Someone else who died too young. And he wasn't even a musician.

“We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon, we choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win…”

– John F. Kennedy

     The rain is providing a welcome respite from the oppressive heat and humidity that has otherwise smothered the residents of the Notdisneyworld Sober Ranch. I need rainy days sometimes, if only to let my melancholy out for a stretch. Not that I don’t anyway.

    Some days are still off. Sometimes I feel still feel like I’m spinning my wheels. Some days the outcome still feels like it’s in doubt. Some days I wake up and it feels like faith is out of the question. I don’t always put my recovery first. I still have days when I am eaten up with fear, resentment and shame. I still put too much pressure on myself, often for the wrong things. As for the things that I should be doing, regarding which I should be putting pressure on myself, I still procrastinate. I still allow other people to put pressure on me, and I still enable them to do so. I still mask my true feelings. I still fight with myself to tell people the truth rather than what I think they want to hear. I still put the approval of other people way too high on my priority list.

    I am starting to reconcile myself with the fact that I am hurt and I am angry. More so than I realized, and certainly more than I let on to anyone else. I’m mad that certain people in a position to make a difference failed to see the things about me that make me unique. But it took me 35 years to see some of those things, so to an extent the person I’m mad at is me. I’m mad at the people in this world who are oblivious to the damage they do with their words. Arising out of that general principal, specific unforgettable words out of specific mouths comprise my most personal and acute resentments. In a more subtle way, people also use words to invalidate feelings, personal taste, or personality traits. Not being kind is unconscionable. It is the one thing any human-being can do. It doesn’t take talent, it doesn’t take beauty, it doesn’t take practice. Anyone can choose to do it. But it is a choice.

    Sometimes, I hate being as sensitive as I am, but I wouldn’t change it if I were given the choice. Nor would I trade my gift of empathy; I like that I hurt for other people who are hurting. But I would change, and am trying to change, my tendency to empathize to the point of following them down the drain. I’m not there yet; I still over-relate. I have come across some people in my time here with stories that are absolutely heart-breaking. I still have a tendency to co-opt their pain. I need to figure out how to do the good that I can without becoming a casualty myself. I also need to recognize that Satan uses  the bad-things-happening-to-good-people narrative to attack my faith. My sensitivity makes me vulnerable.

     I still feel overwhelmed by the future, by decisions I have to make, and by the people who are depending on me. I feel overwhelmed by the people I worry about, the remorse I have and the time I have lost. I feel overwhelmed by this path I am on. It is long, it is narrow and it is treacherous. And littered with bodies. Some days that is more apparent than others. Like on a rainy Sunday afternoon. But, borrowing from President Kennedy, I do not do these things because they are easy. I do them because they are hard. It is a challenge which I am willing to accept, one which I am not willing to postpone, and one which I intend to win.

Happy Father’s Day

June 19, 2011

I will actually be here today. Weird.

    I’ll be taking my oldest to Disney World today for father’s day. /Huge Smiley Face. We leave from the Notdisneyworld Sober Ranch in about 10 minutes, so I just have a second to post. I’ll have a lot to talk about this week, including a road trip that I will be taking later tonight and tomorrow in order to go see an old friend.  I will take a lot of pictures, and will probably make it back alive. There’s at least a 90% chance I survive. Okay, maybe 80%. 75? Call it even odds that I survive.*

* This is a joke

    C.S. Lewis is one of my intellectual heroes. I have described my association with him during the secular-humanist phase of my metaphysical journey as the “C.S. Lewis problem.” The C.S. Lewis problem was a lingering shadow of an idea in the back of my mind that suggested, even when my frontal cortex wanted to declare me an atheist, that there was a major blind spot in my world-view. Because C.S. Lewis believed that beauty, or “glimpses of the sublime” here on earth, pointed to something much bigger. Pointed to God.

    Human beings seem to be programmed with an appreciation of beauty, both natural and man-made. This is a subsection for me of the more general and often-repeated idea that mankind is born with a void inside that hungers after the infinite. After God. As an atheist/agnostic, it was difficult for me to reconcile the idea that the Sistine Chapel was just another piece of art, even if its conception and execution were of the highest standard. Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, an excellent piece of music, but nothing more. For me these two things, and so many more like them, are much more than just technical masterpieces. What are they then? One can become technically proficient at water-skiing, cross-stitch, archery, basket-weaving. There are those who will be in the top one percent of the top one percent at any ridiculous thing that humans conceive of to try. But on those relatively rare occasions that humans succeed in making something truly beautiful, what is that?

