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Monthly Archives: April 2012

Self Image Editor

My latest idea for an invention is a photo editor like Picasa, Pixlr-o-matic, or Instagram that adjusts reality so it more closely resembles my idealized perception of it. I’d name the program Melodr-o-matic. Or Instagrat.

One of the reasons i started drinking was because i read the Jim Morrison biography, No One Here Gets Out Alive. Like a perfect storm, the book hit me at just the right time in my life (i was 17 years old and in the process of becoming a disillusioned Christian) and i decided i wanted to be cool like Jim Morrison. (i even wrote a post about this over at the Bar None, here.)

i had this mental image of what drinking and partying was like, about how it was dark and poetic and dangerous and just plain cool. i fell in love with that image and looked for it at the bottom of every glass i could get my hand on. If you’d asked me—when i was staring up at the ceiling through the bottom of that glass—i’d have told you i’d found it.

Which is why i hated photographs of myself drinking. Pictures of me drunk showed a goofy, sloppy, drooling asshole who looked absolutely nothing at all like Jim Morrison. Nothing like the mental picture i carried of myself in the pocket just over my heart.

My illusions have since ceased to become delusions. It’s still hard for me to say that i’m happy or to use exclamation points when i write but i’m learning to live with the optimism. Am i still cool? Most certainly not. But given the choice between “cool” and “happy”, i’m going to choose “happy” every time.

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Pain is Inevitable…

Pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional.

Shared by someone in the rooms tonight.

With wisdom like that abounding, is it any wonder i love going to meetings?

The Room

Home, Sweat Home

Speaking of meetings, my good friend Riversurfer posted a picture of her AA room over at her Rockdweller’s Blog, which motivated me to take the above shot of my AA room here on Tuesday nights. My coffee service is taking shape on the tiny red table in the background.

Oh yeah, those of you who may have thought i made a typo in the caption to the above photo have probably never been to an AA meeting!

Serial Killers Have Reasons, Too

But I Had My Reasons

When is a reason not a reason? When it’s an excuse.

i am not totally insane. When i am angry, i have a reason to be angry. When i am sad, it’s because i have a reason to be. Then again, when i went on a binge, i always had a reason to as well.

i would wager that most if not all mass murders, rapists and serial killers have a reason to explain away their actions. i know for a fact that Hitler, Pol Pot and Ben Laden had reasons to justify their atrocities.

Reasons, however, are not “get out of jail free” cards. Having a reason, obviously, doesn’t make you right or mean you are doing the right thing.

The next time you find you have a reason to drink, to yell, to pout, to scream, to run away and hide, substitute “excuse” for the word “reason” and see if that makes any sense.

Sometimes, doing the right thing means ignoring the reasons to do the opposite.

Coincidence is God’s Secret Language

God, the Irony

The first AA meeting i ever chaired went well but…

one of the responsibilities of the secretary is to choose the speaker for the meeting. The first guy i asked claimed he’d spoken the day before, but the second guy i asked was really gung-ho about the chance. Maybe too much…

Remember how i was all about how to get in touch with your Higher Power even if you’re an agnostic, and how people in Yeaman are less into the Christian God than many AA groups in the States, and especially how the best way for me to avoid panic attacks and stay sober is to give things up to my Higher Power? Well, my God has one hell of a sense of humor.

The speaker i chose turned out to be a pastor. Coincidence after all my recent posts? Coincidence is the secret language God uses to talk to you. In his share, my guy confessed to being a preacher and started talking about how God saved him from alcoholism, blissfully unaware of the scepticism Yeamen feel about this kind of proselytizing. i was in shock.

Until i understood that this was a pop quiz. Sure, i was good at talking about giving things up, but could i really do it? Could i practice what i preached? Could i give God the stress i felt over choosing a speaker who chose to speak about God? Seems like God is not without a certain sense of irony.

i sat back and relaxed as the preacher rambled on. After he was through, many people shared that they appreciated his point of view, while others expressed their own religious views (one of our regulars is a staunch Buddhist), but i didn’t take it personally.

It wasn’t my problem—it was God’s. Literally, this time.

Secretary Cherry

[NOTE: Clicking on photo will take you to UNCENSORED version–You’ve been warned!]

