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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    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.

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 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.

A thing I like.

    The Saturday Autobiographical, back by popular demand. On Monday. To review: three likes, three dislikes, with links, explanation and commentary. The sweet tea has never materialized, but you never know.

     Same qualifications as always. It’s gimmicky. It’s hokey. It is fantastically self-indulgent.  It’s not particularly creative – I’ve seen ads for male enhancement with more subtlety: “Buy this, get any girl you want. Don’t, and die from cancer.”  However, as I indicated last week, my shareholders demand page-views – you know how advertisers can be – so I’m gonna do it anyway. Editor’s Note: I have neither shareholders nor advertisers.

Three things I like:

    1. The Beatles: In addition to having the best Wikipedia entry in history, the Beatles changed everything, forever.  The singer-songwriter band was practically non-existent, once upon a time. Bands were the product of their record label’s design (sadly, these things come full circle). Unlike movies, which went from being an organic creation of people who loved movies to vertically-integrated, formulaic creations of the studios (thank you for that, Star Wars), rock-and-roll bands kind of went the other direction.

    The Beatles changed everything. Before the Beatles, rock-and-roll pop “bands” were often creations of the record labels (real rock-and-roll, of course originated with the blues singer-song writers in the Southeastern United States, but that takes my neat little narrative here and makes it messy; so I am speaking in broad generalities here). After the Beatles, every record label was looking for the next singer-songwriter band playing in a garage. Without the Beatles, there is no Nirvana – likely no grunge at all, in fact.

    For crying out loud, there was a time when the Beatles were terrified to release an album, because people did all kinds of crazy things on the basis of Beatles lyrics. They had a monumental influence on fashion, practically created the music video, and one of them is a knight.  Other artists will get their due in this space, but none of them can claim to have had the influence on our culture, or on me, that the Beatles did.

        2.  The Atlanta Braves: They haven’t given me much to work with in a while, but for the last 20 years or so, I have lived and died with the Braves. And I lived more than I died: fourteen straight division titles spoiled me. The Braves treated me to more wonderful sports moments in person than the average Mets fan can even imagine. World Series. NLCS. Game six of the 1999 NLCS when Andruw Jones drew a walk-off walk to clinch the NLCS and go the Series. When the Mets came to town in ’98 tied with the Braves in the NL East and Chipper Jones hit four home runs in three games.

    During the early years of our (yes, our) success, the city of Atlanta would throw a parade at the end of the season. I was at the first one, the one after the Greatest World Series Ever Played, and the baby ‘Benz Tom Glavine was riding in ran over my foot. And I have great affection for the man at the helm for each of the fourteen division titles. Former manager Bobby Cox retired last year as one of the most successful managers of all time. Well, he was the very best at one thing.  And he bore at least a passing resemblance to…

    3. Ronald Reagan: Bear with me. I was a child of the 1980’s. In my household, the hierarchy was as follows: God, Dad, Reagan. And I had a suspicion that God looked a lot like Reagan. These are the conceptions of a child, of course. Still, President Reagan came at just the right moment in history. Generally wary of strong authority figures, and cynical over the Nixon-Ford-Carter years, America needed Reagan in 1980. People forget what was going on in the late 70’s. Stagflation had a firm grip on the American economy, and the Keynsian economists didn’t have an answer.  People were beginning to think that we had seen the best America had to offer. The Soviet Union was still the Soviet Union. And the majority of academia expected the U.S.S.R. to be the yen to our yang for the forseeable future.

    But here comes this guy with a sunny disposition (usually), a 1950’s sensibility that seemed out-of-place even then, and charms the American people right into the White House. Even the press, hardened, cynical and mostly leftist, had a hard time not liking him.

This is more or less how I supposed God looked, circa 1982.

    He publicly engaged the leaders of the Soviet Union more directly than anyone since Kennedy, standing at the Brandenburg Gate and telling Mikhail Gorbachev – against the advice of nearly every one on his staff – to tear down the Berlin Wall. And behind the scenes, we now know, he directed an arms race that he knew would bankrupt the Soviet Union. Of course it is possible to overstate his role in the fall of the Soviet Union, but it cannot be said that he had nothing to do with it; nor, in the opinion of many, even that he had little to do with it. And his optimism became our optimism. During the 1980’s the American economy started expanding at a rate that was unprecedented in human history. The rumors of our demise had been greatly exaggerated.

