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.


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.

The People Problem.

May 17, 2011

Stupid lemmings. They haven’t even invented nuclear weapons. So stupid.

    Ah, humans. The Cadillac of the biological world. The culmination – depending on your viewpoint – of millions of years of biological evolution, or of creation by God, and in His own image. We are the pièces de résistance. The big cheese. The kings of the food chain, the apex predator to top all apex predators. We subdue and have dominion over all creation. Crocodiles, great white sharks, lions, tigers and Kodiak bears: they’re all looking up at us. Our intellect sets us apart from all the rest.

    Except when it doesn’t. We can be shockingly unremarkable when it suits us. Banal, conformist, and shackled by old ideas and prejudices. These things are nowhere more evident than when many human beings get together to form a group.  And we have determined that groups, meetings and fellowships are the best way to defeat addiction.

    Ironically, it is group-think that often puts us in this predicament to begin with. We start using for a variety of reasons, and get addicted for a variety of reasons, but many of those reasons fall under the group-think umbrella. Fitting in. Peer pressure. The phenomenon of thinking we don’t have a problem because we’re not as bad as that guy. Until we are that guy.

    So now that we know we have a problem, we turn to a group. A group with good values instead of bad. A group that eschews the ephemeral in favor of the permanent. Long-term fulfillment instead of immediate gratification. But it’s still a group of imperfect human beings.

    Truth be told, there is plenty to find unlikable about these humans, if I want to look for it. Not everything people say in groups is beneficial to every person in the room. Or any person in the room, for that matter. Sometimes what people say is downright contradictory, banal, or even stupid. Sometimes what people say is flat wrong. True wisdom is a rare commodity, as in life, even in the best rooms.

    This same phenomenon made organized religion unappealing to me for a very long time. As the Big Book puts it, it’s possible to miss the beauty of the forest for the ugliness of some of its trees. I would even say “many” of its trees. Because human beings are flawed creatures.

     But history is littered with flawed humans performing beautiful works. If we were to throw out every idea that emanated from a flawed human being, we wouldn’t be left with a whole hell of a lot. Martin Luther King, Jr., Thomas Jefferson, Lincoln, David of the Bible,Voltaire, Socrates, Plato, and on and on. All flawed. And if thieves, philanderers, adulterers, murderers and racists (as represented by my collection of historical figures) are capable of producing enduring works of wisdom and beauty, then a group of drunks is surely capable of saying just enough to sustain me for one more day.

    One of the things I need to get over is my idea that a thought – to have merit – must come from an intellect that is at least the equal of my own. Not only is this idea a fallacy, it’s repugnant to some of the ideas and some of the teaching of the very people I have placed on intellectual pedestals. Jesus Christ, MLK, Ghandi, and Jefferson, just to name a few, believed fervently in the wisdom of the “common” man. And who am I to even make a determination of who possesses a common intellect, and who does not? My mistrust of others is rooted in my own flawed determinations of who merits listening to and who doesn’t. I’ve been wrong several times about people here at the Notdisneyworld Sober Ranch.

    But on occasion, people will do and say unmistakably stupid things. And they will do and say unmistakably stupid things in groups. So, what do I do? Throw the baby out with the bath water? Or recognize that groups are made up of imperfect people, but people who can nonetheless be used for a higher purpose. A miraculous purpose even. Jesus didn’t spend a lot of his time with the intellectuals. He preferred the prostitutes, the dregs of humanity, the proletariat. Jefferson trusted the wisdom of the people (tempered by a representative republic structure, but that’s a story for another day).

    At the end of the day, though, the best reason to leave my prejudice at the door is that I am not qualified to make a judgment about who is worth listening to and who is not. The things I hear should be judged on the merit – or lack thereof – of the thoughts themselves, not on a judgment I make on the person submitting them. After all, I must consider the possibility that my own ideas might just as easily and summarily be dismissed as the judgmental and addled thinking of a drunk.

That's me on the left, the one with the white wooly coat.

    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.

A thing I don't like.

