zapped like a moth licking a light bulb. It is hard to come to terms with how far down the hole I was. It feels like a trauma I must come to terms with as time passes. A year from all of it? That is big.

I’ve had to accept that health—recovery from an illness—does not mean feeling like your old self. With what I went through, I sure as hell had better be different than that guy. Old habits, outmoded thoughts, things you cling to… Hell, I am barely learning how to accept and work with old imperfections. The point is, it’s slow, even after a year.

I think I will listen to old Ratt for a minute while I have another cup of beans and make rude comments on Facebook. Good old 80’s Los Angeles metal. When was that? ’84? ’85? Sure it’s all remembering when you were sixteen. It is not so much the obvious loss of youth though. It’s how far ago it is all becoming. And it’s not because it all happens so quickly. It’s because it feels like it all happens quicker and quicker. Walking Gianna to school one day when she was just six and in first grade, I asked her, “Can you believe it was only last year we were walking the same way to kindergarten?” “How would I remember, Daddy?” she asked with curiosity. “That was a whole year ago!” Everyone says the same thing, “They grow up so fast.” They don’t.

We do.

Album over. What next?

Tyner? Turner? Horton? Holmes? Nope. Must not get couch-glued.

Still, I like old Ratt.

Warm, warm. Colors. 50 minutes. Socks. I hate not having socks. Socks are like cozy little blankets for your toes. I’ll go out on a limb and say this afternoon is shot. Nothing really inspires me right now. Actually, cutting loose of this slow traveling barge interests me. Moving on. Learning something new. Momentum. Swiftness. According to my 8:30pm appointment with boredom last night, it was decided that it was just too early to go to sleep. So I read my cards. According to the Tarot reading, I can expect imminent change with positive outcomes. Good to hear. For now, I will just wash cozy blankets for my toes and hope for the best.

If there is one thing therapy has taught me it’s that life is not a cozy blanket. I have spent my life looking for peace in the comfort of things and it is an addiction—a fantasy that hinders growth. Peace is a balance between mind, body, and heart; I hear. For children, the world is all heart. Wonder exists in places where adults forget to look. My little girls love sprinkles. On everything. Why? Not because they taste good. It’s because they are pretty. That is wonder.

And then you become an adult and it is all taken away. All we care about sprinkles is that they are just another $2.50 item that will sit in the cupboard until we move again.



In your twenties angst is cool. It keeps the young searching for answers. In your forties it’s just cynical crap.

Screw this lying around. I’m taking my dog for a walk. All he knows is that somewhere out there is the perfect bush to pee on. I should keep that in mind. When I get home I am putting on Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer. At least he is still real.

EDITOR IN CHIEF / EDITOR: Gabriel Nathan | DESIGN: Leah Alexandra Goldstein | PUBLISHER: Bud Clayman

Jeff Campbell was born and raised in Wisconsin, lived in Atlanta, GA for ten years, and Lincoln, NE for five. Jeff now lives in Denver, CO, with his wife, two daughters, and a dog named Turkey. He is an artist whose work can be found on his website and on Facebook. When he is not creating, he spends his time making leaf angels in the fall, eating snow in the winter with Turkey, and spelunking for mushrooms the rest of the year.