    What is different about Ode to Joy, and Moonlight Sonata, and the Allegreto from Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony? Why do songs without lyrics make us weep? I have a theory. Art and beauty of the highest form point to something. I think that something is God. And I don’t even think it matters if the artist intends it (as Mozart usually did, or, obviously, Michelangelo). God made music; He doesn’t just exist in the “spiritual songs” box. God made art. When man makes art, when he makes music, he points to God whether he means to or not. Listen to Allegretto from Beethoven’s Seventh and a song called Exogenesis Symphony: Part III from the rock band Muse (of Twilight fame, unfortunately), two songs that were not composed, at least overtly, as an homage to God. Then tell me if you agree.

Allegretto from the Seventh.

Muse: Exogenesis Symphony Part III (from the movie Children of Man).

 

 

The Man in Black could be a man of few words.

    But they sure beat a Sunday Morning Coming Down. I’ve mentioned several music icons in this space. Specifically, I have identified a few who were ultimately victims of the disease. The thought occurred to me that I might need some new music role models. Not that I’ll ever completely forget where I came from.  But since the idea is that progress is forward, not backwards, I took a look at my musical catalog and looked for someone who made it out alive. Cue, the Man in Black.

    Johnny Cash was a complicated man, often described as a devout but troubled Christian. His heart was good but his behavior wasn’t always. His music probably describes the internal and uniquely human dichotomy of high-minded intellect opposing base instinct as vividly as anyone this side of the Apostle Paul. He had a decades-long battle with addiction, but he died a sober and old man. His humility and willingness to be honest with himself about his shortcomings are the touchstones of any successful recovery.

    Johnny Cash resonates with me personally because even at his most debaucherous, he knew that he was not being true to himself or his roots. There was a yearning in him for a place and a time he had been before, but did not know exactly how to recapture. As AIC put it, “have I run too far to get home?” For our subject today, the answer was thankfully no. He eventually found Peace in the Valley.

    Sunday Morning Coming Down.

 

Peace in the Valley.

 

Day 47. Still Here.

June 10, 2011

Another original. Birds express expert indifference. Second only to cats.

     I’m still here. I’m not dead, relapsed, in jail, or in an institution. I have so far avoided the dreaded three-headed Hydra of “jails, institutions or death” referenced in the Big Book. But I am in a bit of a danger zone emotionally. Kind of just holding on in a strong head-wind some days, like my friend up there. My brain is still healing, which is so apparent in acute physical withdrawal, but easy to forget post-acute. Miraculous organ that it is, the brain eventually makes an adjustment and the most acute physical symptoms go away. During the period of being physically sick, those symptoms crowd everything else out.

    But when those symptoms go away, there is a sudden glut of emotions that cannot be trusted whatsoever. Because the physical manifestations of withdrawal are gone, the temptation is to think that this…is…what…sober…feels…like. But it’s not. I see too much evidence to contrary “in the rooms,” as we say. (It is an exercise in futility, by the way, to throw yourself into this program without having the lingo seep into your subconscious. So why fight it?) I see people who have years of sobriety. Decades. I see people who have buried parents, buried children, lost careers, lost every material thing they own, etc., all without picking up a drink. I saw a person today who tomorrow is moving home with their spouse, who has a terminal illness, to allow their spouse to die and be buried in the place of their birth. NEWSFLASH: I’m not there yet. But these people provide evidence to me of the potential for a serenity that I have never known.

    Which leads me to the reason I have been a little remiss here on regular posting. The best place for me right now is in the rooms. Not the rooms of the Notdisneyworld Sober Ranch. The rooms of AA or NA. Hearing people with more time than me talk. Because some of them sound terminally happy, and I want that. And even if I find myself in a lousy meeting (they do exist) listening to someone talk who does not have a program that I would like to emulate: hearing what those people have to say is better than listening to the stuff that’s inside my head right now. I’m writing some of that stuff down, too, but I want to give myself time to sift through that material to determine what’s real and what’s diseased thinking. I prefer, in other words, a little bit more distance between my brain and my keyboard, for the time-being.

    P.S., Go Dallas.

Day 44: Sunset.

June 6, 2011

This one is an original, so the legal department is happy.

    Took some pictures yesterday of something we have an abundance of at the NotDisneyworld Sober Ranch: beautiful sunsets.

The heavens declare the glory of God; And the firmament shows His handiwork. Day unto day utters speech, And night unto night reveals knowledge. There is no speech, nor language where their voice is not heard. Their line has gone out through all the earth, And their words to the end of the world. In them, He has set a tabernacle for the sun, Which is like a bridegroom coming out of his chamber, And rejoices like a strong man to run its race. Its rising is from one end of heaven, And its circuit to the other end; And there is nothing hidden from its heat. Psalm 19: 1-6.

