Day 40.

June 3, 2011

What's that warm glowy thing in the sky?

    I believe the worst is over. My worst symptoms now are due more to lack of sleep and nutrition than anything else. (HAVE I GOT THE WEIGHT LOSS PLAN FOR YOU!) I think. Withdrawal is more like a roller coaster than a steady decline or descent. It comes in waves, so it’s impossible to say. But there have been moments, represented above, when light punches through.

    The insomnia is not a whole hell of a lot of fun. Nothing over-the-counter touches it. My insomnia scoffs at melatonin. Nothing available with a prescription that I have been allowed so far touches it. Trazodone? Nada. There’s only one thing I’m aware of that would work (like a charm, in fact). But people in a treatment center get a little freaked out when one asks for a benzodiazepine like Xanax or Valium (Ativan? Something? ANYTHING?), drugs with an apparently high potential for abuse – something I do not understand at all (“Hey, let’s party! By sleeping!”). So I have not gone so far as to ask for them. And I don’t expect an offer to be forthcoming.

    So instead, I just get up, walk around and drink a glass of milk. And sigh. A lot.


This is the goal.

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

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

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

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

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.

    It’s just another day in paradise, and other than feeling a vague lack of profundity, today is a beautiful day. I suppose I’m being presumptuous to assume that anything I say is profound. In any event, I don’t suppose anyone is profound every day.

Not. Too. Shabby.

    I’m down to 10 milligrams a day of Suboxone. From 24 only 17 days ago. That’s a pretty steep decline, and explains why I have extreme lethargy throughout the day. It probably also explains some of the aches and pains that plague me, especially in the morning. Lethargy is the most prominent symptom of the “light” withdrawal  associated with the gradual step-down approach my doctor has taken to ween me off Suboxone. He will probably prescribe something to help with the lethargy for a few days to get me over the hump. One possibility is hormone therapy because past opiate addicts generally have low testosterone levels. My blood test confirmed this today.

    Interestingly, everything else checked out well. Liver enzymes, blood glucose, thyroid. A bunch of stuff I didn’t understand. And my resting heart rate was 47 and my blood pressure was 130 /81. I guess I can thank my parents for hardy genes. Of course, none of those tests demonstrate what is going on in the ol’ noggin, but at least they demonstrate a level of foundational physical health from which I can continue to build good mental health to complete the picture.

    I’m having a difficult time with a few people and boundaries. And it’s not necessarily the people I would have expected. It’s amazing how certain people who I do believe want me to get well have no problem blowing right through boundaries I set in an effort to maintain sobriety. Especially during this very early period when that sobriety is at its most fragile. They see drug addiction as a thing unto itself; the disease itself, rather than a symptom of a disease. The disease of addiction involves a lot more than just using drugs and alcohol. So it’s not just a lack of use that has to be maintained. I have to maintain a state of mental and emotional well-being the best way I know how. Right now that involves setting a lot of boundaries and sticking to them. Which takes some people aback. But as I am constantly reminded, this is my sobriety, not anyone else’s. And like a good friend once told me, I need to just not give a shit what anyone else thinks.

A Good Meeting.

April 28, 2011

I was told there was going to be a camp-fire, hand- holding and Kumbaya, and I'm not leaving till I get it.

    Group meetings are a part of treatment, everyone knows that. The group therapy concept is fodder for mockery in an uninitiated popular culture. And I get that, the concept is a little hokey. But it absolutely works. I had a fantastic meeting yesterday, and I want to give you, my readers, a little glimpse into the inner sanctum of the Notdisneyworld Sober Ranch.

    Today, we heard from one of our own, a guy we’ll call J, who gave his “life-line,” which is a talk that everyone in treatment must eventually give to his brothers and sisters in recovery. The life-line is basically the Reader’s Digest version of our autobiography. It takes a lot of guts to give this talk. And the staff usually gives people about three or four weeks – at least – before they are asked to give their life-line.

   I asked for, and J gave, his permission to share this story. J is an affable, good-looking fellow just this side of thirty. Treatment has done him good: he is articulate, intelligent, tan, and has an extremely positive outlook on life. He looks ready to go home and set the world on fire with his talent and positive energy. So it was surprising to hear how the events that lead him to treatment unfolded.

   One of the natural things we do as human beings is size-up other human beings and compare them to us. That is doubly true in treatment; how do these people and their problems stack up to my own? Natural as it is that we do this, we’re not necessarily any good at it. I had J all wrong. Which goes to show that judgmental-ism is more art than science. And it’s a dark art.

   It is a credit to the work that he has done here that when I arrived, I assumed that J probably didn’t have a problem on the level I did (he was about 70 days in when I got here). After all, people arrive here in all different phases on the hot-mess scale: not all drug problems are created alike, or so my thinking goes. That thinking is flawed, evidenced by the fact that it only ever seems to surface in concert with two negative emotions: shame (e.g., “I don’t deserve forgiveness; what I did was too bad.”) and vanity (e.g., “Ha, my problem was way worse than your problem.”). I had sized J up along the lines of the latter: I thought there was no way he could relate to my problems. Until, that is, he started to tell his story.