Horseplay Censored

My First Time

i forgot to tell you!

About 10 days ago, i lost my Secretary cherry!

Tuesday night is my coffee service night and the guy who runs the meetings likes me because i always show up early to set up the room and the coffee service, plus i buy a wide selection of nice cookies and never ask for reimbursement (i consider it my contribution to the group). Anyway, he trusts me enough that, about a month ago, he knew he wasn’t going to be able to chair the next meeting so he asked me to do it.

My own personal philosophy is that whenever anyone asks me to do anything in AA, i say “Yes!” because the program did better than just save my life, it gave me a life worth saving.

That’s how i got to chair my first meeting. At the beginning, before i read through the intro, i announced it was my first time and begged no one to freak out.

No one did, but

To Be Continued

10 Ways for an Agnostic to Find God

It's a Miracle!

One of the main tenets of recovery is that the addict is not able to control their own drinking (or gambling, or binging/purging, or drugging, or sex addiction…), otherwise they would control it and there would be no addiction problem. Because we addicts are not able to control this aspect of our lives, we have to give control of that area to someone / thing who can; this entity is often referred to as a Higher Power, or a “power greater than ourselves”.

But what about those people who cannot find their Higher Power?

What follows are my suggestions for those who are struggling with the concept of a Higher Power.

10 Ways for an Agnostic to Find God

  1. Stop looking
  2. Listen to the silence
  3. Create something from nothing
  4. Write a mental list of at least 3 people you love, and why you love them
  5. Do a totally anonymous act of kindness
  6. Decide what you want most, then think about it until your heart hurts
  7. Hold hands with someone (two people works best, one on each side)
  8. Talk to someone with less experience than you
  9. Apologize out loud to someone you love
  10. Do something that makes you deliciously happy

When you have done all of these ten things, put a face on how you feel (note: it doesn’t have to be a person’s face).

The next time you need God, think of that face.

When you can’t see that face anymore, go back to step 1.

Forget It

Change Is Hard

Alcoholism is a disease of forgetting. When i drank, i drank to forget. To forget what i’d done, what i hadn’t done, what was being done to me and what would never be done to me ever.

Now the problem is trying not to forget anymore. It’s like having the keys to success and not remembering where i put them.

i have learned so much in recovery that sometimes i have difficulty recalling the right lesson at the right time. That’s what AA meetings are for and why they’re so important.

Case in point…

Lately, i’ve been in a dispute with my downstairs neighbo. Conflict situations make me physically ill, literally, but i know that rather than hide from the problem as i would’ve in the past, i have to face it head on. Which was giving me anxiety attacks.

Repeating the Serenity Prayer (“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things i cannot change, the courage to change the things i can, and the wisdom to know the difference”) over and over like a mantra helped me rationalize the situation but didn’t do anything to appease my irrational side. Part of me still wanted to panic whenever i, like stepping on a piece of glass hiding in the summer grass barefoot, accidentally remembered the problem.

So i went to a meeting where the theme that developed out of people’s shares was giving it up to God.

i’d completely forgotten! It’s not my problem, it’s God’s problem! Because i’ve taken all the steps i can to resolve the situation, it’s out of my hands and in the hands of my Higher Power. So now, whenever i start to dwell on this dispute, i remember i’m not driving, just along for the ride. Remembering that nugget makes it possible for me to forget the problem…in a good way!

Parents’ Day

The following is a short story i wrote decades ago and which was published in a magazine in the mid 90’s. i decided to post it here because 1) a friend’s blog post reminded me of the story and 2) it includes alcohol.

i do realize the short story format isn’t well adapted to blogs so if you have neither the patience nor the desire to read this, please don’t feel obligated to. Also, while  friend’s post inspired me to write this, it has nothing to do with her situation. i would hate for her to think i’m trying to draw parallels that aren’t there! Finally, because the story is written in the first person, most people assume it happened to me. It did not. Ever. Not even close. It’s fiction.

 

Parent’s Day

I remember. I remember as if it has happened tonight. That evening is more real to me than a memory.