     The Saturday Autobiographical , back by popular demand. On Wednesday. Some have suggested a name-change, so it’s not so confusing when  – as has been the case two out of three times – this recurring theme is published on a day other than Saturday. The person who made that suggestion was a recovering drug addict. Like I’m gonna take their advice. There’s only room for one cuckoo in this clock.

    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 law firms with more subtlety: “Call us, get rich. Don’t, and die a horrible and disfiguring death.”  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 Beastie Boys: Three New York Jewish guys with punk roots who seemingly on a lark gave up punk and threw their collective hat in the fledgling hip-hop arena. If your goal is to master an artistic medium in which you are virtually an ethnic and racial outsider, achieve critical and commercial success, and do it all with tongue firmly planted in cheek, then these guys are your heroes. Archetypal, iconoclastic and ironic. Hip, goofy, and gifted. Their music will be studied for generations, even though we were never really sure if they were serious. The Beastie Boys are almost like a 20-year long episode of Punk’d. They also provided the theme song of my youth. And I did indeed have to fight…for my right…to Par-TAY.

License to ill and registration, please.

    2. Coffee: It’s all I have left, dammit!

    3. Sir Winston Spencer Churchill: I have been an Anglophile most of my adult life, and he was the greatest Anglo of them all. He is the subject of William Manchester’s The Last Lion, a three-volume biography, during the writing of which Mr. Manchester passed away.

    This man gets much of the credit – and deservedly so – for his countrymen’s stiff upper lip while London was bombed by the Nazis day and night during WWII. He recognized Hitler (discussed below) as a threat while most of Europe was still under his spell. He was a master of the language, and used that gift to steel his nation’s resolve during WWII. He could have been speaking for all of western civilization when he said:

… we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.

    And had a wit without match. An example is as follows:

Lady Astor: Mr. Churchill, if you were my husband, I would poison your drink.

SWC: My lady, if you were my wife, I would drink it.

The Last Lion himself.

Three things I unlike:

    1. Hitler: Sometimes it’s good to cover the basics. You need this box checked to call yourself a member of civilization. It must be in your repertoire. I’m glad to get it out of the way, to be honest. Stalin, on the other hand? Misunderstood.

This Hello Kitty image has generated billions of dollars in licensing fees. Life is really unfair.

    2. “Think Outside the Box:” Along with all the other overused expressions I object to in this space, this was a useful, clever expression for a time, but that time has long since passed. It’s greatest offense is overuse. It’s been used so often – so, so often – simply using the expression “think outside the box” demonstrates an inability to think outside the box. Irony of ironies, the expression is now very much inside the box. And it doesn’t work anyway.

Chickens are by far the funniest bird.

    3. Inanimate objects that hate me: They’re everywhere, things that are out to get me. Umbrellas and newspapers combined with wind are common offenders. Computers, video games, car parts. Electronics. Kids toys (some assembly required is Chinese for “stupid American with enormous hands never figure out toy ha ha”). Ikea, that diabolical little European instrument of torture, will get its own mention in a future Autobiographical. The worst part is that inanimate objects don’t scream when you beat them with a hammer or throw them at a wall, and they have a tendency to break your hand when you hit them. They are altogether unperturbed when you scream at them, and I have a feeling they are laughing at me on the inside when I get red in the face and shout incantations at them in an attempt to destroy them with a hex, or – failing that – at least shoot them with lasers from my eye-sockets. I came by this honestly. My Dad yells at objects, too. And my brother. I already see signs of it in my sons. The men in my family have a real feud with objects going on, but in fairness to us, they started it.

Can you feel the rage?

Shhhhhh. Don't ruin it.

     These words are spoken at the end of nearly every AA meeting, and comprise the Serenity Prayer, first penned by theologian Reinhold Niebuhr in 1934. The prayer was co-opted by AA and other 12-step groups in 1941 and has been a part of the AA literature and the AA experience ever since. It’s not difficult to see why. One of the fundamental tenants of AA is that the alcoholic’s life has become unmanageable with alcohol. And the process of making life manageable again happens piece-meal. It doesn’t happen all at once. 