    J talked for almost a full hour about his history with drug abuse, and we are substance-abuse soul mates. He was unflinching in his honesty. He wasn’t afraid to let us see his emotions. He cried early and often, particularly when he discussed his family, for whom he obviously has great affection. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house; I was overcome myself, several times during his talk.

    I connected with J’s story in a very powerful way, because his story is my story. So many features do we share: same substances, same crazy drug-addled psychosis, same feelings of guilt for letting our families down. J spoke at length about how hard it is for him to forgive himself for putting his family through such a long ordeal.

     The cycle of active use-getting clean-relapse, along with all the lies that we tell our family in the process, is devastating for our loved ones. And right now, we have nothing but time, and none of the crutches or coping mechanisms that we had before, so that guilt and shame is REALLY raw. As I have indicated before, I have been working on my problem for the better part of 15 years. I can’t tell you how many come-to-Jesus conversations I’ve had with my parents, my brother, my friends over the years. It’s enough to just about kill a parent. Or a sibling. Or a spouse.

    More times than I can count, my inner circle has had to stop what they were doing to try to put Humpty Dumpty back to together again. J’s story is almost identical along these lines. The pain I saw in his face when he discussed what he has put his family through over the years – particularly his mother – was like an arrow through my heart.

    I hurt for J, because I can relate to so much to his story. After he finished his life-line, we had an opportunity to give feedback. When it was my turn, I tried to tell him how much I could understood because of what I had put my family through, and I fell apart. And J fell apart again. Two tough-guys in a room full of people crying like babies, and no one was laughing at us or judging. Just total and complete silence and respect for two people that were working through some really heavy shit. This is why group therapy works.

    The most poignant part of J’s life-line was when he discussed his little girl. Almost the same age as my little girl. For a good portion of the time that he tried to talk about his little girl, J just sat with his face in his hands and sobbed. If we could have, every person in that room would have walked up to him and put our arms around him, and told him, “Dude, it’s okay; you don’t have to do this now.” But he did have to do this. He needed it, and so did we. It’s part of the process.

    So this grown man, with all the talent in the world and his whole life ahead of him, is sitting in front of us, completely unable to speak, unable to face us, unable to read his notes, unable to do anything but hold his face in his hands. So we just sat there for a few minutes, all of us in complete silence, until he was able to continue, which he did. This is a man who has been the most popular person in the room everywhere he has ever been. He is proud, intelligent and accomplished. He knows the joy of victory and the agony of defeat, in all phases of life. And because of his honesty, because of his raw display of emotion, because of his humility and his because of his willingness to share it with us, everyone in that room did some healing. And when the time comes, everyone in that room will be able to give their life-line. J set the example. It was one of the most courageous things I’ve ever seen another man do.

   I’ve known this man for 5 days, and he’s done more good for me in five days than my drinking buddies have in years spent together, getting to the bottom of a thousand bottles. J, your daughter is getting back her Daddy, your family is getting back a Man, and I have gained a Friend.

    Real men do cry, in spite of what you’ve heard.

J is on the left. The guy in disguise on the right is your humble author.

The Storm That Rages.

April 28, 2011

      Addiction is occasionally analogized to a tornado. No argument here.

    There are people whose lives will never be the same due to the storms that ravaged Alabama and Georgia today. My children were in the path of these storms all day. They are currently in a basement riding out the storm. This is the kind of event for which Dad should be around, or so my thinking was most of the day today. Then it occurred to me that I brought a tornado home in my hip pocket nearly every day for the last two years. And unlike the cosmic roulette wheel a real tornado represents, the tornado I brought home hit home. Every time. Which makes me feel like a real selfish prick.

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.)

Day 8. I think.

April 21, 2011

I’ll be in Florida, will this be a sunset or a sunrise? Inquiring minds…

I didn’t do myself any favors by starting on day negative two (because I started two days before I started detox). Math isn’t my strong suit under the best of circumstances. I suppose it goes without saying – I mean, my blog logo is a human hand on fire – these are not the best of times. But I’m pretty sure we’re at day eight.

I head for parts unknown tomorrow. Probably. There’s still a few parts of the plan that need to fall into place, but at the latest I should be settled into a inpatient rehab facility by Sunday. I’m as excited as one could be, I guess, about where I’m going, mainly because I know the clinical director and she’s one of the smartest people I’ve ever met. Smart enough to tell me a thing or two. Which is saying something, because “teachable” is not historically one of the ways people would describe me. Now that I think about it, I don’t think many people in my position are teachable, because to be in my position, you have to have ignored a whole bunch of good advice along the way.

I'd better touch it. Just in case it's awesome.

I’ve had a meltdown or two over the past few days as it’s dawned on me that I’m going to be away from my kids for a while. Apparently I’m a big baby. I always seem to have my moments when I’m reading to them. Dr. Seuss loses a little of his whimsy when Daddy’s crying while he reads it. What can I say, I’m half Italian: my feelings are most definitely on my sleeve.

Posting may be a bit erratic over the next few days as I get settled in, but I’ll post something every day. How can we preach one day at a time here at Soul Worn Thin if I leave you, my loyal readers (all six of you), with a day missing. We never know when you’ll need us most. As I noted in my first post: most of us are just a little nudge from oblivion in one direction and doing the next right thing in the other.