I was twelve years old, living with my father on a small farm in Wisconsin. My father: the man who explained the facts of life to me by leaving a book on my dresser, the man who blushed when people kissed on television, the one who never kissed me or hugged me or told me that he loved me. That had been my mother’s job. She died when I was eleven. My father stopped trying a year later. On that night.

 The summer dusk had been lazily smoldering to twilight as I watched alone from the front of our house. The farm seemed a huge quilt beneath the clouds purple with dusk, as the harvest moon peeked her blushed face from under the dark blanket of corn. My father had built a porch swing with wood salvaged from our first barn and hung it himself overlooking our front yard. I was on the porch, listening to the crickets in the tall grass and the squeak of the chains that held the swing, feeling the smell of the earth wash over me in the warm breeze.

After having helped my father with everything from spraying the corn to changing the oil in the pickup to fixing the mailbox, I was remembering my mother without remorse. Memories of my mother’s funeral were making me feel grown up. My legs dangled innocently from the edge of the seat, because men do not swing, until I began softly rocking. A glass of lemonade was trapped tight between my thighs and I shuddered as the chill rushed through me. Because adults never gulped, I would only sip from the lemonade. But with every swallow my undulations increased and soon I was hurling my legs in front of me, watching as my toes kicked the clouds. I was pretending I could fly, but whenever I flung my legs out some of the lemonade would spill onto my thighs and stain the hairless skin with a sticky, sugary coating.

The screen door squeaked and brought me back to the porch swing. I stopped pushing when I heard my father’s hollow footsteps on the wooden floorboards. My father was a thin man, and though he had enough muscles to run a farm and though he was young enough for me not to think of him as old, his strength had already begun to sag in the pouches of his cheeks and his spine was beginning to curve into a reaper’s scythe.

He held one of the chains to stop me swinging.

“Mind if I join ya?”

“No,” I said.

He sat beside me and the swing shifted with his weight.

“What’re you doin?” He reached for my lemonade, took it from me, and set the glass on the rail before us.

I told him I was just thinking.

“Here.” I turned and he offered me a beer. “I guess you’re old enough to drink.”

The relationship he had built and hung as carefully as the swing we shared blew away in the shallow breeze. Tonight, for the first time in his life my father was going to try to be my friend.

“Can I ask you somethin, son?”

“Sure.”

“How’d I do? Raisin you, I mean.”

“Fine,” I answered, without thinking. I put the beer between my thighs and studied the top of the can so I did not have to look at my dad.

“I tried hard, y’know?”

I did not know, but said so anyway.

“I wasn’t really cut out for it.”

I sipped the beer. The taste sat thick and heavy at the back of my mouth. I felt as if it were tugging at the base of my tongue. I forced the ale past my throat with a loud gulp, then retched a wet belch. Neither of us said anything. He moved the swing a little with his toes and leaned forward, his arms on his knees, and stared at the bones on the back of his hand.

“You always were your mother’s son. Her responsibility. I tried to do best by you.”

“Sure,” I said.

“I’m just no good at it.”

My second, smaller sip of beer tasted worse than the first. I could feel my lips twist involuntarily.

“It’s just that women have ways of trickin you, y’know?”

“Yes,” I said, but I was lying. I did not know.

“I don’t think I ever loved your mother. She just tricked me into gettin married. Kind of snuck up behind me.”

His disclosure rocked me so hard the swing moved. The truth hurt going down, hurt worse than the beer, it fell straight through me like a rock. And when it rose again it burned my throat and stung my nostrils and pricked my eyes and for a moment I thought I was going to vomit my father’s confession over the railing and onto my mother’s deserted flower bed.

“I want you to love her, though,” he told me. “She was a good woman.”

“I do love her,” I struggled, but it was difficult to admit now, while he was there, teaching me how not to.

Silence again. The sun was all but down now. The clouds burned from purple to black.

My father stood up. “I guess that’s all I wanted to say.”

“I love you too, dad.” I said so, though now I knew that too was a lie.

His expression startled me. Fear flashed in his eyes like lightning in freak summer storm, but his expression faded. He regained his composure, nodded, and walked back into the house.