    The dichotomy inherent in the statement that life has become unmanageable is that the alcoholic often drinks because their life is unmanageable in the first place. We are generally running to the bottle from things or persons or places. That is certainly the case for me. That may not have always been the case; I started drinking and doing drugs in order to feel good. But at some point, I drank to cope. And, as is evident in these pages, I had a lot to cope with. Doesn’t really make a difference that a lot of it was self-inflicted.          

    So I have a dilemma.

    I don’t have any less to cope with, just because I stopped drinking and taking drugs. I haven’t gotten my job back, or figured out what to do about my family, or gotten my house back, or paid any bills, or gotten my friends back, or earned my family’s trust back, or made up for lost time with my kids. Yet. Some of those things will come. Some won’t.

    So how do I cope? The Serenity Prayer is a start. Everything I named in the paragraph above is past. It’s prologue. I can’t change a bit of it. So I pray for serenity. And for the things that I can change – some of which are hard things to do, I ask for courage. It takes courage to tell another human being about the terrible shit I’ve done (Step 5). It takes even more courage to make amends to the people I have wronged (Steps 8 and 9). I’ll talk about the steps in more detail later, by the way. They’re like good voodoo.

    Finally, wisdom. This is last for a reason: it’s probably the hardest one to learn. It’s the hardest one to learn because an addict’s programming strains against wisdom. Rationalization cannot coexist with wisdom. Same goes for prejudice. And pride. And fear. And until we are honest with ourselves about which “things” we can change, and which ones we can’t, we don’t have wisdom. Rationalization, to use one example, fools us about which things we can change. Rationalization favors inertia. Inertia yields the status quo. And since I believe that human beings are dynamic creatures by nature, the failure to change move forward is tantamount to moving backwards. So the Serenity Prayer is one of those things in life that is real easy to understand but is all but impossible to attain complete adherence to (/hangs head in shame for ending sentence with a preposition, then reminds self that if it was okay with Churchill, it’s okay with this author). 

    The simplicity of the Serenity Prayer belies the intellect of its author. Reinhold Niebuhr was an interesting case. His theological and political thought contributed heavily – albeit somewhat indirectly – to American foreign policy in the 2oth century.

    Great 20th century thinkers, great politicians and, um…regular politicians all cited him as an influence. People such as Martin Luther King, Jr., Barack Obama, John McCain, Jimmy Cah-dah and Arthur Schlesinger, Jr all cited him as an influence in their own personal philosophies. His teaching bridged the isle because World War II and the steady march of communism caused him to take a somewhat triangulated position between the leftist theologians of the day and religious conservatives.

    He helped shape our modern concept of what exactly is a just war, by shifting from concepts of idealism to realism as an appropriate justification for war. The “real politik” and “detente” policies of the latter half of the 20th century were natural extensions of his beliefs. So the intellect that gave us the simple, little ol’ Serenity Prayer was one the most powerful thinkers of the day.

Helped avoid this, AND gave us the Serenity Prayer. Well done, sir.

Fitting In.

May 4, 2011

Chicken Hell. Probably not a real common Google search.

    A common thread binds we unfortunate souls who find ourselves in rooms and rehabs and hospitals and prisons and all those other God-forsaken places on earth addictions take people before the illness finally and mercifully issues the coup de grace. Most of us acknowledge never feeling quite at home in any environment. We don’t feel as if we ever completely belong anywhere.

    This social pain – as does every other kind of pain – nudges us towards oblivion. This is certainly true for me. I have friends and many acquaintances, in many different walks of life. In fact, given my proclivity for contraband, I move effortlessly in environments my more “respectable” friends would fear to tread. But being able to function in an environment – even function very well, superficially – is not the same as fitting in. There are very few places I have ever felt completely at home.

    I was an athlete but was never at home in a locker room. I am intelligent, but I am no intellectual; the ivory tower was foreign to me. I was raised in church, but for a whole host of reasons, I never felt at ease there (I’m getting there; I have discovered God in a very real way – finding a church home is next). I went to a public high school, but had a father who was a minister, so I perceived that I never completely fit in there. I went to law school and met some of the coolest people on earth; but I didn’t completely fit in with most of them, either – I didn’t go to private school or pledge a fraternity.

