The Apple Tree:: Chapter 3: Four Stone Walls

It was a relief for Bridget to be in custody, again. She considered it nothing less than providential that her arrest happened when it did. The four stone walls surrounding her provided a strange comfort from the looming darkness of crack detox.

She'd been arrested for non-compliance of her ROR granted a few weeks earlier. Of course, when you're high on crack, going in for a mandatory UA (urinary analysis) isn't on your list of priorities. 

After two days in jail, a judge ordered her to treatment in St. Peter, MN. Despite her best efforts, she couldn't shake her demons and on day 41 of the 43-day program, she was kicked out for fraternizing with another male patient. Treatment helped her through withdrawal but did nothing to fix what was wrong.

With no other options, Bridget went to her mother's house. It so happened that Bridget's daughter, Brittany, who was still in foster care, was spending the night with Bridget. Her birthday was the next day and they were planning on celebrating together as a family. This was Friday and the party was planned for the next morning, Saturday, November 26, 2006.

That Friday afternoon, her mom invited her to an AA meeting. As the daughter of alcoholic parents, Bridget had gone to plenty of AA meetings, but never as the one seeking support. And, support she found. People were friendly and encouraging without judgment or shame. They were so full of life. They reminded Bridget of what it was like to have fun. Oh, she hadn't smiled or really laughed in so long. At least not the kind of laugh that fills you to the toes and makes your face hurt. When the meeting was over, she didn't want the fun to end.

So, like any addict in denial, she took the fun to the bar. One drink led to another and soon her resistance and resolve broke away until she lost even the memory of what happened.

The next day, Bridget woke up at her mom's house. She glanced at the clock through one foggy eye. It was noon. She'd slept right through Brittany's birthday party.

Head pounding, mouth like cotton, Bridget got out of bed. Her mom was cleaning the kitchen and Brittany was on the couch in the living room playing with some of her gifts. She glanced up and when she saw Bridget she walked wordlessly to her grandmother's bedroom and slammed the door.  

Bridget's heart shattered again as it had so many times before. But even as the pieces of her life laid around her, she knew she had to put them back together differently this time. Without drugs, or crack, or the wrong people. 

The next day she checked in to Liberalis Treatment Center's all-female program in Carlton, MN. This time, she sobered up, leaned into recovery and after successful completion of their program, moved to Pathways, a halfway house in Rochester, MN. 

Her time at Pathways taught Bridget structure and routine - eating meals at consistent times, sleeping in regular patterns and work/life balance. Like buoys in a raging ocean are healthy daily rhythms to people in recovery. Shortly after arriving at Pathways, Bridget connected with a sponsor and before long was sponsoring others even before she graduated from the 90-day program on March 27, 2007.

Finally, it seemed she was on the right path. She was sober and able to function normally, again. When she graduated from treatment, she rented a room from a woman who had also been in the program. Before long, those life-giving daily patterns were difficult for Bridget to maintain and she found herself skipping meals, staying up too late and not taking her meds. Slipping into old habits was as easy as slipping into a worn-out comfy pair of shoes.

Wanting to get ahead, Bridget ignored the after-care requirement of working no more than 40 hours per week. She would get passes to visit her mother, but instead of visiting her mother she would use that time to work a second job. Before long, she was working 70 hours a week. 

It all caught up to her when she was fired from one of her jobs.  It sent her into a tail spin. The timing couldn't have been worse. Her court hearing which would finalize her divorce from Cameron and determine custody of their children was fast approaching. Overwhelmed by it all, Bridget didn't secure a lawyer and on her own had no idea how to prepare. And, of course, since everything is okay even when it isn't, Bridget put any thought of court out of her mind. If she didn't think about the outcome then thinking about a court hearing couldn't hurt her. 

Despite her hopeful ignorance, the morning of the hearing arrived. It was scheduled for 10:30 a.m. Bridget arrived 10 minutes early to an empty court room. Where was everyone? She thought. 

Upon finding the proper authority, Bridget discovered she'd made a horrible mistake. The hearing was at 10 a.m., not 10:30. 

