Album Review: Steven Wilson 

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5 STARS

Steven Wilson is a multi-instrumentalist, producer, and four-time Grammy nominee. He is also the founder of prog-rock stalwarts Porcupine Tree founder; is co-founder of Blackfield, No Man, and Storm Corrosion; and, he is a highly-acclaimed solo artist.

4 ½, Wilson’s fifth solo offering, is only 37 minutes. But it is 37 minutes of typical Steven Wilson brilliance. Opening the album is “My Book of Regrets.” Recorded in June 2015, it would have sounded at home on Hand. Cannot. Erase. The song opens with a simple guitar riff, slowly building a sonic wall with Nick Beggs’s bass guitar and Craig Blundell’s drumming. And then, in typical Steven Wilson style, there is a small, musically-introspective interlude, and then it’s back to the races again, with Nick Beggs weaving a complicated bass line into Dave Kilminster’s blazing guitar solo. Between all of this is Adam Holzman’s keyboard work and Steven Wilson’s guitar, both of which serve as textural threads that hold it all together. The lyrics tell the story of a woman watching life and the world happen all around her. All the while, she is unable to break out of her own seemingly self-imposed isolation, choosing rather to place her observations of the world in her book of regrets.

“Year of the Plague,” written and recorded during The Raven That Refused to Sing sessions, is a sparse, delicate, and beautiful instrumental, one of those Steven Wilson songs that elicits a lot of emotion – in this case, sadness – from the listener. I know of no other musician who is as adept as Steven Wilson of affecting the listener’s emotions. He paints darkness and sadness with musical notes.

The third song, “Happiness III,” was written and recorded during the Hand. Cannot. Erase. sessions. It is a straightforward rock song featuring some great guitar playing by Guthrie Govan’s, Nick Beggs on bass, and Marco Minnemann on drums. Lyrically, the song seems to be about a loner who is inept and cruel when dealing with other people.

“Sunday Rain Sets In,” another song from the Hand. Cannot. Erase. sessions is another of those texturally complex, multi-layered instrumentals by Steven Wilson that has me reaching for a razor or a bottle of pills. So beautiful, yet so sad. There is a moment of frantic and chaotic abandon at about the 3:45 mark that sounds as if King Crimson’s “21st Century Schizoid Man” got loose in the studio. And then. as soon as the moment begins, it is done.

“Vermillioncore,” another instrumental, is a blend of  jazz fusion, progressive metal, a subtle ode to King Crimson. It is a very complex and busy song held together by a thread of odd keyboard samplings.

“Don’t Hate Me” is an old Porcupine Tree song from 1999’s Stupid Dream album, reimagined. The use of Ninet Tayeb on the vocal refrains, along with the interplay between Nick Beggs (bass). Adam Holzman (keyboards), and Theo Travis (saxophone) during the song’s midsections, highlight what is an interesting and ambitious remake of a really good Porcupine Tree song.

Bottom line: Steven Wilson has a knock for surrounding himself with other great musicians. This record is no exception. The playing throughout is exquisite. Labeled an interim album between his fourth studio album Hand. Cannot. Erase. and his yet-to-be recorded fifth effort, is a satisfying, albeit short record. There is enough depth and complexity to keep his fans satisfied until the release of his next album. The album is also accessible enough to win him some new fans.

Determined

The bravest girl I know, Ariana Valerie Combs, entered the world on September 30, 2011, and by all appearances was a normal baby for the first three weeks of her life. On October 23, 2011, she went from being a normal baby to one whose life would be forever changed.

311887_2540433956826_1636852671_nShe began having seizures and was taken to Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis. We would later learn that she had suffered at least fifteen strokes. It was touch and go for a while, but we finally got to take our granddaughter home two days before Thanksgiving, but not before we were offered a list of long-term care facilities for when we got tired of caring for a baby that would, according to the doctors, never walk or talk.

As we celebrated the holidays and welcomed 2012, it became increasingly apparent that Ariana was not a normal baby. She wasn’t hitting age-related milestones, but she was always a joy to be around. In February 2012, Ariana’s mother, our oldest daughter, unable to cope with the rules of our household and the demands of a new baby, decided to leave home. Wisely, she decided to leave Ariana in the care of my wife and I.