   I had a lot of people I called friends, but – unlike my brother, for example (ah, the happy oblivion of being a middle child) – I felt like I had one or two friends and a whole bunch of acquaintances. And there are stories – as there are in everyone’s story – of episodic rejection by all the various groups identified above, which fed my belief that I didn’t fit in.

    All this not fitting in and I starved for positive attention and reinforcement. This is a common trait in first-born, who as children are often given too much praise for the good they do, and too much criticism for the bad (although let me add that I have the greatest parents in the world; this is not a critique of them; this phenomenon is nearly universal for first-born).

Gary Larson is a sick man.

    I was extremely susceptible to peer pressure as a teenager, but it wasn’t in the context of the everybody-is-doing-it, after-school-special type of peer pressure. I just went above and beyond to gain acceptance: drugs gave me instant credibility. Also, I began to deploy humor in the form of sarcasm as a defense mechanism. These things worked really well together to shield me from the social pain of rejection, and I continued to use them in concert up until about two weeks ago. More than 15 years later.

    One thing that set me apart from a lot of people – other guys in particular – was that I was – am – extremely sensitive. This was at odds with the high valuation I placed on the traits of grace under fire and an easy-going temperament – in addition to this dry, sarcastic sense of humor I was working on – so I internalized things that bothered me or hurt my feelings while trying real hard to display a devil-may-care attitude. And looking back, I can see now that I got my feelings hurt easily and, therefore, often.

    My existence – happy on the surface – felt at times like that of a place-keeper. Like I was inhabiting this body and interacting with the people in my life just to hold someone else’s place. Belonging just enough to keep the seat warm for when the real Jason got back. Like this was just a warm-up for my real life. I had a tendency to ask myself: is this all there is?

    From an existential point of view, wow, that’s f@cked up thinking! I had parents who loved me, a great relationship with my brother and sister, a great, warm, accepting and loving extended family and eventually, a family of my own. But I had moments when I felt very alone, and I had this artist’s temperament and a melancholy streak I had no idea how to deal with. So, I drugged my brain – at least in part – to make it stop feeling. When I drank and did drugs, I felt like I fit in. I had a society of people – in the case of drugs, a secret society – who at least on this one important (at the time) issue, were on the same page as me. I belonged.

    And now I’m been thrown in a foreign environment with a bunch of complete strangers, without the drugs and without the alcohol to assuage my social anxiety. Being honest, I have moments here when I feel like I don’t fit in. And now I have to DEAL with it. For the most part, I feel this way because of me and my insecurity, not because of anything anyone else here has done. But under these circumstances and without my social salve, minor differences or social hiccups are magnified. So my sarcasm defense mechanism is up, big-time, along with the fake devil-may-care attitude.

Chandler Bing was the Picasso of sarcasm-as-defense-mechanism.

    Fortunately, I’ve definitely made real friends, several of them. People who it feels like I’ll be friends with for the rest of my life.  As you no doubt noticed, J rocketed straight to my list of top-five people in the world (in the span of only five days; he’s a wonderful human being). The kind of person any parent would love for their son to grow up to be, or for their daughter to marry. And I’m not even giving the caveat “now that he’s clean.” In J’s case, I feel like this transformation was inevitable. I hold him in that high of regard.

    In fact, J has been coaching me to allow myself not to give a shit what anyone thinks about me. It’s a lesson he’s learned, and now he wants to give me that same gift. If I’m doing the things I need to be doing, other people be damned – I’m gonna be fine. It’s funny, until this experience, I never knew that I had such self-esteem issues (nearly all self-inflicted). J has been great medicine for me. And there are others, too. Stay tuned…

A thing I like.

    Autobiographical Saturday, back by popular demand. Three likes, three dislikes, with links, explanation and commentary. The sweet tea never materialized last time, but you never know.

