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.

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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.

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.

    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.

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…

In addition to being honest, Abe also spit mad game, yo.

     If don’t start being honest, I will die, and probably sooner than later. I don’t know how to put a finer point on it. If I did I would. Without honesty, I will relapse and die from this disease. I can’t directly apply my free will to an addiction and expect to get a handle on it. That approach would be doomed from the start. But I can indirectly use my free will to tell the truth, and telling the truth can in turn tame my addiction.

   I’m not trying to play cute rhetorical games (maybe a little): this concept is the single most important thing for me to take away from treatment. I’ve been in active addiction for a long time. I do not have a habit of telling the truth. For an addict to continue using, they almost without exception create a world that is built on lies and deception. Sometimes the lies are overt, and sometimes the lies fall into a category we might call deception by omission. But a lie is a lie is a lie.

I cannot tell a lie: I CANNOT tell a lie.

   It’s interesting to me that we have two Presidents who are noted for their honesty. Out of 44. Come to think of it, that sounds about right, and not just because Presidents are by definition politicians (and politicians are by definition – you know – scum bags). I think people who strive for 100% honesty are the exception, not the rule. It’s just not a priority for most people, which is odd, because most people are revulsed by the idea of a perpetual liar. But most people are unconcerned with the concept of “little white lies.” I believe that in my post-treatment world, I can no longer indulge myself that distinction.

Does this make me look fat? Yes. Yes it does.

   Lying is an action that is rooted in one of two emotions, both of which are fatal to addicts: shame and fear. Every lie is the result of one or both of those emotions in some combination. I posit that shame and fear drive most, if not all, of the awful things human beings do to each other. Think about it. Except for the few that are rooted in anger (which almost singularly drives violence), nearly every other negative human action or emotion is borne out of fear or shame. Prejudice, envy, gluttony, gossip, sloth, judgmental-ism, stereotypes, xenophobia; even that dragnet of all negative human emotions – hate – is very often, if not always, rooted in fear or shame.

   So I’m going to take my cues from a character from the real Disney World, a character who sets an example from whom we addicts here in the Notdisneyworld Sober Ranch could all learn a thing or two. So much the more that he – like us – learned his lessons the hard way.

Pinocchio: providing pithy analogies since 1883.

The Sad Truth.

April 25, 2011

This appears in two parts, due to length (and your short attention spans).

If Matlock isn't the gold standard, then I don't know who is.

I have lost a lot over the last 18 months. I hardly talk about my profession, because the toll my addiction and depression have taken on my family is preeminent. Also, I cling to a little bit of denial, I think, about the fact that I have created a world for myself with far less opportunity. In a lot of ways, this is the part that is hardest to own up to. A lot of people have families. Not a lot of people have the means, the talent, or the opportunity to become lawyers.

I am a trial lawyer. I was anyway.

I debated about whether or not to reveal what I do for a living for two weeks. I came to the conclusion that it’s almost impossible to tell my story without revealing that fact. Being a trial lawyer under the best of circumstances is stressful, demanding, and, at times, downright terrifying. There is a reason lawyers lead the way in divorce rates, mental health issues, suicide and substance abuse. It is a profession that chews people up and spits them out. And I loved it for seven years.

And I need to discuss it, because a lot of things in my story won’t make sense without this backdrop. I worked hard for years to get the degree of juris doctor and learn a profession that I expected to be in for the rest of my life. And I was really good at it. I am really good at it. But I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to return to being a lawyer. At the very least, it won’t ever look the same. I have burned a lot of bridges and lost a lot of credibility within my field.

I was making a six-figure income, I had memberships to private clubs; I entertained clients, other attorneys, judges. As you might suspect, I excelled at that part of my job. Which was part of the problem. In the south we have an expression for what I became: too big for my britches. I had a bit of a sense of entitlement, because, in my estimation, I brought in a lot of money in to my firm. I overestimated my worth. And when we got an across-the-board pay-cut in September of 2010, I took it as a personal insult. Suffice to say I would gladly take that salary today.

This period of my life includes one of the saddest chapters in this story on a personal and professional level, because it carries with it one of the worst human emotions, that of regret. I worked for a good man, and good men are not necessarily in abundance in my line of work. I worked for him for seven years. I clerked for him while I was in law school and he offered me a permanent job in August, 2002.

This was a man who cared deeply about me personally. He was a true mentor. He cared about the kind of lawyer I was, the kind of husband I was, and, eventually, the kind of father I was. He insisted on giving me the time to be a family man. He had a great deal of trust in me. And he set a great example. He was like my professional dad. I took a wrecking ball to this relationship. I’m pretty sure I hurt him in the process; he had invested a lot in me. He had even supported me through one stint in rehab.