She sank onto a bench lining one of the courthouse walls. Holding her head in her hands, she blew air from her lungs as tears stung her eyes.

She walked outside and called Cameron.

"I'm really sorry...I thought court was at 10:30," she said waiting for Cameron to determine her fate.

"Okay." His one-word response sent chills down her spine.

"You know," she hesitated, "maybe I'm not the woman I think I am."

"No. You're not. You're worse," he said coldly.

Like a knife in her chest, his words cut deep. She put her hand over her mouth to keep from sobbing. 

Once she gained her composure she spoke again.

"Where's your lawyer's office?" She spoke softly holding back tears. "I'll sign the papers. I'll give you the children."

That afternoon, Bridget put pen to paper and signed away her right's to her two young children. With it went every last bit of self-respect.

She saw her children over the next year and a half with some frequency until 2009 when Cameron and Bridget's relationship was severed completely.

She hasn't seen them since. 

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Even though I'd never done this before, I wanted a song to come out of these sessions with Bridget. I mean, that was the original goal, right? But I had no idea if I could actually make that happen. We were on session number three and I hadn't even settled on a direction to take.

Bridget's assignment had been to find herself in the analogy of both an apple tree and a butterfly. I had been doing the same. Notes filled the pages of my legal pad. Lyrics formed and discarded. Melodies traced and concepts developed. But, nothing was quite right. I was beginning to think I'd taken on more than I could handle. I hoped today's session would provide clarity.

"How was your weekend?" I asked as we sat down, again, in the jail library.

"Oh, it was fine, but I'm feeling a little anxious. They took me off my medication when I got here. Plus, there's a bit of drama on the unit and I'm trying to stay out of it, but you know, that's sort of impossible."

"Have you seen your daughter?"

"No, but I talked to her on the phone. She found out she's having a boy. I'm just hoping I'll be out of here when he's born." 

"Wow! That's wonderful!" I said with a grin. I didn't mention the fact that I had just found out I was pregnant myself. Before I'd begun these sessions, I'd decided my private life was off limits with detainees. "So, how did it go this week in your journal? Did you come up with descriptions of the apple tree and the butterfly?"

"Yes. I did some," she answered.

Bridget opened her journal and began to read through what she had written. She described, in detail, wonderful qualities of both the butterfly and the apple tree, but not as a metaphor for herself. I asked her if there was anything she saw in either analogy to which she could relate.

"No. How can I? I'm weak and I've let my children down. All I ever wanted was to be a mother and I couldn't even do that. What good am I to others when I can't even take care of myself?" She got up to get a Kleenex to wipe away her tears. "How can there be any value to my life when I've made one mistake after another. Oh, I can keep my shit together for a while. I mean, I've done it before," she said as she blew her nose on the way back to the table. "I've had a fiancé, a family, a job, a house, but I couldn't hold on to those or anybody."

The despair pouring out of Bridget broke my heart. I knew that if this is what she believed about herself then there was no way she would be anything more than what she was now. 

"Oh, Bridget. What you have done in the past is not who you are." Pulling from my early morning reading I continued, "In Ephesians, God tells us that He knew us - you - before He created the world. He knew everything you would ever do and in spite of all that He loves you. You are his precious creation, and for that reason, you are never without worth or hope."

We were quiet as we collected our thoughts. Then I proceeded to talk about the songwriting process: the ins and outs of forming verses, choruses, and bridges. About how I might go about telling her story through a song. 

I felt a bit nervous since I was still struggling with which direction to head. The use of both the butterfly and apple tree analogies seemed clumsy, but both seemed so important to Bridget. The chorus, which is normally the first thing to be written, wasn't even in my periphery yet. To that end, Bridget's assignment from me was to practice some forward thinking; to imagine what she would do upon release. Who is the first person she would call? What is the first thing she would do? What are the things she misses doing? 

And, while Bridget would be thinking of her future, I determined to not only tell her story, but also to help her write a new one. Borrowing from the analogy of the butterfly, I imagined the four stone walls of her jail cell to be the cocoon from which she would fly.