    Sunday school over. Sometimes you need to let your Mom know your head is in the right place, ya know? I’ve given her plenty of material to fret over in this space; it never hurts to push the needle in the other direction.

I will mind-melt you!

    Mike never had to answer for losing a 15-point lead in the final 6 minutes of a home game in the NBA Finals. He never had to answer questions like this. If this had happened, Mike would have probably  blamed you and he would have been forced to melt you with his mind.  Love ya, Scottie.

    But please stop talking.  LeBron, great; Mike, GREATEST.

   Off topic, I know. But I’m the boss, applesauce, and I will never miss a chance to advocate for the greatest competitor in the history of team sports.

Not a bad idea if the intent is to remain upwind.

    Some days just drag by. Any number of things explain it: anhedonia, which can be a vestige of substance abuse (and a symptom of post acute withdrawal syndrome); or clinical depression which was possibly a pre-existing condition and exacerbated by substance abuse; or yet, still, a syndrome called dysthymia, a milder but-longer-lasting-cousin of depression which seems to be gaining steam as the likeliest of the causes of my flickering light.

     I suppose partly to blame too is the fact that I have worked long days and weeks for as long as I can remember. The…pace…of…recovery…is…by…design…less……..intense. Some days it’s easy to find stuff to do with down-time. I read, I write, I draw, I socialize. Sometimes though I don’t have any desire to do any of that stuff, either. On those occasions, I can either force myself to do something (like I am now), or…what? I guess that’s the $60,000 question. Sleeping isn’t really an option. Exercise works if it’s not 100 degrees.

    But at some point, I need to wrestle – under someone’s guidance, of course – with the fundamental brain-chemistry questions posed in my first paragraph. For fifteen years, when I had this feeling, I would use something to alter my mood. That approach, as we now know, will eventually kill me, if I let it. Death is bad. So I need to find another way to treat the underlying syndrome. These questions, this early in recovery, are tantamount to putting the cart before the horse. We still don’t know what my normal brain chemistry is (maybe I can speak Spanish?). I’ve been told many times already to lower my expectations for myself right now. Just don’t use today. Good, great, grand, wonderful.

    Some days it feels like I’m just hanging on. Which makes me think of a song by the greatest college-radio rock band ever. It sounds like a morose song at first, but the message is one of hope. Hold on. You’re not alone. Take comfort in your friends.

Day 40.

June 3, 2011

What's that warm glowy thing in the sky?

    I believe the worst is over. My worst symptoms now are due more to lack of sleep and nutrition than anything else. (HAVE I GOT THE WEIGHT LOSS PLAN FOR YOU!) I think. Withdrawal is more like a roller coaster than a steady decline or descent. It comes in waves, so it’s impossible to say. But there have been moments, represented above, when light punches through.

    The insomnia is not a whole hell of a lot of fun. Nothing over-the-counter touches it. My insomnia scoffs at melatonin. Nothing available with a prescription that I have been allowed so far touches it. Trazodone? Nada. There’s only one thing I’m aware of that would work (like a charm, in fact). But people in a treatment center get a little freaked out when one asks for a benzodiazepine like Xanax or Valium (Ativan? Something? ANYTHING?), drugs with an apparently high potential for abuse – something I do not understand at all (“Hey, let’s party! By sleeping!”). So I have not gone so far as to ask for them. And I don’t expect an offer to be forthcoming.

    So instead, I just get up, walk around and drink a glass of milk. And sigh. A lot.

Day 39: Opiate Free.

June 2, 2011

I KEEL YOU.

    Woke up this morning for the first time in a long time completely opiate free. MURDER KILL MAIM /SHOOTS LASERS FROM EYES. I feel good about that even if I feel kind of lousy physically. HATE HATE HATE HATE HATE. I know that probably starting tomorrow – or even later today – I’ll start to have the sensation I call little rays of light: moments where I feel this thing called contentedness. SPIDERS SPIDERS SPIDERS SPIDERS. Fleeting at first, kind of like when you’ve had a stomach bug, and you first start to get the sensation of being hungry again. SKULLS BONES ROT DEATH. MORE SPIDERS. The clouds part just a bit, and you have the realization that the worst is over. RAGE ANGER RAGING RAGE-IER RAGE-IEST. I have lots of material to write about, and I’m going to do my best to reconstruct what the last five days or so have been like, since I haven’t posted much. PUKE VOMIT VENOM. Stay tuned. And one more thing:

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