     Same qualifications as last week. It’s gimmicky. It’s hokey. It is fantastically self-indulgent.  It’s not particularly creative – I’ve seen ads for male “enhancement” pills that are more subtle: “The ‘performance’ from these pills will get you the hot girl and make you rich beyond your wildest dreams; you’ll probably own a yacht.”  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. College Football: This might be my most favorite thing in the charted universe. I spent 10 years in a beautiful southern college town. I never had a chance, I’m hopelessly addicted. If it weren’t for the fact that this particular affliction is completely – okay, mostly – wholesome, this would probably outrank my other DOC’s on the scale of my inability to walk away from them. We do football differently in the south.  Lots of pretty girls go to the games. Take it away ladies:

                         [Photo redacted. My mom reads this blog, pervert]

    The point is, football is an egalitarian sport in the south. Women participate, and with alacrity. And the women aren’t just there to have a good time. In the south, most female fans can tell you why your team shouldn’t have been in a cover-two in a critical short-yardage third down, and that’s why your team lost. And in a tradition that is unique to the south, the women dress up to go to games. It may seem arcane, but girls in the south really put on the ritz for our games. Like these young University of Georgia fans.

This was one of the few photos suitable for publication that turned up in a word search for '"football, south, girls." The internet is all the proof I need we're going to hell in a handbasket.

     You will note the complete absence of what we might call – for lack of a better term – slut gear. There’s no cut up t-shirt with cleavage spilling out (I’m looking at you Florida State). No lived-in hair. No hats. No hoodies. This is how we do college football in the south.

    2. Killing Osama Bin Laden: No need to elaborate. Beautiful Day by U2 comes to mind. I’ll give President Obama credit for pulling the trigger once the intelligence was there and for a relatively non-partisan speech to announce the news.  USA! USA USA! (As I typed that I heard Homer’s voice in my head).

People in Philly have a certain way about them that just seems right, under the circumstances.

    3. C.S. Lewis: One of my favorite authors from this century. This man, through his book Surprised By Joy, fanned the embers of my faith through times when I described myself as an atheist. My atheism was an intellectual point of view, one rooted in my brain, that never made the 18-inch drop to my heart. That was largely owed to C.S. Lewis. His view on the sublime, and his articulation of the idea that we see glimpses of the sublime here on earth, but never the real thing, made an indelible impression on me. So much so, that even during the times when I was entirely eaten up with drug-addiction and atheism (I’m not suggesting that the two concepts are related for everyone, but for me, those two ideas were cause-and-effect), I found myself asking the question, “but what about C.S. Lewis?” This quiet man, an intellectual and a scholar his entire life, was a giant of the 20th century. (He also authored the more well-known Chronicles of Narnia).

Three things I unlike:

    1. The Florida Gators: They represent all that is evil and soul-less in the world. The Darth Vader of the college football universe. From the gator chomp to the ubiquitous jean shorts – or, “jorts” – this affliction is a scourge on all humanity, and should be rooted out and destroyed wherever it exists. Every good story has a villain, and the narrative of college football has the Florida Gators. Most of the people afflicted with this sickness – as with addiction, these are otherwise good people, it’s the disease that is evil – are oblivious to the fact that college football was played before 1990, when Steve Spurrier came back to Gainesville, and made a deal with the devil  started chucking the ball all over the damn field, effectively ending the “three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust” era of SEC football.

Oh the humanity.

    Spurrier was banished by Satan to South Carolina, as part of the deal, eventually left Florida for South Carolina, also in the SEC east, so once a year, I have to make the choice of whether to root for Spurrier or Florida. I usually root for the meteors.

Where's a good meteor when you need one?

    2. The phrases “24/7” and “A.S.A.P:” Expertly derided in the movie “Role Models”, there’s really not much more for me to add. As a general rule, I hate lingo, and more often than not, you will see this space used to call out certain overused expressions which may have had a viable window for use, but that window closed around the same time music videos started putting hot women in them again (for some reason, grunge rebelled against a tried and true formula: sex and rock n’ roll; that’s why today MTV has about a billion reality shows and very little music; thanks a lot, Kurt). Interestingly, AA is riddled with clever little pithy one-liners: “one day at a time,” “Easy Does It,” and so on. But I like them in this context, because they are used to convey truth, not to demonstrate either that you are hip or have adopted new age (middle) management practices. FYI, STFU, ASAP, PREESH.