Life in our house continued, with everyone pitching in to care for Ariana. Eventually, she went from not moving on her own to pulling herself along with her right arm, her left leg bent awkwardly behind her. Finally, she started walking with the assistance of a hard plastic brace on her left foot and ankle that keeps her knee from hyper-extending.

10426609_10204339552435591_4653242546329853901_nNot knowing if she would ever talk, we worked to teach her sign language. She hit her second birthday, a joyful, gregarious toddler who didn’t need words to express what she was feeling. The light in her eyes and the smile on her face spoke volumes.

Her walking improved, and eventually she stopped pulling herself across the floor with her right arm altogether. Her third Christmas, in 2013, was a joyous occasion. Though reluctant to open her gifts, she eventually got into the spirit, playing with her new toys, and oohing and ahhing over her new clothes. She even helped others with their gifts, and seemed content in the joy that others’ gifts were bringing them.

2014 brought renewed hope for all of us that were involved in her care and upbringing, including my parents, who watch her two days a week while my wife works. She was progressing well in her multiple therapies, including occupational, developmental, physical, and speech therapies. She bonded with her therapists, and they bonded with her. They challenged her on a daily basis, and most of the time she responded positively, working hard. She had her bad days. Don’t we all?

Sadly, I don’t remember the exact date, but sometime around Memorial Day 2014, it happened. It was as if someone flipped a switch in her little brain. Ariana uttered her first word, which, according to me, was Papaw. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it. We were overjoyed. A little girl that was neither supposed to walk nor talk was now doing both! Now, there are times when we can’t get her to be quiet!

10418253_10204519337050094_3840918047854906823_nIn July, we rented a cabin on Black Lake in northern Michigan. As always, it was a relaxing vacation. It was also a week of firsts for Ariana: she played in the sand beside the lake, she was pulled in an inner tube behind a boat (safely in the arms of her Aunt Riley), and she caught her first fish. To see her revel in life’s simple pleasures warms my heart.

Because she is such an inspiration, I like to share her story with both acquaintances and strangers. I used to tell people that she was a stroke victim. One day, as I was telling her story to someone, saying that she was a stroke victim, it hit me. She has never viewed herself as a victim. Why should I? I immediately corrected myself, and said that she was a stroke survivor.

She has moved far beyond the feeble, disabled, bed-ridden child we were led to believe we would be taking home from Riley Hospital in 2011. She has her challenges, but she hits them head-on like the true conqueror she is. When she sets her mind to do something, she never gives up until she’s accomplished her goal. This trait will serve her well throughout her life.

10502059_10204550372900567_3588267187939955653_nShe has become, for the most part, a typical toddler. If you ask her to do something and she doesn’t want to do it, she’ll let you know she doesn’t want to do it. However, she is polite in her defiance. Just yesterday, I said, “Ariana, it’s time to put your books away.” She looked at me, smiled, and said, “No thank you, Papaw,” and then sauntered out of the room, in her mind putting the issue to rest. To say she is a little bit independent and headstrong is like saying habanero peppers are a little bit hot and spicy.

That defiance, which is normal for a child her age, is balanced with a sweet personality. She genuinely cares about how others feel, and is not afraid to give a friend or a stranger a hug or a simple “Hi.” In short, she is developing characteristics that will allow her to continue to be successful throughout her life.

If I’ve had a bad day, I can be reasonably sure that when I walk through the door at home, Ariana will look up, see me, and run to me, yelling, “My Papaw!” No matter what kind of day I’ve had, this always puts a smile on my face and warms my heart. You can’t put a price on that!

976175_10203108000202151_1878770938_oI would like to dedicate this to everyone who has had a hand in helping us raise Ariana, especially my wife Carla, my daughters Savanna and Riley, my parents, my in-laws, family and friends, all of Ariana’s therapists and doctors, and the wonderful people at our church – South Meridian Church of God. We can’t do it without you.

