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).




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.

I will kill you. /shoots lasers from eyes

    Remind me not to get addicted to opiates again. I’m currently taking 4mg of Suboxone a day. If you remember, I started at 24mg only 20 short days ago. Ouch. I’d put myself at about a 6 on the misery index, with 10 being full-blown withdrawal. That’s what Suboxone does for you: allows you to trade a 10 for a 6.

    And just for good measure, yesterday the universe dealt me a healthy dose of irony (I’ll get to that in a minute). First, you need to review the symptoms of opiate withdrawal. I’ll wait.  First of all, let me point out that looking at the symptoms of withdrawal written in cold black and white gives you about as much of a sense of the real thing as reading the Cliff’s Notes of Dante’s Inferno.

Dysphoria. Not a real country.

    Take “dysphoria,” for example. Dysphoria sounds like it might not be too good, but then again not so bad, either. It sounds like a country in the former Soviet Bloc. Maybe the government’s corrupt, but there are economic opportunities everywhere. A loaf of bread no longer costs a week’s pay. Sure the Russian mob controls all the entertainment rackets, but at least there is entertainment. Which is better than your options in the before times, limited to mainly kick-the-land mine or…well, not much else.

    But that’s not dysphoria at all. Dysphoria, at least as it’s experienced in withdrawal, is a feeling like – not only am I not happy now – but I’m not ever going to be happy again. Ever. And Santa died. In bed with someone not Mrs. Claus. In fact, it was  Mrs. Bunny. Husband named Easter. And the Fourth of July was cancelled, along with New Years. Now I think the picture is clear.

    So with that backdrop, I’ll note certain other symptoms of withdrawal. The ones involving the gastrointestinal tract. Given my description of dysphoria, let me assure you that every other symptom on that list is equally magnified. So you can understand my consternation when I went to Public (that’s the singular) yesterday and found out that Imodium had been voluntarily recalled. All of it. There was nothing left on the shelf. No store brand. Nothing.

    There is cosmic irony in this scenario. I get that. It’s probably hilarious. I would appreciate it even more, were it not for the fact that laughing riotously is NOT A VERY GOOD IDEA WHEN YOU HAVE SYMPTOMS YOU WOULD OTHERWISE TREAT WITH IMODIUM OH THE HUMANITY.

If you look close, you can see God laughing.

    I know, I know, I doubt God was behind the imodium recall. But you can’t rule it out entirely. So I will soldier on today in my quest to defeat addiction (subdue might be a better word).  But for the next few days, the battlefield will never be too far from a bathroom.

One thing there's never a shortage of on the internet - other than depravity - is cats.

    Something really is different this time, Dad. I don’t know how to describe it other than it’s different. Not just different between this rehab and the last. Something different from my whole life up to this point. I am starting to believe that – even if He didn’t intend for me to become addicted to drugs and alcohol (although, who knows, maybe it was necessary) – God has a plan to use my experience to help other people. He protected me up to this point, and I have every reason to believe that He will continue to protect me. That obviously doesn’t mean that life will be easy, but I truly believe that I have been spared for a reason.

    Truth be told, wouldn’t you gladly trade a decade of chaos, heartbreak, and addiction for a lifetime and an eternity of serenity, faith and hope? I think that’s an easy choice. My addiction was a gift; because without it, I would have lived a life of materialism, humanism and faithlessness. I would have wasted my life pursuing success as the world defines it.

    I don’t have any idea exactly what that means right now, but at the very least I believe that God has spared me from the end so many other addicts meet (described in the Big Book as “jails, institutions and death”). You and Mom have spent your entire lives praying for me. God has answered your prayers in a big way, albeit in a different way than any of us would have ever imagined.
    I used to need people to be around at all times to feel happy. But I think that God speaks to us more often in those still, quiet moments. I feel myself becoming a little isolated from people sometimes. Not in a bad way, though. My intellect has always, always, made me feel a different from other people. I could always feel lonely, even in a room full of people.
    I embrace that now; it feels like preparation. For what I don’t yet know. But I do know that great leaders throughout history have always felt isolated from the people they are leading. I know that grandiosity is a trait that alcoholics exhibit in spades. But I can’t get around the fact that – speaking very honestly – I have leadership qualities that I have thus far neglected. And I believe that God spared me for a reason. And maybe that reason was simply to raise my family and minister to the people in my life. But sometimes I feel like it’s something more.
    Who knows. But my point is that I believe that God will continue to protect me. Relapse is a scary word to all of us, and that is the ever-present danger for a recovering addict. But the God that spared me through active addiction can spare me from relapse, or – failing that – spare me even in the event of a relapse. And before you even say it, believing that is not the same as setting myself up to fail. It is simply acknowledging that the God that has power over death has power over addiction too.
    I love you guys, and I think I may have just written today’s blog post, without meaning to.