    Setting his politics aside – because reasonable minds may differ – the reason I have him in this space is his optimism. His view of America as a City Upon a Hill, a beacon for the world of all that is good. And the conviction of his belief in these things, even when the outcome was very much in doubt. His presidency was far from perfect, as they all are. But if you really want to understand the power of Reagan, ask someone who lived in East Berlin in 1980 what they think of him. Or Yugoslavia. Or Hungary. It is hard to imagine America today, or the world, without his presidency.

Three things I unlike:

    1. The Rolling Stones: The anti-Beatles. This is strictly a matter of opinion. The ‘Stones had (have) considerable commercial and critical success. They have sold to date something in the range of 200 million albums worldwide. But they are too commercial and over-exposed. And rock stars shouldn’t grow old on stage, with a few exceptions (see, e.g., Eric Clapton, and B.B. King). Plus there’s this. But mainly, for me, they haven’t stood the test of time. I just don’t like their music, with one big exception.

    2. The expression “Let me put a bug in your ear.” Gross. This is a concept better suited for a horror movie, not the board-room. Who first used this expression, the person who invented Garbage Pail Kids? What kind of response do you think it got? Exactly. How this caught on baffles me. I just think we can do better. This actually happened in a movie once, in Star Trek II: Wrath of Kahn. I saw it as a kid, and it was terrifying. I slept with my covers over my head for a week.

Illustration of the bug for the ol' bug in ear trick in Star Trek II: Wrath of Kahn.

    3. Lightning: Lightning combines two of my least favorite things: sudden loud noises and death. Like most phobias, this one – called astraphobia – originates during childhood. Mine developed during my illustrious little league career. At that time, I lived in the lightning strike capital of the world. During one game, I was playing center field when a thunderstorm came seemingly out of nowhere. At some point when my team was in the field, lightning struck a billboard directly behind me.

    The fastest animal on land is the cheetah, reaching speeds between 70 and 75 MPH. The fastest human beings run just under 30 MPH. I suspect, however, that no one has ever clocked a cheetah or a human being after lightning struck an object located 25 feet or so behind them. After the strike and instant “BOOM” I’m pretty sure I hit 96. In my memory, I just vaporized out of center field and reappeared in the dug out. My Dad was coaching third base at the time, and he likes to say that he hadn’t even gotten the first syllable of “EVERYBODY IN!!!” out of his mouth and I was past him – all knees and elbows – and into the dug-out.

    Lightning and I have hated each other ever since. It’s tried several more times to get me. Like the time my brother and I were brushing our teeth in the bathroom, getting ready for bed, and lightning struck the transformer behind our house. There was a flash, a crash and a boom, sparks flew out of our outlets, and then there was total darkness. I figured we were all dead. That’s just mean, lightning.

Trees: not a good shelter in the storm.

    A bolt of lightning is approximately 36,000 degrees Fahrenheit, or three times the temperature of the surface of the sun. From 1990 to 2003, 756 people died from lightning strikes in the United States, with Florida – site of the Notdisneyworld Sober Ranch – leading the way with 126. When people refer to God’s vengeance, they refer to “being struck by lightning.” I can’t think of a more direct illustration of the concept that “it is appointed unto man once to die” than a lightning strike. It’s God’s way of saying, “Hey you, out of the pool!”

    I have developed a specialized way of walking – during thunder storms, mainly – that my family calls the crab-walk. I get low to the ground and walk with my legs spread far apart, thereby resembling a crab. Hey, I’m 6’4″, I’m often the tallest object around. My brother, also tall, does the same thing. On that rare occasion when we are walking in a thunderstorm together, we look pretty ridiculous. And people laugh at us. That’s fine, when they get struck by lightning, I will stand over their charred remains and laugh at them. What one man calls astraphobia, I call good survival instincts.

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.