Most of all, I dedicate this to my wonderful, inspirational granddaughter. Ariana, as you turn three today, please know that you care about others and are cared about, that you value others and are valued, and most importantly, that you love others and are loved.

 

How to Survive the Holidays with Your Sobriety and Your Sanity Intact

The period of time from mid-November through the end of the year can be a tough time in anyone’s life, even the strongest, most together person.  Think about it.  You were enjoying a nice autumn, maybe one that was unseasonably warm, then November arrives, and you realize that the holiday season is upon you, and you are completely unprepared.

ID-100160820For those of us in recovery from alcohol and/or drug addiction, the holidays often bring an extra dose of resentment, disappointment over unrealized goals, and plain old family dysfunction.  You see, for many of us, the holidays were a time to party, most often with the help of booze and/or drugs.  And many times, we partied with our family.  And now that we’re in recovery, how do we cope?  With our families that are still using?  With the increased levels of stress that accompany the holiday season?  With the family dysfunction that we are now able to see through the lens of sobriety?

I had been without a drink less than two months, fresh out of rehab, when I tackled my first sober Thanksgiving.  I don’t remember too many specifics, just that I was very scared.  I knew that I was going to be around people who were drinking, most of whom could drink responsibly.  It made me angry and resentful that they could drink, that they would drink, without a care in theID-1009873 world.

At the time, I don’t think I had a sponsor.  If I did, I didn’t call him like I should have.  I remember sitting there the whole day, a fake smile plastered on my face, my fists clinched so tightly that my knuckles were literally white.  I guess that’s where the term “white-knuckling it” comes from.

As the years have passed, and as I have gotten some sobriety under my belt, I approach the holidays with a much different mindset.  I think the biggest thing for me is to focus my energy on something positive.  Fortunately, I have three kids and one grandchild, providing me with an extra incentive to make their holiday experiences meaningful and memorable like mine were when I was a kid.

There are several options for tackling the holidays, and the inevitable family get-togethers.

The first option is to hold the holiday get-together at your house.

Pros:

  • You have control over who you invite
  • You can set the time
  • You can ensure that there is no alcohol in your house

Cons:

  • You may not be able to control who actually shows up, and you may have difficulty actually turning an unwanted guest away, particularly if you are newly sober
  • You may not be able to control if someone shows up intoxicated, and you may have difficulty actually turning them away, particularly if you are newly sober
  • You have the job of cleaning up when everyone leaves
  • People may stay past the allotted time, wearing out their welcome, and you may have difficulty asking them to leave, particularly if you are newly sober

I would not recommend this if you are newly sober.  The holidays are stressful enough.  Adding the responsibility of having a gathering at your house is a recipe for relapse.

ID-10059844The second option is to travel to someone else’s house for the holiday get-together.

Pros:

  • You can come and go as you please, which is good if you become uncomfortable
  • You don’t have to worry about being left with a huge mess to clean up after everyone leaves

Cons:

  • You have no control over who is invited
  • Depending on where you are going, there may be travel-related stress

For someone who is newly sober, this is a much better option.  You have control over how long you stay.

The third option is to skip these kinds of get-togethers all together.

Pros:

  • You don’t have to deal with anyone else or their issues
  • You are in complete control

Cons:

  • Isolation during the holidays is usually difficult to deal with, particularly if you know that others are celebrating without you
  • Your family may lay a huge guilt-trip on you if you skip holiday get-togethers, which can lead to resentments being formed (or re-kindled)

ID-1008696The fourth option is to celebrate the holidays with other people who are in recovery.

Pros:

  • You are spending time with people who are like-minded, at least in terms of recovery
  • You may actually learn something about yourself and/or your recovery

Cons:

  • Your family may lay a huge guilt-trip on you if you skip holiday get-togethers, which can lead to resentments being formed (or re-kindled)

This option is probably the best one of the lot if you have a dysfunctional family.  A lot of local AA/12-step chapters have holiday parties and meals, and may add more meetings around the holidays to help those in recovery deal with the additional stress that comes with the season.  Meetings are always a good idea, but it doesn’t hurt to pick up some additional ones around the holidays.

