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.

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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.

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.

This is the goal.

    One more day of Suboxone. I’m only taking 1mg at this point anyway and my body knows it. Can’t sleep and don’t feel like reading, writing (this short post = huge effort), socializing, eating, drinking, exercising, or really much of anything else. Pray and hang on. That’s the game plan. On the theory that it’s always darkest before the dawn, I’m relieved.

Day 35: No Excuses.

May 28, 2011

    I haven’t been posting very consistently this week, but that’s mainly because I’ve been busy during the day, and the time when I post most often – the early morning – is the only time I’ve been able to get good sleep. And I choose sleep over you, I hope you don’t hold that against me. I have lots of material for this week, though, so stay tuned.

    I’ll post more later today (promise this time). In the meantime, enjoy the melodic  “No Excuses,” by a frequent subject of this blog, AIC.

Hi. You might not want to make eye-contact.

    I proposed stopping Suboxone completely today. My doctor, probably wisely, suggested that we taper off to 1.5mg, then 1.0 over the next 5 days. I have been told to listen to my body, and take it easy for a little while. Which is good advice. One of the things my body tells me to do is move. Walk. Play basketball. Throw the football. When I’m moving, I feel almost normal. Almost. When I don’t move, I feel like snowball up there.

   I’ll have a more substantive post later today, after our nurse shows up and I feel like talking.

Salvodor Dali knows what I'm talking about.

    I wake up feeling more or less like I was run over by a bus, but sleep is impossible, so I make myself go to a 7am AA meeting. Which is just as well, because that meeting is supposed to be required reading here at the Notdisneyworld Sober Ranch, although in my current condition, I could get a special dispensation if I wanted it. But it really wouldn’t do me any good to toss and turn in bed for another hour, so I go.

    We get back around 8:15. Our nurse arrives promptly at 9:00am to dispense medication, including my paltry little 3mg (!) of Suboxone. The worst I feel all day is in the morning between 8am and when the nurse shows up. It goes without saying that that time…passes…very…slowly. Our nurse gets a chuckle now when she shows up at 9 to find me in the group room lying in some state of repose, with the best hang-dog expression I can muster, so as to say: “before you do anything else, please tend to me.”

     Being a first-born (the world revolves around me; never forget this) and somewhat of a drama queen, I have perfected the hang-dog expression to something of an art-form.  Our nurse is the one person in the whole facility who does not have some kind of personal experience with addiction. We call them normies. I have to think that she occasionally (I went to school for like 100 years and I never spell “occasionally” right the first time) gets a kick out of  the theater of the whole thing. But if she does, she never shows it.

    She’s as patient as you would expect a matronly woman in her choice of profession would be. Reading between the lines, you should take my sentiment towards her to mean that she does in fact tend to me before anything else. The real trick is to evoke that kind of sympathy without it appearing intentional. Like I said, it’s art. I have 35 years of experience at this (and I have had a few good teachers along the way), so all you aspiring drama queens, take heart: you too can master the art of evoking pity. You don’t want to overdo it, but it’s not such a bad skill to have when the occasion (really?! two “c”s, one “s”, how hard is that to remember?!) calls for it. Keep reading, and you’re bound to continue getting these invaluable life lessons.