    Weekends are the times when my body really screams at me. It knows it’s the weekend. It’s also aware that I have changed up my routine. And it’s mad at me.

It hurts here.

   This was one of the few images suitable for publication that was yielded by the image search “human body.” C’mon, internet; do you kiss your mom with that mouth?

    The body of the recently-recovered addict or alcoholic goes through really strange cycles. It starts when the body is sleeping. Dreams. Lots of really strange dreams. They range from terrifying to odd to extremely realistic dreams involving drug use. Depending on which, it can either be an extreme relief to wake up, or it can be an abject disappointment.  But mostly the dreams are just bizarre.

In the internet's defense, I am the one who did an image search with "unicorn" and "cocaine."

    Wow. I was just hoping to get an ethereal image that included a drug reference. But someone actually took the time to draw unicorns doing cocaine. Again, you have left me speechless, human race. For the record, even when I was at my worst, I never drew pictures of imaginary magical creatures engaged in drug use.  Let’s all be thankful for that, Mom.

     Before I got distracted by the depravity of mankind, I was talking about the cycles my body seems to be going through. Aches and pains everywhere. Mood cycles to which Sybil could relate. Depression. Restlessness. Boredom (I know, I know: “If you’re bored then you’re boring;” a wise person said that to me once or twice). Sadness. Loneliness.

    My discomfiture has an obvious cause and an obvious long-term solution. What to do about it in the short-term isn’t always clear. Meetings, exercise, eating and talking to other recovering addicts are all good candidates. But the simple truth is that this is going to be an uncomfortable process. It has its moments, but I’m teaching my mind and body to cope in a different way. It’s no longer the path of least resistance. Some days it sucks. And it seems to be worse at night, not surprisingly.

     One thing it’s nice not to be carrying around though is guilt. That is an emotion I do not carry right now. At least not real guilt. I have a lingering guilt over the past, but I have stopped that hemorrhaging. And I was always good about compartmentalizing that anyway. That was a necessary survival skill in the before times.

    I am at day 15, as indicated above. Halfway to 30 days, which is a significant marker in AA. They give out green chips for 30 days, I think. My hope is that some of my restlessness and general malaise will have subsided by then. Especially the dreams. Those can be pretty awful.  Of course now I’ll be dreaming about coke-addled unicorns. Your move, Solomon.

Can't type. Palms sweaty.

    Belief…or trust? I would have described these words as synonymous until an AA meeting earlier this week. One morning this week – I forget which: my days all run together – at my 7:00 A.M. (!) meeting, an out-of-town guest spoke about the difference between belief and trust. The difference can be illustrated by this old story with which I have taken artistic liberties:

Tight rope performer: Today I am going to push a wheelbarrow across the high-wire.

Tight rope performer’s wife: Oh that sounds wonderful! Good luck, I have total belief that you can do it.

Husband: Do you trust me?

Wife: Yes I trust you completely. I absolutely believe you can do it.

Husband: Okay, then you’d be willing to sit in the wheelbarrow?

Wife: …

    Therein lies the difference between belief and trust. We say things like we “believe in God” all the time. The people in this world who are certain there is no God number relatively few. The believers vastly outnumber the non-believers. But how many of the believers actually trust God? I’ll ask the question another way: how many believers try to control events in their life? How many believers manipulate people to get them to do what they want them to do? How many believers have fear? Anxiety? How many believers fret about tomorrow? (/hand raised for all of the above.)

The wheelbarrow says put your money where your mouth is.

   The answer is relatively obvious, but I’ll spell it out anyway: all believers at one time or another do all of the things I identified above. And isn’t it impossible to do any of those things if we trust God? Trust in God, it seems to me, means the complete absence of fear. Of anxiety. Of manipulation. Of fretting. Of doing anything but living in the moment. This moment, the here, the now, today: those things are God’s gift to us. And by fretting, worrying, being anxious, manipulating, etc., we in effect say: no thank you, I’ll pass on your gift of today, God, because I don’t know that you’re going to be here for me tomorrow.

     My anxiety, worry and manipulation are all rooted in fear. Fear that either there isn’t a God, or fear that, if there is, he didn’t really concern himself with me. Fear is the primary emotion I was trying to squelch with my using. If, as I have suggested here, trust in God is tantamount to the absence of fear, then trust in God is also the absence of drugs and alcohol. For me anyway.

   Buon weekend.*

* this is the only phrase I remember from three semesters of Italian, and one of those words is the same in English.