After my father left I could not swing, nor did I finish my lemonade. I held the can of beer with both hands and sipped the drink like a man. As I drank, my father’s words poisoned my veins and brought back to me a memory so distant I wondered at first if it were not a bad dream. And inside the remembering, I drained away my childhood with each sip of beer.

I had been in first grade. It had been Parents’ Day at my school, and the adults were invited to eat lunch with their sons and daughters. My mother and father made special plans to visit me, and it said a lot for them to do that because the farm needed a lot of looking after. But they were making the effort for me, wasting an entire day to appease my constant pleading.

The night before I’d slept even less than Christmas Eve, so elated was I that my folks cared enough to spend two hours on the road just to eat lunch with me. All the next morning kids were bragging up their parents, about how great they were, about all the things they could do. And I was no different. I watched the clock, waiting, almost sick with the anticipation of showing off my parents to my friends. I imagined how they would envy me, congratulate me, and the whole school (even the grown up sixth graders) would want to be my best friends because my folks were so much better than everybody else’s.

Finally lunch arrived. I got my tray and sought out the same table as Amy Lynn, the little girl I loved. My plan was to profit from my parents’ presence by impressing her into loving me back.

Since our school was in the city, most of the students were ‘townies’, a word my father used with as much passion as ‘nigger’ and ‘hippie’. Amy Lynn was a townie, but that did not matter. As soon as my parents saw how much she loved me they would see she was sweet; and then my folks would stop hating townies.

Finally my parents arrived. I tried to hold down my smile but I could not. My father appeared taller and his muscles stretched the fabric of his shirt. He’d combed his hair impeccably and had washed his face so much he shone beneath the florescent lights of the cafeteria. My mother had spent three weeks sewing the dress she wore. She’d had her hair done especially for the day and had even put on some makeup. I walked up to them and proudly escorted them through the lunch line, basking in the admiration the school was showering on me. We sat down, and I glanced at Amy. The expectation was delicious, like the long ride to the top of the track when I rode the roller coaster at the state fair. Out of the corner of my eye I saw her looking at us. When I turned to meet her glance, she was talking to her parents. Though I could not hear what she was saying, I saw her smile and for the briefest of moments I felt the pride of a man reaping his first harvest. But then Amy held her nose and pointed to where we were sitting, and she laughed. And her parents laughed. And I looked at my father all dressed up in clothes he wore only to church or to funerals; his shirt too small and his hair greased and combed to one side with the sweat on his face reflected in the lights above us. He smiled a weak smile, and I turned away. My mother spoke but I saw only that she was overweight and absurd in a dress that resembled curtains more than clothing. Her hairdo was beginning to shift, and the ridiculous paint she had spent all morning applying without knowing how was melting on her face. I saw them as I had never seen them before. I saw them as a stranger would see them and I was ashamed of them.

 Tonight lives long after midnight. I am lying alone in bed, awake like a little boy afraid of the dark, afraid of the bogeyman, afraid of his own mother’s ghost. Tonight there is no one to give me the reassurance I need to sleep. I think I wish I had apologized to my father, that night on the swing, for having seen him and my mother as they were and not as I had believed them to be. The adult thing, however, was to guard the hatred and the fear. So as an adult I fed my doubts to the monster who had never been under the bed or in the closet, but hiding inside of me.

He hurts me. Some nights he eats me alive.

Maybe that is why I never went back home after I graduated college, but became a ‘townie’ instead. Maybe that is why I did not cry when my father died. And maybe that is why I cannot sleep at night, and why I still hate the taste of beer.

Dad, I’m sorry you were such a terrible father, and I’m sorry I was such a lousy son. I still hate you for making me realize I never loved you, and for making me doubt my love for my mother. Forgiving myself for Parents’ Day took a long time and a lot of faith, like a boy believing in Santa Claus again. Like a boy trying to prove his love to a dead mother. Love is a hard thing to prove when it cannot be displayed. I guess I learned that from you. Like how not to be a grown up. And the grandson you did not live to meet is sleeping down the hall, and it scares me to think there are times he is ashamed of me, not because he should not be, but because guilt stays with a person for a long long time. Father, I pray I don’t make the same mistakes you did and I pray if I do he’ll forgive me more easily than I forgave you. And dad, I pray that he won’t end up like you or me.