However you choose to celebrate, keep handy a list of phone numbers of people in recovery, and don’t hesitate to call someone if you start to feel like picking up a drink or using.  We’ve all been there, and someone will drop what they are doing to help you.

The Bravest Girl I Know

338095_2445138454498_3411664_oAriana Valerie Combs came into the world on September 30, 2011, born to our oldest daughter , then 17 years old and still in high school.  It wasn’t the ideal situation.  I didn’t want to be a grandfather at 43, and my wife didn’t want to be a grandmother at 37.  However, it wasn’t as though our daughter was the first high school girl to get pregnant either.  As unhappy as we were with our daughter for getting pregnant at such a young age, we fell in love with Ariana the moment she was born.  She had beautiful blue eyes, a devious smile, and a bottom lip that would quiver whenever she was about to cry.

319671_2447192985860_1284876174_nThings went nicely for the first three weeks.  My wife and I were able to enjoy spending time with Ariana, but we really didn’t have to change diapers or get up for middle-of-the-night feedings.  We made sure that our oldest daughter, the baby’s mother, shouldered the bulk of those responsibilities.  After all, Ariana was her baby.  My wife and I had our last baby in December of 2000.

On Friday, October 21, my wife, along with our two oldest daughters and Ariana, went to visit my wife’s parents 2 hours south of where we live.  Our youngest stayed home with me because she had two basketball games on Saturday.

On Sunday, I received a call from my wife.  She said that she thought the baby had a seizure, and that she was going to take her to the hospital.  A short while later, my wife called me to let me know that Ariana was indeed having seizures, and that she was being transported via ambulance to Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis.

My youngest and I hopped into the van so that we could go to Indianapolis to meet them, and to bring our middle daughter home for school the next day.  I knew my wife and oldest daughter would stay at the hospital with Ariana.

The next day and a half was touch and go.  Ariana continued to have seizures, despite a heavy dose of Phenobarbital.  An MRI was ordered, and delayed for a day and a half for unknown reason.  When it was finally completed, my wife called me, in tears, with devastating news.  Ariana had suffered at least 15 strokes, caused by, as we would come to find out, viral encephalitis.

326275_2540433956826_1636852671_oThe next several days were filled with tears and uncertainty, hope and disappointment.  Ariana would have periods of time without seizures, raising our hopes.  Then she would seize again, shattering our misconceptions that she was improving.

Riley Hospital for Children is a teaching hospital.  During rounds, I heard the attending physician say to her students that she had never seen brain damage as severe as what Ariana had suffered.  Needless to say, this hurt my wife and I to our very core.  The attending physician went on to tell us that we would not be taking a “normal” child home.  There were times when we weren’t sure we would be taking a child home at all.  It was all very heartbreaking.  It was especially hard for me to watch my wife through all of this.  I think that she really bonded with Ariana during her hospitalization.

About a week and a half into her stay, Ariana began to improve.  The Phenobarbital started working to control the seizures.  Eventually, Ariana strung together several days that were seizure-free.  She was awake and alert, and finally the feeding and breathing tubes were removed.  Then came the words we had longed to hear: Ariana would get to come home.  She was discharged two day before Thanksgiving, providing us with something to truly be thankful for during the holidays.

For the next several months, things returned to “normal” at our house.  We were unaware of the extent of Ariana’s disability because babies her age typically don’t do much but eat, sleep, and poop.  She had no problems doing any of those things.  She seemed alert and happy, though not particularly active.

In February 2012, our oldest daughter, unable to cope with the rules of our house, announced to us that she was moving out.  Thankfully, she chose to leave Ariana with us.  She signed a temporary custody form.  Within a short time, my wife and I met with an attorney to file for permanent custody.  To her credit, our oldest daughter did not contest us having custody of Ariana.

202432_4311313187700_1837240207_oAs Ariana got older, we noticed that she was not hitting normal milestones like crawling and talking.  It became evident that she had very limited use of her left side as a result of the strokes she suffered as an infant.  We got her assessed and linked with a local service provider, and she began receiving occupational therapy, developmental therapy, and physical therapy.  In 2013, Ariana also started speech therapy.  She works hard in all of her therapy sessions.  Between therapy sessions, my wife works diligently with her, as do my daughters who are still living at home, now 12 and 14.  Her rehabilitation has truly become a family affair.