This actually happened.

    3. People Who Don’t Like the Movie Tombstone. Do you hate democracy too? And apple pie? Babies? Do you club baby seals with rolled up replicas of the Bill of Rights? Do you have toilet paper with the Constitution printed on it? Did you skip the Louvre when you were in Paris in favor of a trip to Old Navy. Did you feel Scrooge was simply misunderstood in A Christmas Carol? Did you root for Ivan Drago in Rocky IV? Oh, that’s right, you hated Rocky IV.

That baby seal you clubbed to death with your Bible belonged to this man.

    My point is this: it’s not a guarantee that I’ll hate you if you hated Tombstone, but it’s no feather in your cap. If that is the only thing I know about you, you’ll be ranked somewhere above holocaust deniers, but probably below people who say “think outside the box” or “let me put a bug in your ear” a lot. Maybe Doc Holiday was the black sheep of your family and you have personal reasons for not liking his character, as played – legendarily – by Val Kilmer. I actually know someone who can claim this is true. But even he loves Tombstone.

There's enough testosterone in this photo to choke a horse.

    The dialogue absolutely pops (“I’m your huckleberry…”). There are themes of second chances, redemption, renewal, loyalty, grace under fire, justice, death, salvation, nuance, love, jealousy, retribution; need I go on? Val Kilmer deserves his own post here, but suffice to say that he made this flick. Val Kilmer has had some bad choices (the Island of Dr. Moreau, anyone?), but during this period: Tombstone, The Salton Sea, Heat – HOLY CRAP, what a run!

    The costume design was superb, the facial hair grooming was nonpareil, and Dana Delaney was at the top of her career as a typecast sexy intellectual (what a thing to be typecast as). For crying out loud, Jason Priestly – a hunk of hunky hunkliness during the 90’s – was reduced to an impliedly gay effeminate theater junkie (not that there’s anything wrong with that) – in the festival of testosterone that was Tombstone.  It was a beautiful thing.

    So goes another chapter of the Saturday Autobiographical. See you next week. Back to the serious fare related to my personal journey of spiritual awakening and self-discovery later today. But until then, remember: SEC football – our girls are prettier than your girls.

This is where that five-minute tutorial really pays off.

    Before they set you loose on grade four rapids at one of those white water rafting rides, they give you just enough of a lesson to presumably keep most of the people in the boat for the duration of the ride.  It usually works. Usually.

SON OF A...*gurgling sounds*

      The most important thing, they say, is to keep paddling. The act of keeping the paddle in the water has the effect of pushing you back into the boat. When you are in the boat and hit your first rapid, your instincts tell you to move to the center of the boat, pull your paddle out of the water, cower in the middle of the raft, and pray to your god of choice, lest you die a violent and terrifying death at the bottom of a rapid hydraulic (the scariest word I had ever heard when it was explained to me as we put our boat in the water).

    The last thing you want to do when panic sets in – and it always does set in – is keep your paddle in the water. The right thing to do in white-water rafting, as the right thing to do is wont to be, is completely counterintuitive. Recovery can be equally counterintuitive. One of the critical parts of treatment, is getting used to attending AA meetings (or NA meetings) on our own. These meetings take place off site, and we go to at least two a day every day we are in treatment. The idea is to get us in the habit of spreading our wings and taking the reins of our own recovery.

    As a newcomer, our instincts, when we appear at these meetings – which can admittedly be intimidating – is to cower on the back row and not participate. “I’m just here to listen, pass.”  Sometimes, that feels like the respectful thing to do, to defer to the veterans. And perhaps for the first time, or even the first few times, that is okay.

     But I believe our best bet for a lasting recovery is to put our paddle in the water. I have chosen to participate. I’m gonna say stuff. Even if it feels like the wrong stuff. After all, AA is predicated on giving away sobriety: newcomers are the lifeblood of the group. I would propose that newcomers should feel welcomed to participate (at most meetings). If I for some reason do not, I think it’s time to find a room where I do. I have come to the determination that this is something that is critical to my treatment.