We didn’t see eye-to-eye on everything, but I miss working for this man every day. Regret is a terrible thing; life is not a dress-rehearsal. I had an enviable position in this world – largely owed to this man – and I blew it.

I also worked with one of my best friends in the world. We worked for this same man. Our offices were next door to each other for seven years. Looking back, I had it pretty good.  I put my friend in a terrible position, because I was acting out in an extremely selfish way at this time. I know it was a miserable period for both of them because my friend wanted to try to continue to be a friend to me – he recognized a man circling the drain when he saw it – but he also felt loyal to our mentor.

When it was finally over in April of 2010, my boss wasn’t even the person I talked to on the phone when I was let go. I’m still devastated. I haven’t talked to him since. I had no idea how much this would effect me. Leaving that job was the real beginning of the end for me. There were some other fits and starts for me in an employment context (I held down one job for all of five days), but the short of it is I haven’t been able to hold down steady employment since the events described above.

And in a sense, thank God. Having a job and money masked a lot of things that were wrong. In fact, my status and my money prevented me from seeking help, even though I knew I needed it, and had for a long time. Somewhere around this time, I broke my hand and required surgery to repair it. Which meant a nearly bottom-less supply of oxycodone. Gas, meet flame.

So began the rocket-booster phase of my demise. It went downhill real fast after this. I managed to flunk out of a few other jobs – jobs that I felt were way beneath my education and experience level, as if that mattered. I had no sense of self-preservation at this point. And I was mired in the worst, most self-destructive cycle of active addiction I have ever experienced. My consumption levels of opiates, cocaine and alcohol were all at all-time highs.

What fight I had in me was all but gone. I didn’t care whether I lived or died. Even if withdrawal weren’t a constant menace at this point, I had a  crippling bout with depression that saw me lay in bed for days at a time. I would just lay in bed and think terrible things about myself. I would repeat lines over and over in my head for some reason. Like, “I hate everything,” “I am a complete failure.” I occasionally fantasized about dying.  I would sometimes just ask God to take me.

I had blown everything I had worked for my entire life. I had hurt the man who was my mentor. I was an utter disappointment to my parents, my kids and wife, my brother and sister. Embarrassed doesn’t do it justice. I was humiliated in a very public, very painful way. Mostly, I was just really really sad.

The worst part is I felt like I was a failure as a dad. It meant a lot to me to be a dad. My Dad had a plaque on his desk when we were kids that said: “Anyone can be a father, but it takes someone special to be a Daddy.” I truly believed my kids were better off without me. If you’ve never been there, with the combination of drug abuse, withdrawal and clinical depression, in addition to a (now-separated) spouse who reacted to my depression with anger, then you can’t understand. I love my kids more than anything, and I had lucid moments when I thought I was more of a danger to them alive than dead.

(I will continue this narrative in The Sad Truth II.)

I had one of those moments today when I stopped to think, which was a huge mistake. Because I miss my family, especially my little girl (if you’re a dad with a girl, you understand). I miss the way things used to be. I used to have a beautiful family and lots of friends and be a Big Deal, and have a great job and a six-figure income, and have a lot of people calling me and wanting to spend time with me. I used to have a nice house in a cool neighborhood and it seemed like I could do anything I wanted.

Boy did I mess that up.

And people don’t seem to understand what they are suggesting as it concerns my family. This foregone conclusion in everyone’s mind that my family is permanently deconstructed. And though I know everyone means well and they want me to get well and they think – probably correctly – that my relationship with my wife is dangerous to my recovery, it’s still my life that is being torn into a million pieces. These are my kids, my wife. So without questioning the wisdom of the advice or the spirit in which it is given – both unquestionably good – I can say that no one has any idea what this feels like.  

And it didn’t even happen slowly: we did it in a weekend; I feel like my family – at least as I know it – was suddenly and inartfully excised from my life. What’s left behind is a bloody stump of raw nerves and I don’t have coping mechanisms. No good ones anyway.

I recognize that to a large extent – at least as it relates to my kids – the changes are temporary. But some things will never be the same. And I don’t feel like anyone has any appreciation for how devastating this is for me. In fairness, unless you’ve been there, I guess you can’t.

P.S. Song names and lyrics are kind of a theme around here, so I should have noted that You Don’t know How It Feels is a song by Tom Petty, pride of Gainesville, Florida.