Ariana is two now.  As I reflect back on the last two years, I am amazed at my wife, and at my two daughters who still live at home.  My wife should be sainted immediately upon entry into Heaven.  She  is unfailingly patient with Ariana.  My two youngest daughters, Ariana’s aunts, are always willing to help change Ariana’s diaper, feed her, or get her dressed.  They have been a real help to us in raising Ariana.  Some might be inclined to think that having custody or Ariana takes our attention away from our children who are still living at home.  Instead, having Ariana has united us, given us a common purpose, and drawn us closer as a family.

Most of all, I am amazed at Ariana.  As I’ve watched her grow, I’ve come to realize that she’s a fighter.  She pushes through therapy that is sometimes painful and frustrating.  If she’s determined to do something, she will find a way to do it.  If I tell her “no,” she’ll look at me and smile, showing all her teeth, and sometimes I give in.  She seems to know when someone needs a hug, a reassuring touch, or a kiss on the cheek.  And she’s not afraid to let you know if she needs a hug, a reassuring touch, or a kiss on the cheek.

1025363_10201452406378744_29630859_oShe knows she’s different from other kids, and it doesn’t matter to her.  She still has only limited use of her left side, but she moves through life any way she can.  If she’s having a good day physically, she’ll spend a lot of time on her feet.  If not, she’ll still get where she needs to go by scooting on her butt with her right leg out front and her left leg sticking awkwardly backwards, using her right arm to pull herself along.

Ariana isn’t talking yet because, according to her speech therapist, she is using the pathway in her brain normally reserved for speech to accomplish something else.  She is, however, learning sign language so that she can communicate with us.  She does understand what we say to her, and she sometimes gets frustrated at her inability to speak.  But she pushes forward like she always does.

Ariana is the bravest girl I know because despite being dealt a pretty bad hand when she was three weeks old, she has never felt sorry for herself.  Maybe it’s because she has just never known any different, but I don’t think so.  I think she is an old soul, and that deep down, she pushes through her difficulties because she knows that she serves as an inspiration to others.

20130928_185644Ariana is the bravest girl I know because even when she has a bad day physically, her left arm and hand stiff from the effects of having multiple strokes, she almost always has a smile on her face, attempting to lift the spirits of those around her.

Ariana is the bravest girl I know because, unlike most people I know, she gives and receives love unconditionally.

Happy 2nd Birthday, Little Angel!  You make me proud every day, and you fill my heart with love!

Recovery Glass: An Enduring Symbol of Hope and Recovery

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September is National Recovery Month.  According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), recovery from mental illness and substance use disorders is defined as “a process of change through which individuals improve their health and wellness, live a self-directed life, and strive to reach their full potential.”  For many people suffering from mental illness and/or substance abuse disorders, the prospect of trying to recover from can be overwhelming.  Aspire Indiana, a comprehensive community mental health center,  subscribes to the philosophy that recovery is possible for all the individuals with mental illnesses and substance use disorders that the organization serves .

In 2012, a client came to Aspire with an idea about something that accurately and beautifully symbolizes recovery.  It’s called Recovery Glass.  The concept is really quite simple.  Recovery Glass is made when pieces of glass and broken bottles are discarded in the ocean.  Over time, this glass becomes smooth by tumbling against rocks and sand.  There are times in the lives of behavioral health consumers when they feel like they have been discarded, when healing and recovery seem like they are out of reach.  Recovery Glass is symbolic of a life that once seemed broken and lost, but through the storm, the rough edges became smooth, and the soul was healed.

Aspire Indiana began manufacturing and selling Recovery Glass necklaces earlier this year.  Much to Aspire’s surprise, Recovery Glass has been wildly successful.  Aspire thinks the success is due to the fact that a Recovery Glass necklace is not just another piece of jewelry.  A Recovery Glass necklace symbolizes hope and recovery, things that are often in short supply for those with mental illness and/or substance use disorders.